Joy Andersen had no idea that a career in the wine industry was awaiting her as she completed her chemistry degree at the University of Washington. It wasn’t until she started her first job at Chateau Ste. Michelle a year or so later — and a temporary job at that — that she realized how much she enjoyed the winemaking process and how well suited her skills and interests were. Before long, she was among a handful of women winemakers in the early days of Washington’s quickly growing wine industry. Thirty-six years later, in 2017, Andersen retired from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the parent company of Chateau Ste. Michelle (and many other estates). In that time she wore a number of hats with various wineries in Ste. Michelle’s portfolio, most notably as head winemaker for Snoqualmie Vineyards. Andersen made great strides in the focus on organic and sustainable wine practices in the state, both with wine production she oversaw, and in helping establish resources that others could access and apply in their vinicultural and viticultural work.
Andersen was born in Pocatello, Idaho, in 1957. The middle of five children, she was something of a tomboy who loved following her two older brothers around, playing baseball, bicycling, and generally making the most of her time spent outdoors. Her father worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and raised Appaloosa quarter horses, and the family was tapped to help feed and care for the horses. Though it might not have been her first choice for how to spend her time, Andersen could “buck hay with the best of them,” as she recalls (Andersen interview with author). When she was a sophomore in high school, the family moved to Snohomish.
With a nurse for a mother, Andersen grew up exposed to the sciences. Her mother also instilled in all of her kids the importance of a good education to set them up for being independent, and for supporting themselves and their families later. Following graduation from Snohomish High School in 1975 and a year at Everett Community College, Andersen attended the University of Washington. Physics and chemistry both interested her; when it came to her college degree, chemistry won out, though she had no specific career path in mind as she began her college studies. About halfway through, she contemplated a career in the emerging environmental sciences, sparked in part, perhaps, by her father’s love of gardening, a love she picked up too. “He fed the whole neighborhood from his garden,” she recalled (interview).
By the time Andersen graduated in 1980, however, she wasn’t ready to return to the classroom for further studies. Instead, her next stop was a position with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Based in Wenatchee, she helped with research work on topics such as maturity analysis and optimum conditions for cold storage, focusing primarily on fruits such as cherries, pears, and apples. She encountered no grapes in that first job. Her introduction to the world of wine was just around the corner.
Catching the Wine Bug
The USDA work, while interesting, was piecemeal and not a great long-term prospect at the time. Her next job wasn’t meant to be long-term, either. In the fall of 1981, Andersen took a position as a harvest technician with Chateau Ste. Michelle, a job intended to last only as long as the harvest season. She didn’t take the job out of particular interest in the wine industry. In fact she knew nothing about wine when she started. Her parents hadn’t been wine lovers, and Andersen was just looking to be gainfully employed. The work entailed covering any number of bases, helping where needed with lab work or winemaking. “That’s where I got bitten with the wine bug,” she said. “It really piqued my interest. Her “science nerd” self was able to engage in the dynamic, growing Washington wine industry (interview).
While Andersen would have been prepared to move on to something else after the temporary position wrapped up, her timing proved to be ideal. With her chemistry background and recently sparked skills for winemaking, she arrived on the scene just as the industry was “starting to spread its wings,” she said (interview). It was a dynamic era of growth for Chateau Ste. Michelle, and for Washington wine in general.
Around the end of that year when the temporary job wrapped up, Chateau Ste. Michelle was in the process of setting up a new winery in Eastern Washington and asked if Andersen would be interested in supervising the lab. It was an offer she gladly accepted, though it meant biding her time for a number of months while the winery was built, time she spent working in the retail shop at the winery’s home in Woodinville.
Andersen stepped into the role of lab supervisor later in 1982 at River Ridge Winery. Serving as winemaker then was Kay Simon, who had joined Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1977. Andersen and Simon, along with Cheryl Barber-Jones, who was also at Chateau Ste. Michelle when Andersen arrived, were later featured in a 2001 Seattle Times article, recognizing their then 20-plus years making wine in the state. That same year the annual Auction of Washington Wines honored three dozen women in leadership roles within the Washington wine industry, only eight of whom were winemakers.
Construction wasn’t quite finished before the first harvest season at River Ridge in 1982, so the team handled some workarounds, which included Andersen doing her lab work in a temporary set-up until the full lab was completed. There were long days and long weeks of work, but she looks back on it all with reflections more of adventure than anything. “Most of us were young, energetic, starting our careers,” she recalled. There was plenty of opportunity to problem-solve and figure things out as they went along. “It was really kind of an interesting time, a lot of potential, a lot of time to just test your wings, and hopefully you don’t fail too badly. It was really a pretty exciting time” (interview).
Andersen met Bill Bagge shortly after he arrived in Washington in 1985 to take a position as winemaker and manager at Coventry Vale Winery. They married six years later and welcomed son Spencer in 1991 and son Sawyer in 1993.
