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In Good Taste

Woman in Wine - Meet Neely Ashley

Woman in Wine - Meet Neely Ashley

Get To Know In Good Taste’s Woman in Wine

To celebrate Women’s History Month, In Good Taste would like to give a huge shoutout to our very own Neely Ashley. Women in Wine Day is March 25th, and Neely is the perfect wine-loving woman to feature on this holiday. Neely is one of our winemakers, and she’s responsible for many of the delicious wines that we offer here at In Good Taste. We may be biased, but we think Neely is pretty spectacular — not only at her job but as a person too!

Women in Wine Day is March 25

Neely has been all over the world working with wine. From Italy and New Zealand, to Australia and Oregon, she has touched, tasted, and taken copious notes on the wines of the world. Since graduating with a B.S. in Wine and Viticulture with a concentration in Enology from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2016, Neely's been busy mastering her craft. She has worked in the vineyards, labs, and cellars for numerous celebrated winemakers. Now, Neely works side-by-side as assistant winemaker to Matt Smith at In Good Taste HQ in Sonoma County.

We wanted some insight on what it’s like being a woman winemaker, so we picked Neely’s brain to get some insight and wisdom on the wine world

Neely Ashley learned her craft in wineries and vineyards around the world

First, for those studying for a career in wine or looking to grow their career in the industry, are there any organizations or resources they can rely on for information and support? 

Neely’s advice? “Get ready to get your hands dirty and your feet wet.  As the industry continues to grow, there are countless educational opportunities, but in my experience, no book compares to practical experience. The industry is not as seen on TV. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of lovely dinners, tastings, and gorgeous walks through the vineyards, but for me, the majority of my time is spent in the cellar; cold, wet, and running on little sleep and copious amounts of coffee. There are plenty of reasons I continue to be drawn back to this industry, but first and foremost, it's because of the community it creates. I’ve been fortunate enough to work throughout the world, and the humans I’ve met along the way continue to inspire me. If you are out there considering a career in the wine industry, find a harvest internship and jump in with both feet and an extra pair of socks. Trust me; you’ll need them.”

Hands on Experience is the best way to learn the world of wine

If Neely says, “Trust me,” you know it’s got to be good advice!

Wine is an interesting and complex field, which led us to ask what first interested Neely in a career in wine. Were there any pivotal moments or events that encouraged her to pursue a career in wine, or specifically In Good Taste

“From an early age, I had a clear strength in my math and science courses, which led my parents to encourage me down that path. But it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I participated in an internship at a local lab that I knew I needed to reconsider my career trajectory. While I loved the work, the idea of working indoors did not appeal. So, at the age of 17, I sat my parents down and told them I was off to study enology (the science of winemaking). I’ll never forget their facial expressions.It took them a while to get used to the idea that their only daughter planned on becoming a winemaker, but I think we can all agree that I made the right decision. It's been a funny path so far, but I am grateful for where it has led me thus far, and I can’t wait to see what's next.”

Needless to say, we’re so glad that Neely decided to take that path!

In the world of wine, we tend to separate the Old World (steeped in traditions and rules) from the New World (experimentation and renewal). We wanted to know which of these “worlds” Neely feels most connected to when making or enjoying wine.

To this question, Neely shared, “To create tradition and rules, boundaries must be pushed, experimentation is required, and curious exploration has to be allowed. While the old world may appear rigid in its ways, I find there are still plenty of avenues being explored with each new generation. While those changes and rebellions may not be easily visible, look closer because there is plenty of progress afoot.” She continued, “Now, back to the question, I would consider myself modern in the sense that I believe exploration is important, but at the same time do not forget all those that came before us. There is still plenty for all of us to learn.” 

It’s clear Neely appreciates both worlds, and we think that’s awesome! As a winemaker in the industry, Neely has a pretty good pulse on the industry as a whole, so we picked her brain to see if she noticed any big game changers in the industry lately — or any that she knows of on the horizon. And if so, how does she feels about them?

