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The Society
March 19, 2014 | The Society

Cheers to Our Women Winemakers!

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Foley Food and Wine Society is proud to showcase our wonderful women winemakers Holly Turner, Lisa Bishop Forbes and Leslie Mead Renaud. Join us this March as we toast to our leading ladies.

We conducted exclusive interviews with each of the women winemakers this month; read on to learn more about their passion for all things vino!


As the Head Winemaker at Three Rivers Winery since 2002, Holly is renowned for her limited handmade wines, several of which have earned numerous scores above 90 points. Under Holly’s direction, Three Rivers continues to push the envelope, grow dynamically within the marketplace and expand their presence in the Walla Walla wine region.

FFWS: Do you remember the first bottle of wine that made an impression on you?

HT: The first bottle that really stood out to me was a twenty-year-old Robert Mondavi Cabernet one of my coworkers at Chateau St. Michelle shared with me. What ultimately resonated with me was the texture—it was silky smooth and all around a beautiful wine. I experienced this ‘aha!’ moment that inspired me to continue exploring the world of wine and the science behind winemaking. 

FFWS: What has surprised you most about being a winemaker?

HT: When I was first starting out, prior to having much experience, I saw winemaking as a very glamorous profession. In reality however, winemaking is physical, dirty and wet, amongst other things. That being said, I love what I do and wouldn’t have it any other way.

FFWS: What draws you to making wine in Washington vs a winemaker in California or other wine regions?

HT: The climate in Washington is distinctly different than the wine regions of California since there are four definite seasons every year, little to no humidity, and the fruit experiences greater temperature variation. As a winemaker, these conditions can make things tricky because they increase the risks associated with grape growing and development. However, I like Washington’s seasonality because it adds diversity to the wine each year and it’s a fun challenge that keeps me on my toes.


A California native, Lisa Bishop Forbes developed an interest in the wine industry at an early age. Now the Director of Winemaking at Chalk Hill Estate, Lisa has become one of the forefront women winemakers in Sonoma County.

FFWS: Do you remember the first bottle of wine that made an impression on you?

LBF: I remember trying a 1978 Chateau Montelena Cabernet while I was still in school at Fresno State. One of my friends shared the bottle with me and the aspect that stood out the most was the quality of the wine—it  was incredibly well made, rich, full of flavor and seamless all the way around.

FFWS: What do you find most challenging as a winemaker?

LBF: The most challenging thing I have faced so far is learning all of the different facets of wine business apart from the actual winemaking. There is so much more than just making wine, such as finance, sales, and marketing— aspects of the business that weren’t focused on during my time at Fresno State. 

FFWS: In your experience thus far, what have you discovered about the differences of a woman’s palate vs a man’s palate?

LBF: I think that each person’s palate is unique and everyone has their own strengths regardless of gender. However, over the years, I have found that women’s palates can be more sensitive to nuances in wine. Generally speaking, women are detail-oriented and aware of their surroundings which I believe translates towards their palate and tasting abilities. Nevertheless, these skills come with time and are developed from experience; the more a person tastes, the more in tune their palate will become.


When it comes to winemaking, Leslie Mead Renaud has no shortage of expertise; as the Head Winemaker for Lincourt and Foley Estates Vineyards, Leslie is armed with years of experience from a variety of roles at several wineries in California’s preeminent wine regions. Over the last few years, Leslie has gained recognition for her participation and contribution in the “Cube Project”— a study conducted over the course of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages to observe the relationship between terroir and Pinot Noir.

FFWS: Do you remember the first bottle of wine that made an impression on you?

LMR: Before I was in the industry, I remember ordering a glass of Merlot followed by a glass of Pinot Noir one night at dinner. It was a pivotal experience for me because I was completely blown away by the differences between the two wines and it inspired me to try more varietals. 

FFWS: What are you looking forward to for the 2014 vintage?

LMR: I always look forward to a great quality vintage and getting stellar new fruit to play with. Harvest is my favorite part of the winemaking process because it is the most challenging and I thrive off of the chaos. After watching the grapes develop over the summer months, I am eager to shift my focus from spreadsheets to start visualizing where everything will go and really focus on the fruit in that moment.

FFWS: How did you get involved with the Cube Project?

LMR: Twice a year I attend Pinot Noir conferences in Oregon and California and spend several days with winemakers going through blind tastings, writing notes and discussing our findings.  At one of the conferences, my friend Thomas Houseman from Anne Amie Vineyards noticed there were significant differences between the Pommard Clone Pinots from California and Oregon.  He came up with the idea to split six tons of fruit between his property, Lincourt Vineyards and Bouchaine Vineyards in Carneros for three vintages to see which had the greater influence – the hand or the land.  

FFWS: What were your assumptions when you started the project?

LMR: Because Pinot Noir expresses itself incredibly differently than most varietals, we all assumed that terroir would be the most obvious indicator of diversity.

FFWS: What did you discover at the conclusion of the experiment?

LMR: We concluded that even though terroir plays a significant role in the flavor profile of a Pinot Noir, the “hand” had a greater influence than the land. The findings of each vintage were unanimous–the signature style of the winemaker is absolutely apparent in each of Pinot Noirs.

Curious to learn more about the Cube Project? Checkout the Facebook page here.


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