For Sarah Cooper, assistant winemaker at Les Bourgeois Vineyards, enology is a true expression of her personality. “It’s just a natural combination of things that make me happy,” she says. “I thoroughly enjoy getting my hands dirty, and I love to make things and share them with other people.” Cooper joined Les Bourgeois in 2013 as an intern, and after graduating from the University of Missouri in 2015 with a degree in food science and enology, was promoted to assistant winemaker. Cooper believes in welcoming every challenge thrown her way – from battling Missouri’s unpredictable seasons to being a woman in the wine industry – and turning it into something worth remembering.
Tell us about your experience so far working in Missouri wine. I love it. And I hate it. But I always say I’d be bored working in California, because it’s totally frontier winemaking here. You have no idea what’s going to happen from year to year. My first year as an intern was the biggest and hardest harvest we’ve had since I’ve worked here. The grape estimates were way under – it ended up being 150 to 200 tons more than what we thought we were going to get. So I love that it’s different. It makes for some really hard days, but it makes for some happy surprises, too.
What’s your goal at Les Bourgeois? Winning a Governor’s Cup! Really, though, watching Missouri and the Midwest continue to gain recognition as a region that makes quality, competitive wines. We’ve had to utilize entirely new grape varietals and learn how to make quality wines out of them. Being a part of all of that is probably what I love most about my job.
What’s happening at Les Bourgeois this summer? We’re releasing three rosés, and having a garden party to release them on May 20. We didn’t intend to have three rosés; we just ended up having to blush off three red varieties, and they turned out well. We’ll have a Chambourcin-St. Vincent that’s darker, and a Norton that’s almost a red wine. It’s totally different – it’s not what you would ever expect from Norton, so I’m excited about it.
What’s it like being one of the few women in Missouri’s wine industry? The simple answer is that it’s exactly the same as being a male winemaker. My duties are no different than a male winemaker, and they are not encumbered by the fact that I’m a woman. The most frustrating aspect is being treated differently, such as being the only person in the room to be offered a hug instead of a handshake, but that ultimately has no effect on how well I do my job. Luckily those occasions are rare in my daily life because my team 100 percent treats me as their equal. I love my job, and I also love being one more woman proving we can do anything the guys can.
Les Bourgeois Vineyards, 12847 W. Hwy. BB (tasting room), Rocheport, Missouri, 800.690.1830, missouriwine.com