Back in 1983, when Kramer Vineyards was first founded, Kim Kramer was a young girl with no aspirations to be part of the family business.
“My route to winemaking was circuitous,” she explains. “I didn’t grow up wanting to make wine, nor did my parents raise me to be a winemaker.”
But times—and people—change. As Kramer got older, what had simply been, in her mind, a job her parents did became something that intrigued her.
In her twenties, Kramer began working in the tasting room at St. Innocent Winery on the weekends. She started as a tasting room associate and then moved on to being a cellar hand, where the wine bug bit. St. Innocent’s winemaker, Mark Vlossak, noticed her interest and sent her to winemaking school. After many experiments making wine in her garage, she realized that she wanted to—and could handle—more challenging jobs.
When Kramer’s parents allowed her to try her hand at producing sparkling wines from the family vineyard, she was excited, but didn’t necessarily realize it would be her career. “My transition from tasting room associate to cellar hand to winemaker was very gradual,” she recalls. “I don’t think it dawned on me that I could make wine for a living until after I made my first sparkling wine and someone offered to buy it.”
When you ask Kramer about her work, her passion clearly shows: “Sparkling wines are among the most difficult wines to produce, so one really needs to love the wine in order to commit to such a potentially heartbreaking project. My love for the wine, combined with a few paradigm-shifting tastings with grower Champagnes, sealed my fate. The idea that sparkling wines are every bit as expressive of time and place as any other resonates with me, because it’s consistent with how we make all our other wines, and wines with context are so much more interesting. Now that I’ve been making sparkling wine from our estate vineyard for a few vintages, what’s fascinating is discovering which sites are best for the sparkling program.”
Her wines are made in the traditional method, but interestingly, for Kramer, the challenges have come not from the process (which was originally her primary focus), but on choosing the appropriate site selection and harvest date. “Anyone can manage a fermentation, but our site is unique,” she explains. “Utilizing the traditional method in the sparkling wines expresses site, variety, and vintage, but in a different way than with the still wines. The acid and sugar balance of these wines is very specific, and because of that, I think the wines display these qualities in a very transparent way.”
As Kramer has developed her skill set, she’s learned a great deal and continues to do so. One of the most interesting realizations for her was how different each block of vines could be. As she has observed, “Our vineyard is only 22 acres, but there’s a lot of variability in terms of soil, vine age, clone, slope, etc. These factors contribute to very different flavor profiles in the wines, and these differences can be observed throughout the growing season, in the fruit itself, and finally, in the wines. Understanding that these differences are site-driven is key to how we approach vineyard management and winemaking.”
In an industry populated by powerful male figures, Kramer has been fortunate enough to escape the label of “female winemaker.” She is, rather, a winemaker who happens to be a woman, and her skill is her calling card. Still, she realizes that bias does exist. In fact, even now, Kramer notes, “If I pour wine with my dad, most people assume he’s the winemaker.”
Luckily, Kramer isn’t bothered by this disparity. She has one goal in her work: to express the true character of her vines in the bottle. And the vines could care less that she’s a woman.