Exceptional Women in Wine
Meet several women helping to bring
Paso Robles’ liquid gold to your lips.
Paso Robles, fairly “new” in the history of California wine regions, has a distinctive communal lure. Paso offers an opportunity to be involved in a craft that brings pleasure, and be able to creatively ply your trade. Women are important in all aspects of the winemaking process, whether working in the vineyard, lab, tasting room or as winemakers.
Hillary Yount, vineyard manager for Sixmilebridge Vineyards is a fourth-generation California wine-grape grower, saying great wine starts in the vineyard. Hillary has worked for several preeminent vineyard management companies on the Central Coast prior to her present position. In growing terroir-expressive grapes, Hillary describes her philosophy saying: “I want to see how the vines respond without too much manipulation. It’s an ongoing conversation between the growing team and the land. I listen first, and let the vineyard express itself.” This carries over to how Hillary and Anthony raise their two young daughters: To guide and listen to them, letting them express who they are, while forming their own individual personality.
Jordan Fiorentini, winemaker for Epoch Estate Wines, grew up with wine in her veins, as her parents started collecting wine when Jordan was six years old. In the fall of 1999, while in her early 20s, Jordan experienced her first California harvest (in Napa Valley), and what a ride she has had since, especially the last 11 years as head winemaker for Epoch Estate Wines. In her own words, Jordan told me: “What drew me to winemaking was the combination of science and art. What’s kept me are the people and places, the ties that bind us all together with mutual love and respect for the product.” Specifically, as a woman winemaker, Jordan reflected: “We are forming groups where we can get together and discuss what it’s like to be a winemaker, wife, mother, etc. This, to me, is really exciting.”
One thing (among many) that drives Jordan is being a mentor and positive role model: “I love inspiring all up-and-coming winemakers. Many of those tend to be women, which is awesome and fitting.”
Jordan’s comments about Paso Robles reflect the overall feeling about the people who live, play, and work there: “Paso Robles was the gift that I didn’t know I was going to receive when I moved here, and I am grateful every day for choosing this place.” And Paso Robles is grateful for Jordan and the magic she weaves.
Molly Lonborg, since graduating Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in Earth Science and a concentration in wine and viticulture, has been constantly on the move – learning, exploring and gaining hands-on experience. From working harvest to being a cellar rat, lab manager, cellar assistant, enologist, assistant winemaker, Molly has consistently moved up the ladder, being named head winemaker in 2020 at Alta Colina Vineyard and Winery. As a testament to her passion and success, Molly was recognized as Winemaker of the Month by Wine Business Monthly in 2019. Originally focusing on the science of wine, once Molly really got involved in blending art and science to craft wine, she stated: “The intricacies of the vineyard and the winery completely grabbed my attention and created a passion that I didn’t know existed. Wine has encompassed all things for me with a perfect harmony of art and science.”
Molly feels fortunate for the opportunity to be able to craft wines from grapes…and we are fortunate to share in, and taste along her journey.
Nancy Ulloa, winemaker/owner of Ulloa Cellars, is a millennial go-getter possessing vision, determination, and unbridled passion. At the age of 12, Nancy migrated from Guadalajara, Mexico. In 2015, she decided to pursue a winemaking career, moving to Paso Robles in 2017. With no previous formal winemaking experience, armed with only her drive and dream, Nancy has become the first (and only) Latina winemaker with her own brand, Ulloa Cellars, in Paso Robles.
Nancy relates: “In the beginning it was hard. I had no formal wine experience, and I couldn’t find other women in the industry who looked like me. However, I have found the Paso Robles community to be helpful, friendly, and uplifting. I have met many beautiful people who have helped me to succeed. People in the community have opened doors without asking anything in return. Dedication and passion are all that is required to be embraced in this community.”
The winery name, Ulloa, is a tribute to her mother’s maiden name. Each of Nancy’s wine descriptions honor women:
• Verdejo: Dedicated to my Madre
• Gruner Veltliner: A Tribute to the Feminine Energy of the Universe
• Albariño: Women who empower women
Some of the harvest team at Tablas Creek Winery: Jenny Wootten, Amanda Weaver, Chelsea Franchi, Lauren Dana and Kayja Mann
As the saying goes: But wait…there’s more! Paso Robles abounds with women working in every phase of the wine industry, bringing great wine and experiences to the consuming public. So let’s give a huge shout out to all of the women working in various positions such as: Brand Managers (e.g., Maria McNulty of LAW), Assistant Winemakers (e.g., Chelsea Franchi of Tablas Creek), Tasting Room & Hospitality Managers (e.g., Colette Hodges at ONX), women who wear many hats, like Elena Martinez (proprietor, sales, marketing, distribution) of Top Winery, in addition to lab techs, enologists, field workers, interns and all the other support positions that make all of the Paso Robles women in wine simply shine!
Today’s women are role-models, defined by the breadth of their passion, drive, imagination and work ethic; they are integral in bringing the best of wine to you!
Don Sonderling is a freelance writer covering California’s Wine Country Lifestyle from the Central Coast up through the Napa Valley. Don may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org