Spirited Women

Meet the women paving the way for others in the often male-dominated wine and spirits industry. From distillers to masters of whiskey to alcoholic ice cream pioneers, BELLA chats with the distinguished women of three companies on how they got where they are today and some of their favorite things to sip.

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Sara Sergent

Co-founder and gin maker

Alpine Distilling

Alpine Distilling, Park City, Utah’s only locally-owned distillery, is helmed by a husband and wife duo, who churn out an array of spirits. Liqueur, gin, vodka, and whiskey are all on the menu at Alpine, and due to their award-winning status, it’s become a popular place for locals and visitors alike. In fact, they have even opened up a pie bar where customers can enjoy a casual slice and sip on some of their spirits, or even arrange to distill their own gin.

How did you get into the spirits industry?

My husband, Rob, comes from Kentucky and a long lineage of distillers and moonshiners on their family farm. Corn is perishable and via distillation it can be used for both consumption and cleaning. Years ago, we were on our back porch watching the sunset and we discussed turning the colors of the setting sun on the Uinta Mountains into spirits. Rob has a culinary background and took immediately to the challenge. We created the Preserve Liqueur, which is a Platinum award-winning liqueur with blood orange, black tea, candied raspberry, lemon balm, and ginger, and is a fundraiser for the Swaner Nature Preserve.

Rob is an Executive Bourbon Steward and a Master Distiller, and as I worked alongside him my interests grew in distilling. I made my first gin in Scotland and hold a diploma in gin. One of my favorite days in Scotland was with Geraldine Coates, an expert in gin, as we toured the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland discussing gin and botanicals.

You make an array of different spirits. How do the processes for making each differ, and do you have a favorite one that you produce?

Rob and I create award-winning spirits that have been enjoyed around the world. Rob and I work hand in hand on most projects, but his focus is in the whiskey and bourbon, and mine is in gin. We run two different stills at our distillery and that makes us quite unique. We are also OU Kosher certified and a Green Business with Recycle Utah.

I thoroughly enjoy making gin, and it has been such an honor to earn gold medals in both the US and the UK, so it would be my favorite spirit to produce. Rob has made so many delicious, award-winning whiskies, but my favorite on the brown spirits side is his Lafayette Spiced Bourbon whiskey that he made for his mother Marcia and I while paying homage to his great-grandmother who added stone fruit to her distillate on the farm.

What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are in your career today?

My obstacles are not really any different from most women juggling family and career. My parents taught me early on the importance of hard work and determination, and I feel both have really shaped my life. Each day is an opportunity, and there will always be setbacks and hiccups, but if you can learn from these events you will grow.

What is it like being a woman in the male-dominated spirits industry?

It is very exciting to be a female distiller, and I always enjoy meeting other women in the industry; we are a small but mighty group. As a member of the Women of the Vine and Spirits and the Women’s Distillery Guild, there are a lot of great opportunities for women in the field to connect and discuss the industry.

What does your typical workday look like?

Every day is unique as we have both our distillery and the Alpine Pie Bar. Today started with social media photos and posting, prepping botanicals, distilling Bourbon, bottling Lafayette, meeting with guests, and launching a new dessert at the Pie Bar. And tonight after the kids go to bed I will be reading Peggy Noe Steven’s new book—we met in Louisville for a Women in Craft event and she is the best.

You offer visitors a unique gin making experience. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Our Gin Experience is a friendly introduction to our copper pot stills, handmade in Portugal by a 10th generation craftsman. We discuss, smell, and select botanicals for your gin. While distilling, we then walk through the history of gin, the art of distillation, and the science of aroma sensory. Once your gin is complete, we label and seal your bottle and you have now crafted your own gin.

Tell us a bit about the botanicals that go into making your gin.

Our Alpine Gin is a 100% vapor extracted botanical spirit with no floral elements. We use only roots, fruits, and berries. Our botanicals include juniper, coriander, angelica root, cardamom, ginger root, orange peel, and lemon peel. Our gin is Kosher certified, gluten-free, and 45% ABV – 90 proof.

Why did you choose these particular ones?

Our selection in botanicals came from a great deal of research and knowledge in distilling. Rob comes from a culinary background, and I hold a diploma in gin. I feel we have dialed into something special as we have earned multiple double-gold medals in London (highest ranked US gin), New York (highest ranked and only Double Gold medal), and California (Consumer Choice award), to name a few.

What’s it like working with your husband?

I enjoy working with Rob—we are each other’s biggest supporters and there is always a lot of laughter; he is my best friend. We are constantly researching, learning, and exploring as we strive to be the best versions of  ourselves.

Melissa Tavss

Founder and CEO

Tipsy Scoop

Melissa Tavss is the brains behind Tipsy Scoop, a booze-infused ice cream company. Perfectly crafted to bring the best flavor, texture, and consistency to its range of ice creams and sorbets, Tipsy Scoop also packs a punch, sometimes with as much alcohol content as a beer.

What does your job entail?

My job is a little different every day—especially now! I am the founder and CEO of Tipsy Scoop, and I also just started another small company, On The House Gifts. For Tipsy Scoop, we sell our ice cream wholesale, in our stores, on our website, and for catering and custom orders. I work on the flavor and production schedule, custom orders, and manage my team. We are about 15 people now!

What’s your favorite part of your job?

It’s coming up with cool cocktails and sundaes. I love scouring Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. Our newest cocktail with ice cream, champagne, and french fries was particularly fun to put together!

What’s been the experience with bringing alcohol to the market in a whole new way? What was the biggest challenge?

