Is Portland home to America’s first all-female cooperative winery?
As International Women’s History Month draws to a close, a historic first could be playing out at Helioterra Wines in southeast Portland. This is where four vineyards operated entirely by women have come together under one roof.
The roof in question belongs to Anne Hubatch, the 20-year wine industry veteran behind Helioterra and Whoa Nelly! wines. She shares her Helioterra Wines facility with Cristina Gonazales, Gonzales Wine Co., Meg Rulli, Flipturn Cellars and Lizzy Esqueda of Mijita Wine Co. Hubatch is also joined by Shalena Harris, her assistant winemaker.
The all-female winery space was not designed. When Hubatch’s only male winemaker tenant moved out a few months ago, she said, “A light bulb went out. Historically, this industry has not supported women pursuing a career in winemaking, so I saw this as a great opportunity.
Gonzales, Esqueda and Rulli buy their own barrels and fruit to make their wines at Helioterra. They pay rent for the residence and the use of Helioterra’s winemaking equipment. It’s like any other co-op style winery, except there’s not a man in sight.
Hubatch spent months interviewing professional organizations, colleagues, and research librarians to see if anyone else in America had the same idea. She couldn’t find a single winery that fit the bill.
The all-female co-op program created by Hubatch will be named PDX Wine Revolution to distinguish it from her work at Helioterra Wines.
The setup helps Hubatch increase cash flow while covering equipment costs. It also allows all winemakers to tap into a trend noticed by Hubatch during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Consumers were spending money with the intention of supporting more women and BIPOC causes. The problem is, there aren’t a lot of resources to help people find women who make wine, so I decided to make it easier for them,” Hubatch said.
Hubatch also appreciates the arrangement for non-economic reasons, citing the cooperative and nurturing spirit of the environment.
“I’ve been in all-male winery environments where I didn’t feel comfortable and thought bad energy was impacting my wines. I don’t want to encourage something like that here. The work is hard enough without any unnecessary competition,” Hubatch said.
Although Hubatch’s work is well known, the other winemakers at his establishment might need some introduction.
While Hubatch’s assistant has worked in other wineries, this is her first experience in a shared space.
“When you make wine with someone, you have to dance with them, and it’s a very personal experience. Luckily everyone here is smart and hardworking, which helps,” Harris said. Harris also points out that this project shows other women what is possible in the wine industry.
In addition to making wine and troubleshooting at Helioterra, Harris runs his successful hair business at Mod Salon in North Portland.
Gonzales Wine Co. is a tribute to Malbec backed by Gonzales’ 16 years of experience in wineries from California and Australia to Oregon.
Gonzales’ residency at Helioterra began in 2019. “It’s by far the best place I’ve worked. Here, I don’t have a man looking over my shoulder asking me why I’m not doing something a certain way, or worse, telling me how I should do it,” Gonzales said.
After several years working for wineries in New York, Australia and Oregon, Esqueda decided in 2021 it was time to make their own wines. Its label name is Mijita Wine Co., and its Gamay Noir and an extended skin contact Pinot Gris will be released later this year.
Making his first wines at Helioterra was the icing on the cake. “There are a lot of egos in the wine industry that I’ve always found troubling. There’s not a lot of ego here, which is good,” Esqueda said.
Rulli comes to winemaking from the world of digital advertising. Part of his introduction involved volunteering at Helioterra during the 2019 harvest. In 2020, Rulli took the plunge into winemaking by making two barrels of Yakima Syrah. The wine will be released under his Flipturn Cellars label in May.
Rulli is as impressed as the others with what Hubatch has accomplished. “I’ve been to larger institutions where you don’t see that kind of open communication and support. It’s refreshing to see women lifting each other up in any industry,” Rulli said.
Like Hubatch, I struck on the home front while researching other projects similar to his project. However, I discovered Parley Wine in Australia. In an email, Mel Gray, one of Parley’s three female owners, said: “Our goal is to create an inclusive space for women to make wine without judgment in an environment where they are comfortable. to ask questions and learn.
“The important thing is that we are not the last,” Hubatch said.
— Michael Alberty writes about wine for The Oregonian/OregonLive. He can be reached at [email protected]. To learn more about its coverage, go to oregonlive.com/wine.