IN WASHINGTON, THE second-largest wine-producing state in the nation, more women are entering — and succeeding in — the historically male-dominated world of wine production.

Women winemakers helped lead the rise of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in the late 1970s. Five decades later, five of the 11 largest brands in that company — the largest in the Northwest, with headquarters in Woodinville — have women calling the shots as the head winemaker.

More women are landing executive positions at wineries and vineyards across the state and on the Washington State Wine Commission. Some women have taken their degrees in enology and viticulture programs at Washington State University or Walla Walla Community College and applied that knowledge to produce wines of international acclaim.

Among those writing the next chapters of the Washington wine industry are Devyani Isabel Gupta, the 29-year-old head winemaker for Valdemar Estates in Walla Walla; viticulturist Sadie Drury, general manager of North Slope Management and vineyard manager of historic Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley; and Rebecca De Kleine, general manager and director of winemaking for the colossal Four Feathers Wine Services in Prosser.

Here are their stories.

The prodigy
ONE EASY INSIGHT into Devyani Isabel Gupta’s desire and drive to become a part of the wine industry can be found in her tax filing from 2016, while she was a student at Walla Walla Community College.

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“That was the year of nine W-2s,” she recalls with a chuckle. “I was editing website content for two wineries. I helped run a wine club. I found multiple jobs I could do in between classes. I worked in the tasting room for multiple places. I was serving tables. I would get called by Dunham Cellars to pull lab samples. Other places would need some help topping barrels or pulling samples, and there was bottling at Artifex. It was crazy — and the list goes on.”

Gupta, 29, grew up in Portland, raised by a wine-collecting father from East India and a Latina American mother, and the backgrounds of her parents led her down a path she seemed destined for.

“When I was as young as 5, I would bug him to smell his wine,” Gupta says with a smile about her father. “When I got older, he said, ‘Fine. If you can describe three things about this wine, you can get a sip of it.’ Now when he comments about me being a winemaker, I joke with him, ‘It’s your fault! You let me earn those sips.’ ”

And yet, it’s not the career he had envisioned for his daughter.

“Part of my Indian heritage is also that your family has very, very clear career paths,” she says. “ ‘Winemaker’ is not on one of those clear paths. My dad would ask, ‘Don’t you have to be born into that?’ And, ‘Where would you even go to school for that?’ ”

Rather than in a vineyard, he thought she belonged in the fields of medicine, law, high tech or research, so after Gupta graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, she got a research job with the University of Washington.

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“At Whitman, you are suddenly immersed in all of those paths that you could take to go into wine,” she says. “It could be in wine sales or winemaking or grape-growing. It was kind of scary because it shifted around everything that I thought I wanted to do.

“Then it was, ‘Oops! There’s this thing that I thought I wanted to do — research — but now there’s this thing that I love more than anything else and need to do it.’ ”

She told her parents she was enrolling in the enology and viticulture program at Walla Walla Community College. Many of its graduates are producing some of the country’s best wines. Gupta’s diligence, intelligence and personality soon attracted the attention of some of the Walla Walla Valley’s leading wine figures — Norm McKibben of Pepper Bridge/Amavi, Chris Figgins at Leonetti Cellar, Marty Clubb at L’Ecole No. 41 and vineyard manager Sadie Drury. All found a way to get Gupta on their team.

“Norm introduced Devyani to me, and I knew as soon as I met her, she was going to do great things,” Drury says.

Gupta takes none of those connections for granted.

“It was immeasurable how much impact those experiences had on my learning, and I learned that I really wanted to be on the production side and the vineyard side,” she says.

In 2018 — the year she graduated — Gupta worked full-time for Drury and the Figgins family. She joined Valdemar in March 2019.

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It has been a remarkably rapid run for Gupta. She arrived in Walla Walla in 2011 as a freshman studying psychology at Whitman. Now she is overseeing a 5,000-case winery with an estate vineyard.

“There is some leadership that comes with this job, and I feel the need to make an impact and to be involved in the industry,” Gupta says. “There are a lot of questions surrounding our industry right now, such as, ‘How do we be more inclusive?’ ‘How do we reach a broader audience?’ ‘How do we make wine more interesting and accessible?’ I really want to have some impact there and help in those areas.”

Besides her parents, she says others sometimes have been surprised by her role, too.

“When someone asks you four times, ‘Are you sure you are the winemaker?’ There is no way around those moments,” she says. “It happened again just the other day with a group. I think they were more astonished than anything, and they became mesmerized with the process of winemaking and wanted to learn more. And they ended up joining the wine club.”

Beyond the winery, Gupta’s simple pastimes include taking her German shorthaired pointer, Henry, to the park, but the world of wine is woven deeply into her life. Her husband, Tyler Dutton, works at Tranche for the winemaking Corliss family.

“After the park, Henry will be ready to chill, and my husband and I will get started on dinner,” she says. “After that, we’ll play board games. We love to play board games — dominoes, backgammon, gin rummy.”

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Valdemar Estates is the first winery in Washington state owned by a European family, and it seems nearly every step along Gupta’s path led her there. Her mother’s heritage prompted her to add a Spanish degree to her studies at Whitman.

“I get to use this skill often to bridge both the English- and Spanish-speaking teams at Valdemar and collaborate on tastings, projects, even distribution,” Gupta says.

Jesús Martínez Bujanda Mora, CEO and fifth-generation owner at Valdemar, is confident his young winemaker and viticulturist is up to the challenge of her first harvest, and many more, as head winemaker.

