As a millennial woman working in a male-dominated industry, Victoria Reader knows how it feels not to be taken seriously by colleagues.
While the majority of wine consumers in the US are women, “I’m sometimes the only woman, or the youngest person, in statewide vineyard meetings, and I’ve been treated like I don’t know what I’m talking about,” says Reader, cellar master and vineyard manager for Amalthea Cellars in Atco. “It is just so strange that it’s still this way.”
A wildlife biologist, Reader took a part-time job in 2018 at Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery in Pilesgrove, where she worked with head winemaker Julianne Donnini and fell in love with vineyard work.
For a while, Reader tried to juggle both careers. When a shorebird research gig brought her to Cape May County, she found a job at Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery in Rio Grande. Realizing that advancement as a biologist would require a return to graduate school, she went with her passion, landing a job as vineyard manager and assistant winemaker at Stokelan Estate Winery in Medford.
Now 31, the Salem County native wants to make the state’s growing wine industry more diverse and equitable. In July 2021, Reader launched Women in Wine New Jersey. It joins like-minded organizations, including Woman-Owned Wineries (WOW), the annual Women in Wine Leadership Symposium, and the California-based Bâtonnage Forum, focused on spurring conversations around women in wine.
“I figured I couldn’t be the only woman in the room who felt the way I did,” Reader says. “There are women working on these winery teams. We might not be head winemakers, but we’re making this wine and are part of the process.”
Reader recently began working with the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA), a coalition of nearly 50 wineries across the state, to hold meetings and fundraisers for future scholarships. GSWGA executive director Devon Perry, appointed last year and the first woman to hold that position, fully supports the Women in Wine NJ initiative, known internally as the GSWGA Women in Wine Caucus. “I will continue to do everything positive,” says Perry, “to cultivate and support women in the wine industry in New Jersey, from the fields to the tasting rooms to the classrooms.”
Reader and Perry are pushing for a survey to learn more about who holds positions such as winemaker, vineyard worker, cellar hand, tasting room staff, consultant and journalist. “I want to break those walls down,” says Reader. “Being a woman in this industry has had its challenges, but it’s such a beautiful, amazing, creative industry to be in.”
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