Although the beverage and wine industry has historically been male-dominated, there has recently been an increase in the number of female leaders, business owners, and winemakers in the community, including throughout Colorado. We spoke with some of the many influential women in the state’s growing wine scene to learn more about how they got to where they are, how they’ve seen the industry change, and what you must know about Colorado wine.
Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, Wine Educator, Western Colorado Community College
When Jenne Baldwin-Eaton moved to Grand Junction in 1994 looking for a job in the chemical field, she decided to explore working in wine. At the time, there were only about nine winemakers in the state – and only three of them were women. There are now over 170 licensed wineries in Colorado and many more women who play important roles in the industry. “In general, women in Colorado seem to be very independent, passionate, hardworking, and creative,” Baldwin-Eaton says.
It’s exciting to have more women getting started, she adds, and she enjoys watching the evolution of Colorado wine, including the amplified quality over the years. The veteran winemaker worked at Plum Creek Winery in Palisade for 22 years before shifting gears to pay it by inspiring future wine professionals. She currently teaches courses in winemaking and viticulture, fermentation science, and sensory analysis at Western Colorado Community College.
Colorado’s wine industry faces many challenges, notes Baldwin Eaton – our climate being number one – adding, “This industry requires you to put your heart and soul into it to be successful, and even then, it doesn’t. is not a guarantee.
Laura Black, Co-Owner, Mesa Park Vineyards
Laura Black decided to get into the wine business by traveling the wine regions of Argentina with her husband, Brandon. Upon returning from the momentous trip, the two purchased Mesa Park Vineyards in Palisade in 2018. “The pieces came together,” Black says. Not only do they produce wine, but they cultivate eight acres of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grape varieties.
“It’s really amazing and surprising how quickly it’s grown since we’ve been here,” she says of the state’s wine industry. Fortunately, the local wine community has been tight-knit, friendly and helpful, she adds – which is ideal for someone trying to navigate a new business, especially a challenging, seven-day-a-week business reliant on weather.
Black feels the women in Colorado’s wine industry paved the way for those getting into it now. In addition to Baldwin-Eaton, she notes the influence of Jayme Henderson (The Storm Cellar), Linda Brauns (Restoration Vineyards), Nancy James (Whitewater Hill) and Cassidee Schull (Colorado Association of Viticulture and Enology), among many others.
Abbie Minton, Co-Founder, Women’s Wine Guild of Colorado (WWGC)
Sommelier Abbie Minton’s journey to wine began while studying abroad in Rome. She ended up working in a roommate’s family winery in Abruzzo, and there was no turning back.
Minton’s outstanding winemaking experience in Colorado includes the Barolo Grill, La Tour restaurant and bar in Vail, Mercantile Dining and Provisions (where she ran the entire wine program) and, most recently, Harvest Wine Company and Rootstalk in Breckenridge.
Throughout her career in wine, Minton realized that there was more of a competitive vibe than a sense of community for women in the industry. Together with co-founder Sarah Shomaker, they decided to start the Women’s Wine Guild of Colorado to bring women of wine together in an encouraging environment. The non-profit’s goal is to foster collaboration and wine education while networking and supporting women in their wine careers and businesses.
When the group planned their first event at Mercantile, Minton thought about 20 women would attend, but 125 women showed up, clearly proving the desire to create a stronger wine community. “It was kind of unbelievable,” she says.
Events have included offering all women winemakers flights to women-owned wine bars, speakers and panel discussions, trade spotlights to spotlight local wine businesses, networking events, attendance at wine festivals and more.
Infinite Monkey Theorem CEO Nicki McTague
Nicki McTague’s goal is to continue educating people about Colorado wine and agriculture, and to show wine drinkers that there really is great wine coming out of this state, she says.
McTague, who started at the winery by building partnerships with the community and local businesses, is now leading the charge. The Denver winery is 50% owned and 80% run by women. “It’s new and exciting to see this women’s team,” she said. “We really strive to be more aware and listen to what customers want.” This includes rebranding images and incorporating fun events like bottomless mimosas. McTague is also proud to work with her team on various ways to give back to the community, including providing bicycles to local children.
Infinite Monkey Theorem is not new to innovation – it helped popularize canned wine locally. McTague believes that with the active lifestyle and four seasons here, canned wine for hiking and camping is ideal. “It makes sense in the state of Colorado,” she says. She loved seeing the brand grow – even stretch skyward; it is now available on Frontier Airlines flights.
From a more global point of view, she loves to see an industry traditionally dominated by men gaining more and more women winemakers. “It was really fun to watch and fun to see their style of winemaking,” she adds.
McTague strives to make the wine cellar experience welcoming, relaxed and relaxed while being informative. “There is no bullying if [guests] can’t pronounce the grape variety,” she notes.
Ali Yakich, Beverage Manager, Flagstaff House
Sommelier Ali Yakich’s interest in wine began at her parents’ dinner parties growing up. She saw how captivated the whole room could be when talking about the wine being served. “I’ve always loved hospitality and caring for people,” she says, so combining wine and hospitality seemed to go hand in hand.
Yakich studied hospitality at Iowa State University and traveled to Sydney, Australia to attend the International College of Management. From there, she had the opportunity to manage the beverage program at the Four Seasons Hotel Boston and take on the role of sommelier and general manager at the four-star French restaurant Deuxave.
She is now the Beverage Director at one of the most notable wine restaurants in the state and the country: Boulder’s Flagstaff House. “Working at a Grand Award restaurant and a Colorado icon that’s been here for fifty years is such a special opportunity,” she notes.
When it comes to Colorado, Yakich says wine drinkers seem to be a bit adventurous, which she appreciates. “People want to explore new things,” she adds, noting increased interest in organic or biodynamic wines, for example. Yakich recognizes that navigating a wine list can be daunting, but a sommelier is there to put you at ease and help you find the perfect bottle of wine. “That’s my whole goal,” she concludes.
Julie Balistreri, Co-owner, Vignobles Balistreri
When Julie Balistreri and her family started Balistreri Vineyards more than two decades ago, Colorado wines were much less accepted, she says. But now the industry has really evolved, with winemakers across the state continuing to dramatically increase the quality of wines.
The de Balistreri family are originally from Sicily and have chosen to stick to their winemaking traditions by producing all-natural wines without the addition of sulfites or other chemicals. Natural wines tend to be easy to drink and much kinder to the body, she says. The majority of the grapes used to produce the vineyards’ award-winning wines come directly from the West Slope of Colorado.
“When we started the winery 24 years ago, there were far fewer women in the industry,” Balistreri notes. “The number of wineries has more than quadrupled since that time, and now it’s exciting to see so many women involved in all aspects of the industry, from wineries to retail and wholesale.”
When it comes to touring wineries in the state, Balistreri points out that all Colorado wineries have their own style and each does something different. “That’s the fun,” she adds.