“Devyani has been with us since Day One, and when we had to decide if we were hiring a new winemaker or promoting her, we saw a lot of potential in Devyani,” he says. “She is super-talented, passionate about vineyards as much or more as for winemaking, eager to learn.”

Mora calls the promotion of Gupta “the best decision.”

When Valdemar opened, women held the roles of general manager and their top two winemaking positions.

“The family thinks more about the person rather than what they look like or what they are wearing when they show up for an interview,” Gupta says. “They aren’t afraid to take risks. They don’t care if the person they hire for the job is a woman or that they are young — especially considering they are a fifth-generation family business in the Rioja, which is a very traditional culture. They don’t care if something is unprecedented.”

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And Gupta has embraced her first year of calling all the shots.

“Every day when I walk into the building I think to myself, ‘Wow! We got here.’ “

The grower
A WORK HISTORY that began as a young girl picking locally famous Klicker strawberries in the Walla Walla Valley led Sadie Drury back home to manage and harvest some of the wine world’s most acclaimed grapes as general manager of North Slope Management and vineyard manager/viticulturist at Seven Hills Vineyard.

She not only works for the Figgins family (Leonetti Cellar), Marty Clubb (L’Ecole No. 41) and the revered Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge/Amavi), but also with other acclaimed winery clients throughout the Northwest.

Her path included a string of five growing seasons for Jim Holmes and his historic Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain, west of Richland, starting in 2008. Along with that came an introduction to future winemaker Rebecca De Kleine, viticulturist Lacey Lybeck and future winery administrator Jennifer Nance. Drury, De Kleine and Nance roomed together in 2010.

“The summer we shared a house on Red Mountain was so much fun,” Drury says. “Lacey would come hang out, and our other roommate, Jennifer, is in the industry doing great things. I remember loving learning about what other vineyards were seeing and doing. I think that was the first time I didn’t feel like the only woman in the wine industry.”

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Few in the Washington wine industry are as respected as Drury. Earlier this year, she became the first woman chosen to serve as board chair of the Washington State Wine Commission.

“It’s an incredible honor to hold this position for so many reasons, but mostly I’m still in awe and humbled that my peers in the wine industry and on the Board of Commissioners have faith in me to lead the organization,” Drury says.

Last year, the Washington Winegrowers Association presented the Walla Walla native with its Grower of the Year award. Wine Enthusiast magazine spotlighted Drury in its 40 Under 40 Tastemaker series.

“I owe much of my success to Jim Holmes,” Drury says. “He showed me the opportunities working in a vineyard had to offer and never made me feel like I couldn’t accomplish something because of my gender. I actually took over Jim’s position on the commission when I first joined, which was very special.”

Drury says she is grateful to the men who have mentored her during her career, but wishes she had worked with a female mentor.

“I find that mentoring is mutually beneficial, and I now lean heavily on women I used to mentor — like Devyani — for advice,” she says. “It’s great to have these types of relationships that span across many years.”

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Drury says a career in vineyard work is demanding, regardless of gender. She says she has more female employees than men, and has for many years.

“One of the things I learned about Norm [McKibben] early on is, he finds talented people and gives them the resources to succeed,” Drury says. “There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of turnover in the businesses he owns. I can say this about Marty Clubb and Chris Figgins, too. The three of them took a gamble on me when I was put into the position of vineyard manager of nearly 300 acres without prior management experience.”

The lodestar
REBECCA DE KLEINE grew up in a home where wine was appreciated, but her inspiration to enter the industry came from a movie.

“Back in the ’90s, there was a remake of ‘The Parent Trap.’ I saw the first one because my dad had me watch all of those,” De Kleine says with a chuckle. “One of the twins lived on a vineyard, and I thought, ‘That looks dreamy.’ And that was a little thing in the back of my head.”

She says that during her junior and senior years of high school, she began to think about where she wanted to go to college, what to study, what scholarships might be available.

“My dad and I found the viticulture and enology program at WSU, and I knew I wanted to go to WSU,” she says. “And I thought, ‘You know; I like science, and that movie — the dreamy life of being a winemaker and living on a vineyard. I’m going to try this.’ I knew by my senior year of high school that I was going to study wine.”

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The 2007 graduate of Kentridge High School earned internships while a student at WSU and worked at Columbia Crest and Goose Ridge before an interview with the Zirkle family team that owns Four Feathers Wine Services.

When the Zirkles, one of the most powerful farming families in Washington, added wine production to their portfolio in 2012, De Kleine was the second person hired. She is the director of winemaking for a company whose holdings include 3,500 acres of vineyards with the capacity to produce 3.4 million gallons of wine.

De Kleine and Four Feathers produce and package wine for 400 companies. Dusted Valley Vintners in Walla Walla works with De Kleine on the value-driven Boomtown by Dusted Valley brand. The winery has collaborated with Four Feathers since 2017.

“Becca has become an integral part of our team,” says Corey Braunel, co-owner of Dusted Valley in Walla Walla. “She is an absolute professional in every sense of the word. Her customer-focused approach brings a ‘can-do’ spirit to our relationship.”

If she weren’t in the wine industry?

“I would probably be working for the Girl Scouts,” De Kleine says. “I was a Girl Scout from kindergarten to my senior year of high school, and for a time I was rather embarrassed about it, but I knew I was getting to do some really cool stuff by being in Girl Scouts, including going to China. I met so many people. It was a really positive experience, and I think it inspired me to volunteer a lot. I try to be involved in my community.”

Now, she says, “I’m proud of being a woman, and I’m proud of being a winemaker, too,” she says. “It’s fun. And I think we impact a lot of lives positively. We hire a lot of people and support a lot of families. And that’s very important to me.”