Chico’s local women in wine

Sunset+behind+grapevines+at+LaRocca+Vineyards

Sunset at LaRocca Vineyards. Photo courtesy of LaRocca Vineyards.

October kicked off the prime-time wine-harvesting season with wineries and farms throughout California hosting a variety of events, including here in Butte County. Sierra Oro Farm Trail began offering farm and wine passes on Oct. 1 that granted visitors access to immersive farm experiences, complimentary wine tastings, exclusive discounts and tours to celebrate the month-long harvest.

Three of these farms and wineries; Hickman Family Vineyards, LaRocca Vineyards and Nascere Vineyards have female CEOs, something that is less than common in the industry. Although the field is still heavily male-dominated, the number of women in leadership positions is increasing as these women continue to trail blaze.

Phaedra LaRocca of LaRocca Vineyards is one of these CEOs. Founded out of an abandoned winery in 1984 by Philip and Judith LaRocca, LaRocca Vineyards and the accompanying tasting room is a staple of Chico’s wine community.

LaRocca has many responsibilities at the vineyard. These increased after the Camp Fire. Additionally, COVID-19 caused downsizing, furthering her workload.

Her day begins with dropping her son off at school. She then gets the Tasting Room ready for Thursday’s openings and runs business errands while she’s in Chico.

Three of the next generations of LaRoccas holding glasses of red wine stand in front of wine bottles
The next generation of LaRoccas. Photo courtesy of LaRocca Vineyards.

Following this, she drives to the winery where she either makes, tastes or racks the wines, all depending on the time of year. LaRocca also handles the bookkeeping, calls and business deeds.

LaRocca mentioned that her favorite wine from the vineyard is the Cabernet Sauvignon and the customer’s favorite is the Barbera.

“The Cabernet is my favorite because it has a deep essence of blackberry and plum,” LaRocca said. “Barbera is popular with the customers because it has a perception of sweetness.”

When asked about the obstacles she faces as a female CEO, LaRocca said that she is grateful to have had many positive experiences but still faces some challenges.

She mentioned working alongside her father and that he was “addressed to much more.”

“I also feel that sometimes business isn’t taken as seriously as a female, but once I present what I know and come across knowledgeable, it seems to always work out,” LaRocca said.

LaRocca said that as a woman, being different is something she relates to and that this translates to her work as the wines at the vineyard are organic and made with no sulfites.

“I am an advocate for organic farming and organic processing and striving for a healthier environment for future generations,” La Rocca said.

LaRocca also offered some advice for women not only aspiring to get into the wine industry but any male-dominated field.

“Stay true to who you are. Sometimes compromise is required, however, make it a business compromise, not a self-compromise,” La Rocca said. “We are just as capable as anyone, so believe it and get it done, hopefully smiling and enjoying along the way.”

Vanessa Pitney, CEO of Nascere Vineyards had similar advice, including being brave and not letting fear get in the way.

“Trust in yourself and don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask for help,” Pitney said.

Pitney and her husband opened their winery in 2016 after farming for many years and pursuing classes in enology at UC Davis. She also credits Hickman Family Vineyards as the mentors that taught them the process of wine farming. 

As a woman working in a male-dominated field, Pitney said that she hasn’t had any significant challenges and that sharing ownership of the winery with her husband brings a good balance as they both have their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Pitney acknowledges that any woman working in a male-dominated field can feel like an outcast and isolated but she praises the support she has received from other local women in the industry and stated that due to them, she never feels alone.

Pitney’s favorite wine from their vineyard is the estate-grown Barbera and cites its uniqueness and “zesty tart cherry” flavors as a perfect drink for a cool autumn evening.

“Women do belong in the wine industry and there are so many ways we can contribute to and enrich the industry,” Pitney said.

Sierra Oro Farm Trail Farm and Wine passes are active until the end of October. However, these farms, wineries and tasting rooms are open throughout the year.

Carrington Power can be reached at [email protected]