Not surprisingly, she has some great insight. “It's great to see many in the US wine industry taking a more wholesome view of the winemaking process and stepping out into the vineyard. Winemaking in Europe tends to be integrated, from vineyard to sales, in the US, it’s traditionally been more segmented. But it looks like things might be changing. It's refreshing to read and speak with winemakers who have just as much stake in the lifecycle of the vineyard as they do with the outcome in the bottle. It's time for all of us to stand up, walk outside, and physically observe the impact that winemaking has on the planet and our communities, and make sure we are doing all we can to be a positive influence in these beautiful places we call home. While I continue to be encouraged by the progress so many are making, it is time for all of us to come together and do more.” 

With so much world travel under her belt and such an impressive resume, Neely has obviously seen and experienced her fair share of interesting things in her winemaking experience. But, we wanted to know what the most memorable moment in her career has been — so we asked.

“How do I pick one?” she replied. “Would you like to hear about how we unplugged a heat exchange with frozen must? Or the time I hauled a 6” insulated line up three industrial flights of stairs? I promise it's a lot harder than it sounds. Or how about the time I managed smoke-tainted trials, in not one, but two hemispheres in a single year? I could go on and on about all the fantastic harvest meals I’ve had, and I haven't even worked a harvest in France yet. How about any of the 16-plus hour shifts that typically result in me saying something embarrassing? But as long as a cold beer is in my hand by the end of the night, all is right with the world.” 

“But the absolute best part of my career has always been the spectacular humans it has brought into my life. I have Kiwi and Aussie mates who are always yanking my chain. The French blokes, who are relentlessly correcting my French. Thank you. There’s my South African best buddy, who loves me for who I am. You know who you are, and I love you too! The Italians? They make me miss Rome more than I thought possible. There’s connecting with my coworkers from Mexico over our love of tacos. Then there’s time I’ve spent with my British mate enjoying sunny days at the beach and winding drives through the countryside. And my American comrades, they remind me that America is weird and still has plenty of growing to do but to be proud of where you come from. How could I ever just pick one?” 

That’s a fair question. So we’ll have to hear the rest of those stories another time — over a bottle of wine, of course. 

Although there are many positive moments in the wine industry, it doesn’t come without its challenges. With this in mind, we asked Neely what the biggest challenge the wine industry currently faces.

Poignantly, Neely said, “Climate change and labor shortages are two big issues in the wine industry. Making wine is by no means a cheap and hapless venture. It takes years of study and hefty capital to get an operation up and running.”

Big Challenges the Wine Industry is Facing

Climate Change
Labor Shortages
Challenges in the Wine Industry

Every winemaker has their own signature touch that is unmistakably “them.” So, what is unmistakably Neely? How would she describe her approach to winemaking? Is there one characteristic or note — her fingerprint — that she brings to all of her wines?

Neely’s answer is simple, “I focus on food first and food-friendly wines that are linear, balanced, acid driven and clean.”

Neely Ashley's focus in winemaking is on food-friendly, acid-driven wines

So, if you’re looking for a wine that will complement your next dish, look no further than Neely’s very own creations. She’s got the perfect pairing!

We would love to see more women in wine in the future, but breaking into the industry can seem daunting. What better way to get advice than to ask a woman who has done it before. We asked Neely what one piece of advice is that she would give to other women looking to make a career in wine.

“Work hard and get creative. There’s nothing we can't do! Thus far in my career, I have primarily worked with men, and while I am not as physically strong as most of them, that never stopped me from getting the job done. I only have two arms, but I also have my legs, head, and neck, and I can regularly be found utilizing everything I’ve got — even if it looks a little silly.” 

Neely Ashley advice for women in the wine industry

After seeing her in action, we can confirm — Neely can do anything she sets her mind to!

As we celebrate Neely and all of the other women in wine, we can’t think of a better way to do it than with a glass of delicious wine that represents their hard work? To truly get a flavor for Neely’s style and experience her talent and dedication yourself, browse through our collections at In Good Taste and pick one out that catches your eye. Cheers to all of the women winemakers out there!

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