Many times a winemaker is asked, well – winemaker questions. Some questions that beg for more of a story-like answer are: How did you start? Where did you start? What’s your story? Numerous anticipated answers are along the lines of: I grew up in a winemaking family, I’ve worked all my life in the industry, or maybe – I grew up with a vineyard/winery in my family, got away from it, but found I came back. Whatever the answer, anyone with a vineyard or winery in his or her background has a fabulous advantage of knowledge in the industry.
Then, not knowing how or why, there are those that are drawn into the art of winemaking and in many cases having a vineyard, without any industry background. This is the category I fall into.
It’s hard to explain what drives someone to become a winemaker or vineyard owner. It’s an intangible force. Very much like the force that compels engineers to run calculations and doctors to go into surgery. Simply put, you like what you do. You love it. You can’t deny it. And as a vineyard and winery owner, when your tractor breaks down or your pump gives out right before bottling, you wind up cursing that same force.
The idea of describing myself as a female winemaker or female vineyard manager has truly never crossed my mind. I’m just a person making wine. Or rather, a person wanting to make wine, since you don’t have a lot of choice when you’re driven. That said, and as much as I believe the art of winemaking is available to both men and women, I acknowledge there are times around a winery when there is a difference in being male or female.
For example, last year I purchased a few neutral barrels from Callaghan Vineyards. (Neutral barrels are barrels that are a minimum of 3 years old and are no longer imparting any wood tones to the wine stored in them.) As I arrived to pick up the empty barrels, Kent Callaghan helped to load my truck by simply tipping each barrel over, picking them up and putting them on the back of the truck. The efficiency was undeniable.
Mechanical advantage is a wonderful thing, forklifts being one of them. I love my forklift and have accomplished many regular, as well as unconventional, tasks with it. But the ability to easily move empty barrels around merely by picking them up still eludes me.
Vineyard-wise, figuring it all out can be a dead-vertical learning curve. Male or female alike. Getting to know your land, seasonal weather and vines, especially in Arizona, is a learn-as-you-go practice. And, after years of growing, when you start to know what to expect, it seems Mother Nature can inevitably step in, wreak some havoc and clearly remind you: ‘keep taking notes, you don’t know it all’.
On the winemaking side of things, that too can be a sobering experience. (No pun intended.) Even with previous winemaking skills, the Arizona environment has quite an influence on the wine that’s made. The humidity, or lack thereof, is one. Dealing with small batch fermentations in high heat, and evaporation during barrel aging are only a few of the challenges that are part of winemaking in Arizona.
I’m a firm believer that every winemaker, male and female alike, want to make the best wine they can. But figuring out exactly what the vines need in order to produce the best crops each year, exactly the right humidity for the barrel room, and the perfect amount of nutrients to the vines? In a phrase: it’s not the truck, it’s the truck driver.
Ann Roncone and her husband Ron own Lightning Ridge Cellars, a relative newcomer to the Sonoita/Elgin AVA. The small family vineyard represents years of personal endeavor from the ground up. Ann has earned great respect in the industry for her hard work. While Ron continues his ‘day job’, Ann has toiled in the dirt and in the winery. From prepping the ground, to planting the end posts and planting the vines, Ann has raised her vineyard as her baby. Inspired by her heritage, Ann has decided to focus on Italian varieties, including Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, Primitivo, Malvasia and Muscat Canelli. Ann is not afraid to get dirty in the vineyard and give it her all.
Ann not only serves as the vineyard manager, she also produces the wine. Her wines have been well received across the board and her bottles also serve as works of art, delivering you to the Italian countryside, all the way from Southern Arizona. She oversaw the building of her winery and tasting room, creating a beautiful villa experience for her visitors.
Arizona Vines & Wines asked Ann to write this article about her experience as a female in the wine industry, knowing that she has played an integral part every step of the way.
We recommend finding out for yourself and visiting Lightning Ridge Cellars on your next trip to Sonoita. You’ll probably find Ann or Ron in the tasting room and can hear first-hand all the stories about their adventure into this amazing yet difficult business. You might also get a chance to meet her furry family who serve as welcoming committee and security at the same time.
Article and Photos by Ann Roncone, Lightning Ridge Cellars
Originally Published in Arizona Vines and Wines Summer 2011 Issue