Women in Winemaking: Hillary Eales of Talon Wine Brands
Hillary Eales was drawn to winemaking like a bee to honey. Literally.
“I saw an ad for a job at Meadery of the Rockies in Palisade and was excited to apply because my husband and I are beekeepers,” she recalls.
Eales is now assistant winemaker for Talon Wine Brands, which plans to produce 30,000 plus gallons of wine in the coming months. Eales shepherds the creation of 40-plus varieties of grape, fruit, botanical, and honey wines bottled for Talon Wine Brands, which is composed of the brands St. Kathryn Cellars, Talon Winery and the Meadery of the Rockies.
Starting out, she expected the position to be temporary until she could find a job in her chosen field of Emergency Medical Technician. But she grew to like the job so well that she has made it into her new career.
It didn’t start out glamorous and prestigious. “Cellar and grounds was my first job here,” she said. “It involved a lot of maintenance. Mowing. Taking care of the vineyard. Spring clean-up. But it helped me understand the winery on a basic level, so I was prepared when the winemaking job opened up.” For women who want to get into winemaking, Eales recommends the path she took. “Find any sort of job at the winery to get exposure and learn the ropes. Studying winemaking is good, but if education is not available, you can learn on the job.”
Eales said she was fortunate to learn from her supervisor, Head Winemaker Brian Stevens. “He is a good teacher and very knowledgeable. He doesn’t have a winemaking background and is now one of the most experienced and highly regarded winemakers around, so that gives me confidence.” After working in at least three male-dominated fields, including winemaking, EMT, and welding, Eales realizes that “if you’re a hard worker and show that you can do the job, it’s not important whether you’re a man or woman.”
Stevens concurs. “There is a shortage of women in this industry and greater diversity will help it grow,” he says. “I think there’s a window of opportunity in the Colorado wine industry where you can walk in the door with no background, start at the bottom and work your way up, if you’re the right person. It requires a positive attitude, sensory skills, such as an attuned palate, the ability to recognize issues before they become systemic, and diligence.”
That diligence is what has contributed to Eales’ success, Stevens says. “Diligence, and her fantastic attitude. You can train people to do things but you can’t train attitude.”
Although she does work in a winery, there’s no need for attitude adjustment hour for Hillary Eales. “Bottling can be hectic, but working with Brian and the staff is always positive and upbeat. Glenn Foster, CEO and owner, gives us leeway to do the job as we see fit. And at the end of the day, I go home with a good feeling of accomplishment.” Foster agrees. “There are many highly acclaimed female winemakers, and Hillary’s on track to be one of them,” he predicted.