Cellar Talk with Karen Birmingham
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Honoring Women in Wine:
Birmingham on how making wine is like raising children
Interviewed by Elizabeth Smith
1. How did you get your start in wine?
During my senior year of college in the mid-1990s, I worked in a lab for a professor researching wine fermentations. I became fascinated with wine. I earned a Master of Science degree under the same professor.
After a couple years working in food safety, I saw a posting for an enologist at Robert Mondavi Woodbridge in Lodi, a chance to combine my education, experience, and passion. There I began my career under a team led by David Akiyoshi and learned the artistry of blending.
2. Where are you in your career now?
This will be my 22nd Lodi harvest, where I’ve worked with many of the same vineyards since they were planted, some my entire career. For over ten years, I’ve worked at Lange Twins, a family winery that has farmed in Lodi for five generations. I’m there daily, from crush though bottling – tasting, blending, and making wine. Each year, I learn something new, meet people, and try wines that inspire me the next season. I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop making wine.
3. How do Naked Angels empower you as a winemaker?
Angels give me the freedom to make wines from the best vineyards in Lodi. I love reading each comment, experience, occasion, meal, and how my wines have become part of their lives. Their feedback is more personal and inspirational than any magazine review or competition.
4. What’s a BIG lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Making wine is like raising children. I’m guiding it every step of the way. Each requires attention and guidance from grape to bottle. Bottling a wine is like releasing a child to the world.
5. What’s the message you have for other women winemakers?
Winemaking requires hard work, passion, and dedication. There is so much opportunity to educate consumers, break down barriers, share stories, and make approachable wines for all.
6. What is your big hope for women in wine in the future?
I’d like to see more women in every position in the industry. Women have great palates and instincts, unique perspectives, and so much passion! Diversity brings innovation and ideas.
Lastly – is there a women’s empowerment organization or cause you support or would like to?
I look forward to mentoring when my four teenagers leave the nest. Yes, you can be a full-time winemaker, raise a family, and never miss a harvest. That’s a story for another day.
Elizabeth Smith is a freelance wine, food, and travel journalist well as a communications and social media specialist based in the Napa Valley.