With so many outstanding female winemakers in British Columbia, we knew we had to reach out to a handful and ask what they love about their jobs. Here’s what they had to say.
Proprietor and Winemaker, JoieFarm
Atrained chef, Heidi Noble has worked in distinguished Canadian kitchens, but also holds a degree in philosophy and critical theory.
“The decision to become a winemaker was not a straight path,” Noble admits. “It was a culmination of a lifetime in the business of food and wine. My time at the Stratford Chefs School in the mid-’90s was geared for entrepreneurship: profoundly influencing my success as an independent and successful business owner today and I also had the opportunity to do my WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust).
“I love that wine is a natural product that can be consistent and proprietary, while remaining a vintage reflection; expressing a sense of place,” she says, adding, “JoieFarm wines can be counted on to be ripe, fruit-forward, juicy and clean—I work very hard at this.”
Winemaker, Sandhill Wines
When Howard Soon retired in 2017, after 37 years as a winemaker for Andrew Peller Limited, Sandy Leier stepped in, skillfully filling his Sandhill shoes.
Leier explains how she became a winemaker: “I had a friend in university working at Sandhill with Howard. She used to bring wines and talk about how they were made. We were doing a chemistry degree and I realized there’s a lot of chemistry involved in making wine, as well as biology and microbiology—right up my alley,” she says. “I became intrigued, so my friend introduced me to Howard. She ended up going on maternity leave, so I got the job as the assistant. She never came back.
“Howard and the other winemakers taught me so much. Here I am today, still learning and loving the process!”
Leier concludes, “I love wine because I know how much personal touch and science goes into making it, and the realm of possibilities is endless.”
Winemaking never ceases to surprise me. That sense of newness I found when I got into winemaking is as strong as ever.
Co-founder, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
Co-founder, Elysian Projects
After more than 20 years at Tinhorn Creek’s helm, Sandra Oldfield, long one of the leading figures in B.C.’s wine community, is embarking on a new venture.
“I found winemaking after going through a difficult transition in my life—it was so exciting,” Oldfield notes. “I got my master’s degree in winemaking from University of California at Davis. I find myself, 24 years later, going through another difficult transition after the winery we built was sold last year.
“My husband and I have started a winery consulting company. Elysian Projects focuses on ways to help wineries realize their dreams. Along the way, I’ve discovered the place and the grapes take a back seat to the real stars: the people. I hope to teach that.
“Winemaking never ceases to surprise me,” she adds. “That sense of newness I found when I got into winemaking is as strong as ever. I see it from a much larger lens now. It’s not the person with the degree that makes the wine—it’s everyone involved, from vineyard to cellar, hospitality, sales and administration.”
Winemaker, Township 7 Vineyards & Winery
Ontario native Mary McDermott was making wine at Peller Estates before an opportunity arose at Township 7 in 2014.
“I was working in the hospitality industry and learning more about wine,” she says. “It made me feel passionate about the subject and I felt the need to learn about winemaking and viticulture. So, after taking my BSc in oenology and viticulture, I worked at places where I really respected the wines.”
She adds: “I love that wine, along with food, brings people together. As a winemaker, I love the process of making something from grapes that have been tended for years. Every vintage is different; life is never boring as a winemaker!”
Managing Partner, Winemaker and Viticulturist, Le Vieux Pin and LaStella
Born in France, Severine Pinte was introduced at an early age to good bottles from her family’s wine cellar; however, she didn’t consider winemaking until after high school.
“I got into Montpellier and specialized in agriculture,” says Pinte. “I chose winemaking because we learned the whole business: the genetics of plants, how to plant vines, make wine, and the business of it.”
In the late 1990s, Pinte married a Lower Mainlander. After a decade in France they were lured back to B.C. where she was introduced to the owners of Le Vieux Pin and LaStella Winery, Sean and Saeedeh Salem. “They liked me, and I liked them,” she explains.
“I love being a winemaker—you’re creating a piece of art,” Pinte says. “It’s very versatile: I get to be in the vineyard, in the barrel room and in the cellar, and involved in other aspects of the business.”
Winemaker, Laughing Stock Vineyards
After a decade of winemaking in the Okanagan (notably at Mission Hill and then Quails’ Gate), Nikki Callaway landed at Laughing Stock Vineyards (LFNG) in 2018.
“Dedication, determination and passion led me to where I am,” Callaway says. “What better way can you combine an interest in science and agriculture, gastronomy, culture, travel, and memorable times with people? The opportunity at LFNG allows me to concentrate on small lot premium production, and the chance to explore the southern Okanagan vineyards.”
She adds, “I love being a winemaker because it is such an all-encompassing profession. There are so many parts to the job one can never be bored. Sometimes you’re dressed up at a fancy Michelin-star restaurant with VIPs, and others you are knee deep in skins, seeds and fruit flies!”
@ Vitis Magazine