From left to right: Linda Mercer, Cheryl Barber, Luanne Boushey, Kay Simon, Sara Spayd, and Mimi Nye. Image copyright Patrick Bennett.

The Alliance of Women in Washington Wine held an event on March 23rd titled ‘First Ladies of Washington Wine,’ featuring a group of women pioneers in the Washington wine industry. The event, which took place at the Walter Clore Center in Prosser, raised $35,000 in scholarship money for female viticulture and enology students in Washington.

“I was overjoyed that we were successful with our vision,” says Luanne Holden-Boushey, a co-chair of the event and an advisory board member for The Alliance of Women in Washington Wine. “Many guests said that it was a powerful and uplifting day of networking, energy, wonderful memories, and connections with others.”

The sold-out event had 165 attendees. Strong demand increased the originally planned number of 100.

The Alliance of Women in Washington Wine will use the money to award a $5,000 annual scholarship to a female or female-identifying student enrolled in a viticulture and enology program in Washington. The scholarship will be facilitated by the Washington Wine Industry Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to promote a thriving wine industry in Washington. The Alliance first offered a scholarship in 2022.

“It is our hope to be able to increase the number of scholarships that we offer in the future,” says Holden-Boushey, who is also co-owner of famed Boushey Vineyards in Yakima Valley. “Our longer-term goal is to be able to have an endowed scholarship and to be in a position to award scholarships within our organization.”

The ‘First Ladies’ event included a wine tasting that featured 28 Washington wineries that have a female winemaker, a silent auction, and a luncheon seminar hosted in part by Anthony’s Restaurants. The seminar featured a panel of female pioneers in the industry.

Panelists were: Kay Simon, partner and winemaker at Chinook Wines; Sara Spayd, Ph.D., former extension food scientist at Washington State University, Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center; Mimi Nye, former vineyard manager at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyard; Cheryl Barber Jones, former head winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle; Linda Mercer, founder of Mercer Ranch Vineyards; and Luanne Holden-Boushey, co-founder of Boushey Vineyards. A video interview with food and wine marketing expert Lila Gault, who could not join the panel in-person, was shown during the event. The panel was moderated by Lane Hoss, vice president of operations at Anthony’s Restaurants.

“What I was struck by was how strong these women were in those early days given some of the challenges they faced, from pay discrimination to being in a novice industry to the sexism that took place,” says Hoss. “They still came out as leaders of the industry and are still wanting to share and to teach.”

Kay Simon, Linda Mercer, Kristin Scheelar, and Luanne Holden-Boushey conceived the idea for the event. “We wanted to create an event that would document and honor some very special people in our industry,” Holden-Boushey says.

The Alliance of Women in Washington Wine was founded in 2018. The group received  501(c)(3) status in 2021.

“The Alliance of Women in Washington Wine was formed with the goals to build a safe community to connect, inspire, and advance women and their advocates in the Washington Wine industry,” says Tiffany Britton, president of The Alliance and owner/winemaker at Brainstorm Cellars. “We plan on achieving these goals through scholarships, mentorship, networking, and education.”

Event sponsors included Trysk Print Solutions, the Washington Wine Commission, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the Washington Wine Industry Foundation, Lisa Stevens and Vic Wertz, Goose Ridge, Kelly and Chris Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars, Stacy and Greg Lill of Chateau Lill, Fidélitas, Oak Solutions Group, and the Auction of Washington Wines.

People wishing to donate directly to The Alliance for Women in Washington Wine can do so here.

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