There are people in the Wine Industry that don’t own vineyards or make wine, yet their impact on our business is indisputable. They are the people behind our winery associations, our media and our trade and they’re making a difference. “People” was created to acknowledge their role and celebrate their successes.
Writer: Jim Brumm
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A woman sits across from me at a local coffee shop in Santa Rosa, California. She is animated and upbeat. As usual, she is talking about wine, and as usual, her story ends with a laugh and I can’t help laughing along.
“I think people take wine way too seriously,” she is saying. “I think that wine should be fun.” She goes on to tell a story of filling her bathtub with red wine and bathing in it. I form a mental picture of this . . .
Born in Santa Monica, California, Sue grew up in the San Fernando Valley (and she does a mean “valley girl” imitation). Living on a small ranch with her family, she said she was “riding before I was born.” As a girl she wanted to be a horse veterinarian when she grew up, but that was not to be.
“I’m a failed Jewish American Princess,” she said, laughing. “I was always too bohemian to fit into that world.”
After high school she worked for a while at a veterinarian hospital in southern California and met and married a man who was both a farrier and a musician. Sue trained horses during the day and waitressed at night. She would roller skate down Ventura Boulevard to work each day. (At one point she was offered a chance to try out for the Los Angeles Thunderbirds roller derby team, but that’s another story.)
In 1981 Sue moved to Healdsburg, in northern California’s Sonoma County. One evening, while working as a waitress, a regular customer who managed a nearby tasting room offered Sue a job at her winery. “I thought, okay . . . I like wine,” said Sue, with a smile. She accepted the position and fell into the world of wine. She never looked back.
There she met the woman who would mentor her into a life of wine. Winemaker Carol Shelton asked Sue to help with some wine tastings. “I got to taste and write up descriptions,” said Sue. “Carol noticed that I had a palate, that I could taste subtle flavors in the wines that others missed.” Carol took Sue under her wing and eventually invited her to be a judge on a wine tasting panel. Sue did her first wine judging in 1985, at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair, which has since evolved into the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. She is now a regular wine judge for that competition as well as the El Dorado County Fair, Pacific Rim, and others.
Sue has tenaciously pursued her love of wine, and of sharing that love with others. For five years she wrote a column on wine for the San Diego Union Tribune where she developed a following of loyal readers. In 2001 she hosted a wine-related show on two Sonoma County radio stations, KHBG in Healdsburg, and KRSH in Santa Rosa. On these shows she did live, on-air tastings and interviewed winemakers from the region. It was while doing radio one day that a friend first dubbed her with the moniker “Wine Wench®.”
“I tend to be irreverent and lusty,” said Sue. “Hence, the Wine Wench® is a title that suits me perfectly!”
From the beginning Sue approached her work with a different attitude from what people had come to expect from wine reviewers. Instead of dry, traditional wine-speak, Sue infuses her reviews with wit, banter, and irreverent analogies, all of which add up to fun reading, along with great information on the latest wines available on the market.
Sue describes herself as a rustic, medium-bodied, slightly-aged-yet-still-enjoyable woman who loves wine and loves to share it with friends and family. She approaches her wine reviews the same way.
Here’s how she described one wine: “Slightly sweet and totally refreshing, like Drew Barrymore sitting on a picnic blanket in a sunlit field of wildflowers, wearing nothing but a crown of daisies in her hair.” (I’d buy that wine.)
And another: “Picture Lenny Kravitz lounging in his bedroom, wearing black leather pants and eating ripe blackberries.”
“I love what I do,” said Sue with a grin. “I lead a wine-drenched life.”
Sue feels that instead of wine being something lofty and cerebral, it should be accessible, fun, and a part of everyday life.
“Wine is unabashedly sensuous,” she said. “It smells good, it tastes good, it enhances your daily life, and it’s good for you.” She laughed and added, “It’s always an adventure!”
In 2008 Sue started her blog, www.wine-wench.com in order to, as she put it, “to gently educate the wine-glugging masses; to bring the tasting room to the Internet.” She is available to taste and rate wines for anyone. Rating on a scale of one to five stars, she only publishes ratings of three stars or above on the blog so everything you find there will be good.
Over the past 30 years Sue had been a part of the wine industry doing, as she put it, “whatever a Wine Wench® can do,” from managing tasting rooms and wine clubs, helping with crush, event planning, judging wine competitions, consulting, writing, and more. Today Sue is director of sales and marketing for J. Rickards Winery in Cloverdale, California, where her enthusiasm, energy, and excitement have greatly increased wine sales since she came onboard a short time ago. She is also a regular editorial contributor to the magazine Wine Country This Week.
Soon, in addition to wine tasting, her Web site will offer Wine Wench® products, from tee-shirts to wine glasses. She also offers a new service she calls “Back Label Girl™,” in which she helps wineries with the writing on their back labels to help sell their wines. As if all that weren’t enough, Sue is a talented blues harmonica player, and performs regularly around Sonoma County with her band, Wine Wench & Friends.
But her first love is always the wine. With her unique, refreshing, and sometimes cheeky approach, Sue Straight—the Wine Wench®—is helping to demystify wine and share it with a wider audience. She has made wine fun again.
To contact Sue, or to submit wines for review, visit her web site at http://www.wine-wench.com