Female winemakers resolved to ride out pandemic

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Joy Wine and Spirits in Denver is trying to keep up with demand these days. Alcohol sales in some areas in the U.S. are up.

“Well business is definitely robust,” said owner Carolyn Joy. “We’ve been really busy actually.”

Joy said her store, known for its fine wine, is serving a broader clientele than it did pre-pandemic.

“Bigger brands, box wines, box wines are huge,” she said.

Michelle Cleveland, the winemaker at Creekside Cellars Winery and Cafe in Evergreen, Colorado spends much more of her time on restaurant take-out than on wine production, her normal job.

“My role has somewhat had to change a bit,” Cleveland said. “I’m either kind of calm or kind of anxious. There’s not this happy medium.”

They’re two wine entrepreneurs who are adjusting on the fly as are so many in the food and beverage business.

They’re lucky enough to still be working. They’re also two women who’ve achieved wine industry success, something Joy said has historically been far from a given.

“I distinctly remember someone saying I would never make it,” Joy recalled.

We met her back in March when in-person wine tastings were still being done in her store. She told us women have long struggled to get wine-related jobs or have their voices heard.

“Well I think you’re in a male dominated industry where sometimes your word isn’t necessarily valued,” Joy said. “They don’t always want to listen to what you are saying.”

The desire to boost female wine professionals spurred the creation of the Women’s Wine Guild of Colorado, a nonprofit aimed at educating and encouraging women whether they’re servers, sommeliers, wine sellers or sales reps.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome to have something to help us all connect and share ideas and support other women who are trying to break into the industry,” said Abbie Minton, a co-founder of the guild.

“Our ultimate goal is when we can stop saying female winemaker or female business owner,” said Sarah Shomaker, another co-founder. “That feels like true equality.”

Today’s pandemic presents new problems for women who make and sell wine. Keeping their employees safe, for one, and finding enough time for work while their kids are stuck at home.

“That’s a real challenge,” Joy said. “How do you juggle all of those things and there’s no way that it doesn’t affect your job.”

Cleveland, who manages vineyards in Western Colorado when she’s not filling restaurant orders, said women in wine should band together, especially now when many of them are struggling.

“We all are,” Cleveland said. “In one way or another we all are and we are doing everything we possibly can to keep the ship sailing.”

As they look to the day when virtual tastings are replaced by the real thing and they can collaborate face to face once again.

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