Yordanos Gebru always wanted to be a winemaker in California wine country, and thanks to the “Women Behind the Wine” Educational Scholarship Fund by E. & J. Gallo Winery, it’s actually happening. If you want to grow your career in spirits, wine or hospitality, one of these scholarships could help you become a future leader within the industry.
For years, women have held fewer leadership roles in the beverage and hospitality industry than their male counterparts have, but E. & J. Gallo Winery, with the support of the Women of the Vine & Spirits Foundation, hopes to change that.
For the past three years, the winery’s “Women Behind the Wine” campaign, which celebrates female leaders in the wine, spirits and hospitality industry, donates funds to the Women of the Vine & Spirits Foundation to offer scholarships to deserving candidates. The fund is supported by Gallo brands that are bolstered by strong female roles such as Fleur de Mer, Mount Peak Winery, Louis M. Martini, William Hill Estate, Whitehaven, Storypoint, Luminore by La Marca and J Vineyards & Winery. These scholarships help other women throughout the beverage and hospitality industry. They’re available to women who are currently in education programs as well as those who are already in the industry and could use help furthering their careers via continuing education or certifications.
This year there are four scholarship categories, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000: The Master Sommelier Scholarship, the Masters of Wine Scholarship, the Elizabeth Smyth Student Scholarship and the Fuel Your Dreams Scholarships.
“The Women of the Vine & Spirits Foundation and the Women Behind the Wine Scholarship Fund help to fill the talent pipeline and advance women into key leadership positions,” says Deborah Brenner, president of the Women of the Vine & Spirits Foundation.
One of 2019’s scholarship winners, Yordanos Gebru, is from the city of Bahir Dar in Ethiopia. Growing up, she made mango, date, guava and honey wines—traditionally called tej—at her family’s microwinery, Pelican Winehouse. She likes working with her hands, taking the raw fruit material and turning it into something tangible and delicious. “Winemaking requires not only technical knowledge but also passion,” Gebru says.
She left Ethiopia in 2012 for North America, where she held vineyard and cellar internships in Sonoma, California, and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada. After that, she left for France to pursue a master’s degree in Vineyard and Winery Management at Bordeaux Sciences Agro. It was there that her financial situation became troublesome. “I had almost finished the first year of the two-year program, and I was worried about how I’d pay tuition for the second year,” she says. Luckily, a classmate introduced her to the E. & J. Gallo Winery “Women Behind the Wine” Educational Fund Scholarships.
She applied and was awarded the Elizabeth Smyth Student Scholarship, which is given to a student enrolled in a wine-related postsecondary program. “The scholarship came at the perfect time,” she says. “I was able to finish my master’s degree successfully, without added financial stress.”
Gebru adds that, aside from the money, the scholarship has helped her expand her network and meet more female winemakers, leaders and influencers in the industry.
The scholarship program aims to elevate and cultivate a diverse group. Past winners include talented women of color like journalist Chasity Cooper, writer Taylor Henriquez, wine consultant Sheree Williams, aspiring sommeliers Daniella Sanchez and Crystal Dawana, and many more.
“I am especially proud of the diversity among our scholarship winners,” says Gina Gallo, Vice President of Estate Winemaking at E. & J. Gallo Winery. “Through this initiative, we are helping to deepen education and empower unique voices. Every new voice helps the industry. Diverse perspectives, philosophies, styles and new ideas are making our industry more innovative, interesting and daring.”
Gebru agrees that having diverse perspectives can encourage more creativity and innovation in the wine industry.
“I AM ESPECIALLY PROUD OF THE DIVERSITY AMONG OUR SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS,”—Gina Gallo, Vice President of Estate Winemaking at E. & J. Gallo Winery
“I think a lot about the language used to describe wine,” she says. “When I first got into wine in North America, I realized that I had never even tasted a lot of the fruits used to describe wine, like black currant, blackberries and cherries. I believe that if we want to sell wine to diverse audiences—like different racial and ethnic communities in the United States, as well as emerging wine markets outside the United States—the language, aromas and flavors we use to describe wine should be broader, as well as the types of food we pair it with. Having a more diverse team can help with this.”
Gebru recently finished a six-month internship at two different wineries in Virginia. In December 2020, she defended her thesis and received her master’s degree in Vineyard and Winery Management. “Now I am applying for a permanent position at a company where I can utilize both the theoretical and practical knowledge that I have acquired over the past decade,” she says.
“Women’s qualifications and expertise are still underestimated, making it difficult for women to get ahead in the industry,” Gebru says. “It is very rare to see a person of color as a head winemaker or in other leadership positions. You rarely see a person of color as the face of the winery. As a woman of color and an immigrant, it is always encouraging to see someone who looks like me in a leadership position, and I hope that my journey can encourage others as well.”
WANT TO BECOME A LEADER IN THE WINE, SPIRITS OR HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY, OR KNOW A WOMAN WHO DESERVES TO BE RECOGNIZED? HERE’S HOW TO APPLY FOR THE E. & J. GALLO WINERY “WOMEN BEHIND THE WINE” 2021 SCHOLARSHIP FUND.