Wondering how it all got started twenty-one years ago?

Here are a few comments from founders Michaela Rodeno and Julie Johnson: “We were in a conference in Sonoma and during a break there were three or four of us standing around complaining about all the negative press the wine industry was getting, and how frustrating it was that none of the wine industry organizations were doing anything about it,” said Rodeno. “Just then Julie and I looked at each other and said, ‘we could do something about it.'” Their first meeting, held at the Robert Mondavi Winery, drew some 80 people.

“Our main goal then was to set the record straight. The information that was coming out was all wrong, all negative,” said Rodeno. “And we all knew, intuitively, that it wasn’t correct. So we set out to get ourselves educated and started sharing what we found with policy makers and other people in the industry. And pretty soon, the people in the industry who had money and the resources started realizing that they weren’t going to be struck by lightning if they stood up for wine.”

Rodeno said the name Women for WineSense was picked because a lot of the negative press was directed toward women, but the moniker ended up with a deeper significance. “We didn’t realize it then, but it turned out to be a very powerful name. Naming ourselves was one of the hardest things we had to do.” Some in the group thought the name was too exclusionary, even though men were, and still are, welcome. “Right away we found it was a good name, it really sounded like a more powerful force than we really were. It was remarkable. It sounded like some powerful women’s organization.”

Twenty-one years later, there are now chapters across the country from Oregon to New York and from Virginia to Texas. Here’s a bit more background on our two founders:

Julie Johnson

Julie Johnson, WWS Co-Founder

Julie Johnson, WWS Co-Founder

Co-Founder of Women for WineSense,‘Wine-grower’ of Tres Sabores

Johnson has been recognized as one of the nation’s pioneer activists of socially-responsible winemaking and has been consulting in organic winemaking for the past three decades. In 1981, she, along with her first husband John Williams and partner Larry Turley, founded the environmentally-friendly Frog’s Leap Winery.

She moved to her 35-acre ranch on the western benchland of Rutherford in 1987. Zinfandel grapes were already planted on the property and were soon harvested for Frog’s Leap Winery, where she directed the sales and marketing programs while maintaining her career as a public health nurse until the arrival of her first child.

Along with Michaela Rodeno, CEO at Supery Winery, she established Women for WineSense in 1990. Additionally, she held a previous position as the President of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) and is a member of Rutherford Dusty Society and Napa Valley Vintners. Her wines have been recognized by Robert Parker, Douglas Wilder of VinFolio, The Wine Enthusiast, James Gordon, The New York Times, as well as numerous others.

From 1999 through 2001 she was a Fellow in the California Agricultural Leadership Program. Meanwhile, the old barn at her Rutherford ranch had been converted into a small winery, Cabernet had been planted, and the vineyard had received certification as a California Certified Organic (CCOF) Farm.

Julie decided to change gears and develop her own label, using the distinctive estate fruit so close at hand: the Tres Sabores “Three tastes” project was born. In 2004, Julie released her first estate Cabernet Sauvignon: “Rutherford Perspective,” which joined her estate Zinfandel, Tres Sabores, Rutherford and her quaffing blend, ¿Porqué No? in the marketplace. In the spring of 2006, the first Tres Sabores white wine: Farina Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc was brought to market.

Currently, she’s taking great delight celebrating a renewed family life with husband Jon Engelskirger, consulting winemaker (and combined, their six children!). Ongoing, she is pursuing winemaking as a vocation, as well as advocating for her passions as a past President of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), and as a member of the Rutherford Dust Society, the Napa Valley Vintners, CCOF and Napa Zinfandel Trail. 

Michaela Rodeno

Michaela Rodeno, WWS Co-Founder

Michaela Rodeno, WWS Co-Founder

Co-Founder of Women for WineSense, former CEO of St. Supéry

Michaela Rodeno recently retired as St. Supéry’s CEO after 21 years. She had previously been the VP/Marketing for Domaine Chandon. She is one of the leading women in the California wine industry and a strong advocate for wine-related issues.

Rodeno co-founded Women for WineSense and served on the boards of California’s Wine Institute and the Napa Valley Vintners Association. She is a founding director and past chair of the Wine Market Council, served as chairman of the Meritage Association from 1999-2005, chaired the Napa Valley Wine Auction twice, and recently joined the board of the Napa Valley Destination Council.

A director of Silicon Valley Bank since 2001, Rodeno currently chairs its compensation committee. She is often invited to speak at conferences. She holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and speaks fluent French. She and her family own Villa Ragazzi, a Napa Valley winery with a first vintage of 1988, and 60 acres of vineyards in the Napa Valley, where she lives with her attorney husband Gregory. Their two children are university graduates.