WSU V&E department chair invited to speak at Women of Wine and Spirits event

A woman stands at the end of a long wooden table, gesturing and laughing. Another woman stands next to her, and four people sit on each side of the table. Trees, an umbrella, and a building are in the background.
WSU V&E Department Chair Jean Dodson Peterson (pictured under umbrella at end of table) gives a presentation during a Women of Wine and Spirits (WOWS) event in California. (Photo courtesy of Jean Dodson Peterson)

TEMPLETON, Calif. – Washington State University’s Department of Viticulture and Enology (V&E) is continuously seeking new ways to empower underrepresented individuals — including women — in the wine and viticulture sectors. That commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion was demonstrated through a recent Women of Wine and Spirits (WOWS) presentation given by V&E Department Chair Jean Dodson Peterson.

“Participating in a group designed to increase diversity in the wine and viticulture industry is deeply exciting,” Dodson Peterson said. “To help grow engagement and create conversations around women in wine and spirits is important as we look forward.”

For two decades, WOWS — an internal employee resource group of California-based E&J Gallo Winery (Gallo) — has supported women’s initiatives through education, empowerment, and engagement, with regular meetings that offer educational sessions, networking opportunities, mentoring, and more.

For Dodson Peterson, the trip offered a window into what producers are doing to promote DEI — insight that’s helpful when advising WSU V&E students looking for internships in the industry.

“There is so much overlap between the work Gallo is doing with WOWS and the V&E department’s efforts to bring in more students of diverse backgrounds,” Dodson Peterson said. “Our organizations are looking forward and working to create an industry that more deeply values diverse perspectives and experiences.”

Jean Dodson Peterson holds up a grape leaf. Behind her is an umbrella and picnic table, a tree, a car, and a building. In front of her is a wooden table with a wine glass and papers on it.
Jean Dodson Peterson examines a grape leaf during her WOWS presentation. (Photo courtesy of Jean Dodson Peterson)

After receiving an invitation to speak, Dodson Peterson traveled to the central California coast earlier this summer to share her substantial viticulture knowledge at a Gallo WOWS event hosted by Clesi Wines. In her talk, she covered the diversity of plant material in the genus Vitis and the history of ampelography, a botany field that explores techniques for identifying and classifying grapevines. 

“Ampelography can give us insight into how and why a given cultivar responds to environmental factors,” Dodson Peterson said. “The practice can also be utilized to ensure the veracity of the plant material received from nurseries. Knowing you received what was ordered is important because other decisions such as trellising, row and vine spacing, and irrigation techniques revolve around the plant material selected.”

Following Dodson Peterson’s presentation, the group had a chance to put its new knowledge to the test, examining freshly picked grape leaf samples and sipping Clesi wines made from those cultivars.

“Jean is hands-down one of the most dynamic speakers I’ve ever seen,” said Jamie Arevalo, Gallo senior manager of wine and spirits development. “It’s evident that she is incredibly passionate about the topic, but even more important, she’s passionate about diversity and inclusion. I’m incredibly inspired and grateful when I meet and learn from women in the industry like Jean.”

Dodson Peterson hopes for future chances to connect educational initiatives with industry needs through partnerships with producers like Gallo and DEI-focused gatherings like WOWS.

A group sits at a table, examining grape leaves. On the table are glass bottles and wine glasses and food.
WOWS attendees put their new knowledge to the test. (Photo courtesy of Jean Dodson Peterson)

“I hope that through similar events, other young women can truly begin to see themselves in these fields,” Dodson Peterson said. “The opportunity to speak with this group is evidence that our efforts are igniting change. Through education, experience, mentorship, and advocacy, we can continue to promote DEI in agriculture. Doing so within WSU’s V&E department is a vital step in transforming the future of the industry.”

Arevalo is likewise hopeful for a future that includes more opportunities for women in the wine industry.

“It’s important to open the door to mentorships and internships, creating opportunities for women that they might not otherwise have,” she said. “There is power in women holding decision-making roles and leading the way for the next generation.”