Sweet Briar grad is one of ’15 Women in Wine to Watch’

Posted on March 14, 2018 by Janika Carey

Leah Jorgensen Leah Jorgensen pours her 2015 Sauvignon Blanc during a special dinner.

Leah Jorgensen ’96 continues to dazzle the wine world with her creations. This week, Food & Wine magazine named her one of “15 Women in Wine to Watch” from around the globe.

“Leah Jorgensen considers her home state of Oregon, which has gained fame for its Pinot Noir — the great grape of Burgundy — to be more akin to the Loire Valley,” writes Sarah Bray. “As a result, she’s focused her own project on the production of that region’s famous red: Cabernet Franc. Her interpretation of this grape is based on careful site selection and often has a unique twist: her Blanc de Cabernet Franc is the first commercial still white Franc in the world.”

This isn’t the first time Jorgensen’s wines have been noticed. A few years ago, Leah Jørgensen Cellars was named a 2014 Oregon Winery to Watch by Winepress Northwest. “I’m still new at this in terms of production,” she told the magazine back then. “To me, this is not second nature. It’s even weird for me to call myself a winemaker.”

And in some ways, she was a newbie — while Jorgensen’s résumé was full of wine, she had only been making it since 2011. Soon after graduating from Sweet Briar in 1996 with a degree in English and creative writing, Jorgensen managed Chrysalis Vineyards near Washington, D.C., then worked for a distributor in the nation’s capital. Her sales of Pinot Noir made by Domaine Drouhin prompted the producer to invite Jorgensen to Oregon Pinot Camp in 2004.

Jorgensen, whose father grew up on an Oregon farm, felt compelled to return to her roots. Erath Winery hired her immediately for sales and marketing, and she worked for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates before joining Adelsheim Vineyard. By 2009, she was studying enology at the Northwest Viticulture Center in Salem.

Harvest and cellar work kept her afloat, first at Anne Amie Vineyards and then at Shea Wine Cellars, where she worked for two years — while making plans for her own wine.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to explore making my own wine, building my own business, and just doing what I want to do,” she told us in 2014. “Life is so short, and I felt a serious compulsion to pursue my own thing. I had no choice but to follow my heart, and I love a good challenge.”

One of them is breaking the stereotype of the male winemaker.

“I do want people to know these wines were crafted by a woman,” she said in her interview with Winepress Northwest. “I’m proud of that.”