Team Member Spotlight
Interview with Penny Gadd-Coster
Penny is our Executive Director of Winemaking and has been with Rack & Riddle since its inception in 2007. We recently interviewed Penny to chat about her history with the company, what it means to be a revered winemaker in the industry, and what it’s like to work for a progressive winery that is proud to be owned and operated by a strong female influence.
Here’s what Penny had to say:
You’re an accomplished winemaker, making both still and sparkling wines, however your specialty niche is Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines. What drives your passion for the age-old tradition and for creating bubbly in general?
There is something really special knowing that each bottle has its own life making the bubbles to make it sparkle. A great balance between creative — making the blends- and science — making up yeast cultures and wine chemistries.
Knowing that there are not many who will dive into this process makes it even more special, following a tradition and making something fun that people can enjoy.
You’ve held many rewarding positions in the wine industry over the years. What sets your position and winemaker stewardship at Rack & Riddle apart from other industry roles you’ve had over the years?
Being able to create the wine for a new brand is exciting and also humbling. There is no house ‘formula’ to follow when you start with a brand — a lot is concept of the team and then crafting it from scratch. I have to say I was not alone, and two mentors that I worked with definitely helped to play a part in the bridging of concept to bottle. Also truly being a part of the growth and soul of Rack and Riddle — how great is that!
While working for Rack & Riddle, you’ve earned the title of “Winemaker of the Year” in 2013, among other notable awards for your wines and contributions to the industry. What did it mean to you personally to win that honor, particularly as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry?
Wow — that was the first year that they gave this award to Winemakers — so that made it even more special! This award comes from a recognition of peers. I cannot even express how special this was for me. It was not an easy trail — but the challenges were worth it. I have to thank my mentors along the way that helped me get here: Andre’ Tchelistcheff, Raphael Brisbois, Oded Shakked — none of them saw gender as an issue.
You’re an accomplished industry speaker and panelist. What types of speaking engagements do you find the most rewarding, and why?
I love sharing information — mentoring and teaching. It is so rewarding when someone tells me that they gained some insight or have a better understanding of a process. Just the fact that I am being asked to speak is rewarding in itself!
What advice would you give prospective winemakers either considering a career in winemaking, or just starting out in the industry — particularly women?
Follow your gut — this is hard work and movement upwards can be slow — BUT persevere!
Stand up for yourself.
No job is too hard — even for women! Learn everything — much respect is gained for those that were not afraid to stand on a bottling line and learn all of the aspects of it: Sanitation, QC, the mechanics of the equipment, maintenance … all are important. NEVER forget that. Starting out as crush help and working your way up is not a bad thing.
Travel to wineries in and out of the US — a lot can be learned! Remember this is a creative, but also scientific career.
Have a back up plan. As with any profession, you may find it is not right for you, but there are many professions within the industry — keep an open mind!
Méthode Champenoise winemaking is an age-old tradition that you’ve spent your entire career cultivating. What are you doing to ensure that future generations of winemakers — particularly in the U.S. — see the value in fostering this tradition and making sure it continues on?
At the moment the focus for this is at the winery where I am teaching and mentoring the Winemaking Team and clients. There are so many of them that want to learn the craft and can see why sparkling is still made in this tradition.
I am also working with some of the suppliers to put methodology in their catalogs — that makes some of the supplies more explainable. There is a piece in the Scott Labs catalog for an example.
Sharing with anyone that will listen! There is discussion going on to put together the Sparkling Winemakers in California so that not only can we pass along info, but glean info as well.
One Final Question: What do you feel your greatest contribution to the industry has been?
Keeping a tradition alive in an industry that is constantly changing, but also helping to keep that ‘tradition’ evolving by working with suppliers using new innovations by way of seminars and supplier catalogs. And mentoring to keep it alive!
Penny, Head Winemaker Manveer Sandhu and Winemaker Jenn Zeek looking at a harvested crop of wine grapes just brought to Rack & Riddle during a recent harvest.