A fantastic woman I worked with used the phrase “read with wine” in the subject line of an e-mail or document attached that would take a lot of time to process. It’s so true; wine calms the mind and is a symbol for relaxation, slow living and contemplation.
One of our favorite wine companies, Winc—which you’ve seen on every table of any Darling event—is a unique company for many reasons. They make each of their diverse wines and collaborate on select projects with friends and fellow winemakers. Suzanne Hagins, a winemaker who specializes in natural and sustainable wines, helped them create their new Independent White Blend, Salient Chardonnay and Porter and Plot Rosé. I am personally fascinated by winemakers and what it’s like to work in this industry, so I asked Suzanne a few questions to learn about her journey, what it’s like being a female in this space, and all about the lovely wine itself.
Q: Was getting your start in the industry something you had a decided plan for, or was it more organic of one position leading to another and eventually culminating in becoming a winemaker?
A: I definitely had a plan! I like to set intention and goals, and then chase them down. I was a server in Charleston, SC, I loved wine and wanted to pursue a career in it. I had the opportunity to travel to France with a supplier, and while we were in Burgundy, I met the winemaker for Comte Armand. He encouraged my limitless enthusiasm and invited me back for harvest—no way I was going to let that opportunity pass me by! Harvest in Pommard was amazing, and cemented my love for Pinot Noir and desire to make wine for a living. After returning to the United States, I sold wine briefly before packing up my Jeep and driving across the country to Sonoma County for another harvest job. I got paid minimum wage, and had to bartend at night to make ends meet, but I worked hard, got promoted and hired on full time. I kept at it over the years—learning, moving up, and eventually making wine of my own. Nothing can stop a hard-headed woman with a plan!
Q: How did you get your start with Winc, and what do you love about partnering with them?
A: My husband and I started by selling some of our wines to their wine club before Winc’s transition to fully proprietary products, then the relationship grew to us making wines specifically for them, grapes to bottle. They are great partners; they have high standards but give us a lot of freedom to make the best wines we can.
Q: How have you seen attitudes shift towards women in this industry? Where would you like to see them continue heading?
A: There have been some great, strong women who’ve led the way, so I feel there is a lot of opportunity in the industry. Equal pay is a concern that needs to be resolved. And frankly, I’d like to drop gender as a separate category of winemaker all together. I want to be known as a good winemaker, not a good “woman” winemaker.
Q: I feel like it’s a bucket list item for many people (or maybe just me…) to own their own vineyard one day. Would you invite that dream in others? (IE: Is that a total pipe dream and way more complicated that one thinks, or no?) What steps could you advise a woman in making that a reality?
A: Sure, I’d invite that dream! I’m a big believer in following dreams, even if it doesn’t work out, I find that easier to live with than regrets. There are many routes to go, I chose to jump in and work my way up, but one could certainly take classes, get a degree. It is complicated, but as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Q: What is a hallmark of a good wine, for you?
A: I look for balance. I enjoy light whites to big reds, but look for their components to be in harmony.
This post is brought to you by Darling partner, Winc. All thoughts, opinions and reviews remain Darling’s own.
Images provided by Winc