In honor of International Women’s Day, we turned to Justine Osilla of @heyjayrose, student of Enology at Fresno State and aspiring Filipina Winemaker, to share her story about her journey in the wine industry. While she was encouraged by her family to pursue a career in medicine, Justine’s exposure to visiting wineries from a young age sparked a passion for wine that led her to chase her dream of turning that passion into a career. She’s made some pretty great strides so far by getting experience working in many facets of the industry: from working in hospitality, sales and marketing, to getting hands-on experience in vineyards and cellars.
Justine gives us insight into what it’s like being a woman in an industry that has been known to be male-dominated for decades. So far in her career, she’s been inspired by meeting women and BIPOC winemakers, and hopes to inspire the next generation of women to pursue their dream of entering the wine industry. The World is Justine Osilla's Wine Bar, and all of us at 90+ Cellars can’t wait to see what she does next!
Can you share a little bit about how you got started in wine and what led you to pursue an Enology degree?
I was raised by a traditional Filipino family that taught me their narrow definition of success - the one that implies you can only be happy and successful if you’re a medical professional. My parents pursued nursing because it was their ticket to the United States and they came here to create a better life. As the daughter of immigrants, there was a lot of pressure for me to follow in the medical field. I bounced around a few different career options and I couldn’t get any of them to stick. Though they had a conventional path in mind for me, I always say it was their fault I’m pursuing my enology degree.
My parents exposed me to the culture of wine at a young age. I grew up visiting Napa Valley and Paso Robles and I remember falling in love with the sweet smell of fermentation every time I’d walk into a winery. It wasn’t until the year I turned 21 that I found out wine is a career and a friend told me a great winemaking program exists at my local university. I immediately became obsessed. I then decided to take my WSET2. I was a chemistry major at the time and through that course I found out how chemistry is heavily integrated in winemaking and that solidified my plans in pursuing a wine career.
Now I’ve got 6 years of industry experience under my belt. I’ve worked positions in the vineyard, cellar, winemaking/harvest internships, lab, research, hospitality, wholesale, customer care, product photography, social media management, and marketing. Throughout all those years, it’s become more evident that I’m happiest in the cellar making wine.
What has been your greatest challenge, as a woman and as a FIlipina, as you pursue the path to becoming a winemaker? What about your greatest accomplishment?
As a Filipina woman, the greatest challenge was entering this industry without knowing anyone who looked like me. Because of that, my parents did not support my career change at first. “Go through the medical field,” they said, “It’s a stable job.” The more I heard variations of that phrase, the more discouraged I felt. They also said “I’ve never seen a Filipino in wine” and “I’ve never met a woman winemaker.” This is why representation matters and no career belongs to one gender and ethnicity. Thankfully, I’ve met some amazing women and bipoc winemakers throughout my journey. As for my greatest accomplishment, I always say it hasn’t happened yet.
You’ve made some pretty great strides in your career so far - working in hospitality, sales + marketing, and also getting hands-on experience in vineyards and cellars. Can you tell us why you think it’s important to have a well-rounded background to be successful in this industry?
I had no choice but to be well rounded and get my hands dirty at every opportunity I could. When I was a baby in the industry, I knew there would be times I wouldn’t be taken seriously or I’d be missing out on opportunities because I am a woman. Those things did happen and I told myself I had no choice but to work harder and stack my resume so high and make myself overqualified so that I wouldn’t be denied a job. Looking back at all my experiences, it did help me be more successful because I was able to understand the wine business inside and out.
Speaking of your past experience, you’ve helped make some world class Pinot Noir out of the Russian River Valley during the 2020 harvest season! Can you tell us what makes Pinot Noir from this area so special and why you came to appreciate it so much?
Pinot Noir is already a special grape with so many variations between different clones. What makes this region so special is that it’s geographically the heart of Sonoma and the variations between micro climates. Variation on variation creates some spectacular Pinots with a range of different styles. My time spent here made me fall in love with the grape and the land. I appreciate the time and work it takes to grow these grapes and the art to create a masterpiece transferred to glass.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring women winemakers, or someone trying to get into the wine industry?
One piece of advice I have is just to take the first step and get as much experience to figure out what it is you want to do. This applies to any industry and there’s so many different pathways in wine. Entering a world you’re not familiar with takes a lot of courage and there weren’t any accessible resources when I was starting out. Now there’s some amazing organizations and communities all about lowering those barriers to entry, advocating for all minorities interested in wine. I currently work for Bâtonnage as a Social Media Director, and they advocate for women in wine by providing mentorship opportunities. With the right mindset, you can make it alone… but being surrounded by positive and encouraging people to help guide you makes all the difference when on the path to success. Use those resources!