Since our ice cream is infused with alcohol and actually contains up to 5% ABV, that has definitely been a key differentiator for us and has enabled us to stand out in the market. But that is also a major challenge. Distributors aren’t sure whether to categorize us as ice cream or alcohol. It makes it a harder sell because the logistics are a bit more complicated and we have had to define what it legally means to be a liquor-infused food rather than an alcoholic beverage.

Have you always had a love for spirits?

Yes! I have always loved to experiment with making cocktails and using alcohol as an ingredient in cooking.

What obstacles did you have to overcome in your industry to get to where you are today?

There have definitely been many legal challenges with producing and selling a liquor-infused food that have been challenging to navigate. I remember when we first got our product on the shelves at Whole Foods, we were immediately pulled because we hadn’t figured out how to have the product scan so the staff was alerted to card customers to ensure they were 21 and over. We figured that out quickly and updated the bar codes to scan like a beer or wine, but there are always little things that come up like that!

Do you have a favorite flavor?

My favorite flavor is the Cake Batter Vodka Martini—it’s made with a whipped cream vodka and amaretto, and is the one flavor I cannot not take a bite of if it’s in front of me! I always forget how good it is.

How do you stay creative in coming up with new flavor and alcohol combinations?

That is definitely my favorite part of the job. There are so many cool new things people are doing in the industry, and it’s so fun to follow everyone’s journey on social media. We are constantly inspired by new flavors liquor brands are coming out with and fun candies and fruits, etc.

Deb Juergenson

Director of winemaking

Apothic Wines

The wine brand known for its unique and unusual releases, helmed by E. & J. Gallo Winery, Apothic Wines’ witty and creative branding sets it apart from many other notable wine companies. From the Apothic Inferno red blend aged in whiskey barrels to the Apothic Brew, a red blend mixed with cold brew coffee, you won’t find your run-of-the-mill flavors in their bottles.

What does your job as winemaker at Apothic Wines entail, and how did you come to be the winemaker there?

I first joined E. & J. Gallo Winery in 1995 as an analytical technician. In this role, I learned about the chemistry of wine and the importance of monitoring for quality. I analyzed wines daily, and through that experience had the chance to interact with the winemaking teams. I was so captivated by the passion they brought to their job and right away knew I had to find a way to become a winemaker. I eventually transitioned into a research role at Gallo, where I spent four years discovering how oak barrels interact with wine—something I’m passionate about and a technique I continue to use as the Apothic winemaker. Before joining Apothic, I was a part of Gallo’s Coastal winemaking team, where I had an opportunity to work more with blending. I have always had an adventurous and inquisitive spirit, which lends to some unique and fun wines and led me to become the winemaker for Apothic.

As the winemaker at Apothic, every day is different! We have a full winemaking team, so my day-to-day responsibilities vary as there are so many different elements that go into crafting our blends. There are days I find myself choosing grapes from vineyards for the different vintages, and there are days dedicated to experimenting with different blends. We like to say there’s always mischief in the making with Apothic, as we set out to be anything but ordinary with our wines. That applies to the initial grape selection to the final blend of each wine and intricate label design.

What obstacles did you have to overcome in your industry to get to where you are today?

It can sometimes be challenging to be innovative in an industry that is grounded in a very long history of tradition. I’m a forward thinker and am always trying to tell a story with the wines I create, while also making them unique. If I’m going to make a varietal wine such as cab, I want Apothic’s Cab to be unlike any other that exists in the market. So while this can sometimes prove to be a challenge, there is so much reward to creating something so unique, yet approachable. In my experience, these challenges have given me such a great perspective on being true to the winemaking craft, as well as allow me to create wines that are innovative and exciting.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The wine (kidding, but not really!). As Apothic is such a unique brand, we strive to tell a story with each blend and varietal, whether it’s one of drama, intrigue, or romance—the wines of Apothic are truly original. Why would I want to make something that’s the same as what someone else is making? My favorite part is being able to have the opportunity to challenge the conventional way of doing things by crafting bold wines that are unlike anything else on the market.

What do you think sets Apothic Wines apart from others? Do you have a favorite vintage or blend?

Our blends really are unlike any wines you’ve had tried before, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for. What I’ve found works really well for Apothic is that we build our blends first and then we find the oak that complements and enhances that particular taste. When I set out to make a wine, I identify notes and flavors that I want to come through that don’t appear in other wines. For example, we have Apothic Inferno, which is aged in whiskey barrels for 60 days. And, our Merlot (which launched in February) is really unlike any Merlot you’ve had before, with notes of coconut and cherry.

My favorite would probably be the new Apothic Merlot because I’ve always had an affinity for Merlot, and I think it sometimes doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s near and dear to my heart, and my goal was to create a Merlot that was different yet approachable.

Have you always had a love for wine?

My initial interest in wine started when I began to study intricate soil compositions. It’s a little more unconventional than most winemakers to start with a love of soil, but eventually my interest in soil nurtured a passion for wine grapes, which sparked a lifelong journey in the winemaking business. When I first started on this journey, I had the goal of crafting bold blends that were unlike anything on the market, and Apothic is a wine that does just that. My love for winemaking has continued to grow and with Apothic specifically, there is a sense of curiosity that fuels my passion as we continue to set out to craft wines that leave a lasting impression for our consumers.

What has it been like being a female winemaker in an industry dominated by men?

I’ve been in the industry for quite some time and thankfully, I’ve seen it advance in the last few years to where there are more women that are leaders in winemaking. When you look at how many females hold roles in the wine and spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for.

There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing, and conceptualizing wines of all kinds, which is encouraging and exciting to see. While great strides have been made, I’m looking forward to seeing the wine industry continue to diversify and challenge the status quo so we can continue evolving.

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