The owners of Oregon's Vidon Vineyard have named Tiquette Bramlett, 37, president of the Willamette Valley winery. Bramlett is believed to be the first Black woman appointed to oversee a winery in a major U.S. wine region. Vidon is known for making outstanding Pinot Noirs.
"My heart is so full of joy with what we can do out here in [Willamette Valley]," said Bramblett about the appointment. "I can't wait."
Don and Vicki Hagge founded the boutique Vidon Vineyard in Newberg, Ore., in 1999. The name is a blend of their first names. The Hagges sold the brand and winery to Dru and Erin Allen in November 2020, including their 12.5-acre Chehalem Mountains vineyard planted to Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. There's also a hillside tasting room and winery. David Bellows, a former biologist specializing in yeast, is longtime winemaker.
As new owners, the Allens are intent on making their company more welcoming to diversity and believe Bramlett's wine knowledge and previous work on making the wine industry more accessible makes her a good fit for the top job. "Tiquette's extensive knowledge of all things wine, unique approach to hospitality, shared values, and immeasurable exuberance perfectly aligns with our ethos," said the Allens in a statement. "We cannot wait to see what we accomplish together as we navigate the future of Vidon."
Bramlett was a trained vocalist who had her singing career cut short by thyroid cancer. She fell in love with Willamette Valley wines while studying to be a sommelier. In 2015, she started working as a tasting room associate at Anne Amie Vineyards and most recently as a brand ambassador for Abbey Creek Vineyard, where she served as the acting liaison for the Willamette Valley Winery Association, Women in Wine and Assemblage Symposium. Last week she took some time to discuss her career and her new job with senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec.
Wine Spectator: When did wine become part of your life?
Tiquette Bramlett: Wine has always been a side passion project. My mom always loved to go tasting around central California—Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara—and I got to tag along for that. Whenever we were in Europe, my dad [who is originally from Holland] was always, like, let's drive to France, because from Holland, it was only a six-hour drive. So we would cruise around, and I would watch them and watch how they would tell this story about wine.
For me, when I started singing, my vocal coach used to make us drink some wine because it would "give us courage." [Laughs] I always found myself asking more questions about the wine and he was like, you're supposed to be singing. I would say, but this wine is really good!
I got diagnosed with thyroid cancer the year after I graduated from college. When I had that down time, it allowed me to start thinking about what was going to be next. My mom said, "Why don't you go for your sommelier certification and see where you land?" I started going through the course for my Level 1, and my world was just rocked by how amazing wine was.
I had a great experience singing, I got to sing at the Sydney Opera House. I literally got to travel the world because of music and I'm very thankful for that.
WS: When you started studying wine, where did you think you'd end up?
TB: Originally, I wanted to be a sommelier in a restaurant or a consultant for restaurants or hotels. During the wine tastings, I noticed the wines I was gravitating toward were all from Willamette Valley. I got excited about them, and both of my parents went to University of Oregon, so I took a trip there. I called my parents and said, I think I'm moving to Oregon for the summer, and that was six years ago.
WS: What lessons did you learn while working at Anne Amie, your first winery job?
TB: Keeping wine fun and approachable. The hospitality side of things was something that I really learned. I thought that if everyone's having a good time, then I'm doing my job. But I was taught, yes, everybody should have fun, but it should also be tailored to that person. You want to meet them where they're at, and then if you can elevate the experience for them, let's do that. You can empower them. You can give them tools to where they'll leave and say, I learned so much today and I had a great time. And they can still feel that genuine connection.
It was also eye-opening for me, because I got to play a game to engage people and see where they're at, you know? And for me, I really enjoyed that.
WS: Tell me about Our Legacy Harvested, an organization you founded last year.
TB: Last summer, during the height of the protests, I really wanted to bring some levity to everything. So many people were reaching out and asking how they can support Black businesses. I said, well, why not hold a market out here? We sold out our event.
After that event, I kept thinking, how can I make an impact with my wine industry brothers and sisters, because I would hear people say that they don't feel safe here. And that was really heartbreaking to me. What if I can build a community for people? I think that that's a really tangible, approachable thing to do.
I am opening up applications for people that want to get involved in the wine industry to come out here. I will have homes for them to stay in, a vehicle for them to utilize, and partner them with wineries. Then I will be implementing Sunday suppers. I'll have people from different facets of the industry coming over and breaking bread with us, really building community.
I really want people to have a place where they feel like they're at home. I've been here for six years and I have really enjoyed my time here. I'm really fortunate to say that so many people in this industry have become a part of my little Oregon family, but I want other people to feel that as well.
My ultimate goal is to start a campus up here. That is my five-year goal.
WS: Is there anything about your experience in the wine industry that you'd like us to know?
TB: It comes with its fair share of challenges, right? And I think that that is part of the nature of being a Black woman in the industry. There are assumptions made. But the fun part for me is letting people know that's not the case.
I come from an interracial family. Having the uncomfortable conversation is secondhand to us, and I'm very comfortable having those conversations. I'm not going to sit there and call somebody out. But I will call you in, and we'll have an honest conversation about it, with no hard feelings.
WS: What conversations do you wish were happening in the wine industry?
TB: I have told people everybody has a bias; it is natural for somebody to walk in the door and you make a snap judgment. The important thing is that you acknowledge it and you shift it. That's where the focus needs to be. Just because things have been done one way for centuries doesn't mean that we need to keep doing it that way.
It's okay to be uncomfortable with the change. Be uncomfortable. It will be okay.
WS: It certainly helps when people give you permission to have been wrong.
TB: Yes, and that's the beauty of it. I think that people forget it's okay for someone to say I can't take this on today, but let's discuss it later. It's also okay for you to be wrong. It doesn't make you a bad person. You're not evil because of it. You just you made a misstep and you're trying to correct it.
WS: Tell us about your vision for the future for Vidon.
TB: We are in the planning stages, trying to plot out this summer and the next six months. We are putting some things together to introduce ourselves to the valley.
We're going to be offering a tasting experience out in the vineyard. Erin and Andrew really love the big idea and seeing where we can go with that. They want the winery the best it can be as well. They are pretty amazing people. They have had a passion for wine. They purchased the property in Nov. 2020. They not only want to make beautiful wines, but be unconventional in the wines that we produce, and they want to make an impact in our community.
WS: Are the wines made exclusively from estate grown grapes?
TB: Estate only, and we'll stay that way. Right now we are at about 2,000 cases, but we are going to be planting more in the fall.
It's a tiny operation. The tasting room is literally where the production area is. It's just incredible that you can see the entire experience while you're tasting wine, and you're also overlooking a stunning valley.
WS: Do you have any designs to start making wine yourself?
TB: I do have the bug, and that is something that excites me because Drew and David Bellows, who is currently the head winemaker, have said if I have ideas, let's talk. David is very much willing to coach me, so you know of course I have all the questions!