Locally, there are several well-known matriarchs of wine: think Judy Nissley of Nissley Vineyards & Winery. Meet four young, up-and-coming women who are making a name for themselves in tasting rooms and beyond.
In many ways, women rule the world of wine. Studies show women generally have more taste buds and a better sense of smell than do men, indicating a better palate for wine. Further evidence is provided by a 2012 Santa Clara University study of California wines that suggests wines made by women are superior to those made by men.
But despite these strengths, the craft of winemaking remains male-dominated. However, change is in the air!
Denise Gardner’s fascination with wine began in the agricultural program at Conrad Weiser High School. As part of the program’s introduction, she and her classmates were required to read an entire issue of Penn State Ag Science magazine and be tested on the content. An article on the grape disease phylloxera fascinated her, and she began to read more and more about grapes and wine production. She even planted grape vines in her parent’s backyard. (They nixed the backyard grape-growing venture after Denise and her brother cut the family’s cable line while they were pruning vines.)
At 18, she interned with a wine-supply company in France. She earned her undergraduate degree in Food Science from Penn State. She also holds a master’s in Food Science and Technology from Virginia Tech.
Now 30, and an enology extension associate at Penn State, Denise works with wineries in Pennsylvania and neighboring states to identify and fix problems in wine production. She also develops educational seminars and training sessions that serve as liaisons between the findings of Penn State academic research and the winemakers.
Denise is tremendously passionate about Pennsylvania-made wine, and she is excited that the industry is continuously improving. She notes how important it is for consumers to recognize what makes Pennsylvania-made wine unique, especially compared to wine regions out west. “Pennsylvania wine has been categorized into a place where a wine should always taste the same every year,” she says. “But that’s very reflective of warm grape-growing regions. Here, we don’t have that. We get unique growing seasons. And that means people can really appreciate the history in the bottle and reflect on the particular growing season. It will never be the same the next year.”
Because of her passion for helping local wineries succeed, Denise has a fan in another young up-and-comer in the wine industry: 28-year-old Carley Mack of Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford. “What Denise has done … is amazing,” Carley says, citing the quality of Denise’s educational seminars and enthusiasm for visiting local wineries to offer advice.
Carley’s introduction to the wine industry started early, as her dad, Penns Woods owner Gino Razzi, owned a wine import company. Growing up, she’d help him in the office cutting checks and inputting orders. But she didn’t envision herself entering the wine industry. When Gino acquired Penns Woods in 2001, Carley was living in Colorado. He called and suggested she move home. His winery was growing fast, and he needed someone to help him market and sell the wine.
Though she has a college degree in marketing, Carley admits she had no idea what she was doing at first. But she did some research and now handles most of the winery’s marketing and advertising, including the website, print advertising and event planning.
She does not, however, envision herself getting into the winemaking side of the business. “It’s a different type of brain to make, versus market, wine,” she says. “But I will have my hands in the process. With wine, it encompasses your life,” she notes. “You’re at the winery at night when you’re having to crush, and last minute when you run out of labeled wine, and when we have an event. Running a family business is all about sharing responsibility.”
Fran Kratz and Sarah Haines
And that’s something sisters Fran Kratz and Sarah Haines of The Vineyard at Grandview, Mount Joy, know quite well. When their dad, Grandview winemaker Larry Kennel, asked them for their help in realizing his dream to own a winery, they were happy to assist. “We’re in it to support that vision he had from the beginning,” Fran explains. “That was the motivating factor: to learn all the parts of the business. We want mom and dad to be successful.”
The ladies do everything from working in the vineyard and tasting room, to creating labels for the wine bottles, to planning concerts and music festivals, and to spearheading Grandview’s latest project – transforming a pavilion and outdoor cove area for weddings at the vineyard as a way to attract new customers to the tasting room.
And they do it all in between raising families and pursuing careers. Fran, 40, is a full-time emergency room physician and a mom to 6- 7- and 11-year-old children. Sarah, 35, works part time as a physical therapist and has four children at home who range in age from 4 to 10.
Their husbands help out at the winery, too, and they admit that while working in the family business can be challenging, it is also very rewarding. “Being a mom and a physician, I had not done a lot with my creative side for a while,” says Fran, who minored in art in college. “It’s been a nice outlet to use our gifts.”
“Everyone has their own style of working and that can bring challenges,” Sarah notes. “But we all have our own strengths we can bring to the table, and it is fun to see each member of our family contribute.”