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Alumni cultivate success for female winemakers

Tiffany Britton and Miriah Falce help support new alliance for women in the Washington wine industry

Alumni from Yakima Valley College’s Vineyard and Winery Technology program continue to be leaders in the region’s wine industry as well as throughout the state of Washington. Many alumni have gone on to establish new wineries and vineyards, provide support for student success through networking opportunities and internships, serve on advisory groups and have continued to support of the college’s education program.

“It is rewarding to see our alumni active in the industry in so many different ways, including the support they give to the Vineyard and Winery Program even after they have graduated, and the leadership roles they have taken on,” stated Agriculture Department Chair Trent Ball. “To see them give back to YVC and help foster the success of the wine industry is special to witness.”

A recent example of the incredible work being done includes the establishment of the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine (AWWAwine). The Alliance’s mission is to inspire, educate and advance women in the Washington wine industry.

Alumni Tiffany Britton and Miriah Falce were excited to participate in the new group centered around supporting other females in an industry that has historically been predominantly male.

Tiffany Britton
Tiffany Britton checks on a fermentation.

Britton, who grew up in Enterprise, Ore. and Yakima, spent much of her childhood on rural farms. Before enrolling in the Vineyard and Winery Technology program in 2005, she earned her associate in applied science degree in Veterinary Technology. She knew she wanted to pursue a career in agriculture and after enrolling in the Introduction to Washington Wines and Plant Physiology courses she was hooked, graduating from the wine program in 2007.

YVC’s program helped prepare Britton for her future career goals and eventually open her own winery, Brainstorm Cellars.

“YVC provided lots of hands-on, practical knowledge as well as allowed me to meet many people that would continue to support me throughout my career,” she stated.

“My partner and I both still hold full-time day jobs. We started daydreaming about [opening our own winery] a few years ago. I landed a winemaking/vineyard gig that, as a benefit of my compensation package, allowed for me to make my own wine,” she continued.

Britton hopes to build Brainstorm Cellars into a local midsized winery with a taphouse vibe where they are able to do collaborations with other local winemakers, brewers and ciderists.

When Britton was invited to an after-work meetup with other local women working as enologists, viticulture techs, winemakers, lab techs and cellar masters an alliance was formed. She volunteered to help run the new initiative.

“The wine industry can be very isolating, homogenous and impenetrable. It is hard to be in the minority but it’s even harder when you are all alone in the cellar or the vineyard for 8-16 hours a day, every day.”

— Tiffany Britton ’07

She is now serving as president of the group with responsibility for managing a board that she describes as ‘full of brilliant, passionate women,” in additional to facilitating effective communication between departments and projects and scheduling and chairing meetings.

In addition to working with the Alliance and her start-up winery, Britton works full time in quality assurance for a fortune 500 company, at a facility that dries potato starch.

Mariah Falce
Miriah Falce takes a sample of brix levels during the fermentation process.

Miriah Falce is another YVC alumni who has found support from creating a group of women who help encourage and support one another.

Inspired by her father’s background in science, Falce always planned to work in the field of microbiology or research. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and began working in a tasting room while searching for jobs in the Seattle area.

“It was at this job I learned the head winemaker had the same degree and hospital experience as I did, and that there was a whole science side to making wine. I realized that customer service wasn’t quite for me, but chemistry was … so I joined Willow Crest Winery as a lab tech as harvest 2017 began,” stated Falce.

When her coworker, who was enrolled in YVC’s Vineyard and Winery program at the time, suggested she consider enrolling, Falce realized she wanted to make a career change and become involved in the winemaking process. She enrolled in YVC’s program in 2018.

“I learned the physical winemaking process that first harvest but knew to really excel in the industry that wasn’t enough. There was so much background knowledge I was missing, like the state/world history, sensory analysis, wine compliance, management, etc and as someone who loves to learn, I was excited to see YVC had it all,” stated Falce.

Falce also was attracted to YVC’s program because it catered to working adults and offered a short-term certificate option.

“As a fresh university graduate, I also wasn’t in a place to begin a new degree through a state school, so the certificate was perfect. Classes were in the evening, so I was able to simultaneously focus on my career and the program without interference. I wouldn’t be where I am without the program and the hands-on learning.” — Miriah Falce ’20

After finishing YVC’s program in 2020, Falce relocated to Lake Chelan and began working as an enologist at Cairdeas Winery.

For other women interested in pursuing a career in the wine industry, Falce recommends exploring the wide variety of certificate and degree options available.

“If that’s not a possibility or someone isn’t completely sure, start looking around at local opportunities,” she said. “Many wineries/vineyards look for harvest help and offer internships during that season that can turn into full-time [jobs]. There are many options to start learning on your own.”

She also shared how special it was to be involved with creating the Alliance from the start.

“[AWWAwine] really has grown so much in such a short time and now includes socials, mentorships and scholarships. I attended some of the initial meetings where we tried to really figure out what the group was going to stand for and how it was going to be set up. Last year I assisted with social media for the big public launch of the group for Washington Wine Month and Women’s History Month. I’ve had to take a step back but look forward to getting back involved with some of the committees as they come up,” she shared.

Falce agrees that the Alliance is something important for female winemakers in Washington state.

“Although the industry is big — while also feeling very small once you’re in it — it felt important to have a group that women could turn to for resources. A state group crossing AVAs allows growers, winemakers, winery owners, vineyard crews, tasting room associates and educational professionals to connect and share their unique experiences, which propels all of us forward,” she concluded.

Looking forward, AWWAwine hopes to continue to build sustainable educational programing, create a more connected statewide community, inspire and provide support for women to achieve all their career goals, and fundraise to support student scholarships.