Shifting to Snoqualmie
In 1983, River Ridge winery became Columbia Crest, where Andersen served as lab supervisor for a couple of years before becoming an assistant winemaker. In 1991, Ste. Michelle’s parent company Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates (which became Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2004) purchased Snoqualmie Winery (which likewise changed names, becoming Snoqualmie Vineyards in 2000) and installed Andersen as head winemaker at this newest winery in its portfolio. Meanwhile, she continued to make wine for Columbia Crest and work on other Ste. Michelle products including Whidbeys Port. Never a dull moment, which apparently suited Andersen just fine.
When asked about her approach to winemaking, Andersen recalls her mother saying often, “keep it simple, stupid” (interview). Though she didn’t have winemaking experience before joining Chateau Ste. Michelle, she did have influences from both of her parents to draw from. Her mother’s keep-it-simple lessons and her father’s commitment to tending soil and growing food helped frame her approach to winemaking. Her approach was deeply rooted in principles of sustainability. “I just think Mother Nature has it right. If we go in and try to do too much, we’re not improving what happens naturally,” she said. She opted for a less-is-more approach in her winemaking, trying to augment rather than overrun what Mother Nature has to offer, echoing the intent of organic and sustainable practices. “That whole movement was very natural for me,” she said (interview).
Focus on Sustainability
In 2004 Snoqualmie introduced its Naked line of wines, made using organically grown grapes and sustainability minded winemaking practices. The line was considered to be something of a “pilot program for organic wines for [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates], which has been dipping its corporate toe into the ‘green’ waters of both sustainable and organic wines for several years now” (Kinssies). About a decade later, the line of sustainably produced wines was renamed ECO.
Ecologically minded practices in the wine industry stretch beyond how grapes are grown (such as sustainable pest control methods) and winemaking (reducing energy usage and thoughtfully managing water use), to include packaging, carbon footprint, and waste management. Over time, Snoqualmie’s use of materials such as bottles, labels, and corks was amended to be more sustainable. Using lighter-weight bottles helped reduce the carbon footprint related to transportation by about 13 percent. Labels were printed on 100 percent recycled material and corks were certified to be from sustainable sources.
A career highlight for Andersen was her work on Winerywise, a sustainability program for Washington wineries. It began as a grassroots effort in 2007, with different representatives of the wine industry coming together to create guidelines and assemble resources for sustainable winemaking practices. In 2010, the program gained significant traction and created online resources thanks to grants from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor and Industries. Andersen helped lead the development of the program and later chaired the Winerywise steering committee. “It was challenging but also rewarding to see that come to fruition and actually be put out,” she said (interview). The goal was to make available a range of resources that wineries could tap into to help them take steps to become more sustainable.
Today  Winerywise lives on under the guise of Sustainable WA. This program is based on the original educational foundation of Winerywise, scaled up to work toward a certification program to acknowledge properties that commit to sustainable grape-growing practices (certification for sustainable winery practices is expected to be added later).
In 2017, Andersen received the “Industry Service” award from the Washington Winegrowers Association in recognition of “her pioneering spirit in the wine industry.” The award cited the Winerywise program and recognized Andersen for having become “the go-to person for questions about organic winemaking. She had taken primary leadership in drawing awareness to, and encouraging improvement of, sustainable practices in Washington wineries” (“Recognizing Winegrape …”)
The Joy in her Work
Andersen, who retired in 2017, drew a great deal of pleasure from the work environments she inhabited for so many years, which included many different people with whom to collaborate and problem-solve. “It sure makes work more fun, being around people you enjoy every day, more ideas, more energy, working together to make better wine,” she said. “I enjoyed being able to see what the job at hand was and have to determine how to make that happen” (interview). She was most happy behind the scenes, puzzling away at things, making wine, working with various teams on projects. She laughs at the notion that she might have stepped away from Chateau Ste. Michelle at some point, to maybe launch her own winery or vineyard. She never wished for that, never longed to go solo. Preferring to stay out of the spotlight helped contribute to her being what one writer called “among the least-known top winemakers in the Pacific Northwest” (Woehler).
Andersen relishes having more time now for pastimes, including one favorite that always managed to be last on the list when life was much busier: reading. She enjoys the world of winemaking as an observer and a supporter. One of her sons is a viticulturalist in Oregon, and his wife works in the wine industry as well. Through family and colleagues she worked beside over the years, ties to the world of wine are never far away.
Washington State Wine
Jack Broom, “Women & Wine — It’s a Good Mix for Industry in this State,” The Seattle Times, May 30, 2001, p. E-1; Richard Kinssies, “Wine Pick of the Week,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 27, 2007, p. C-5; Bob Woehler, “Get ‘Naked’ with Snoqualmie Series,” Tri-City Herald, February 20, 2008, p. D-2; “Snoqualmie Winery Switches to Sustainable Bottles, Labels,” Ibid., April 16, 2014 (www.tri-cityherald.com); Melissa Hansen, “Sustainable Program for Wineries Launched,” Good Fruit Grower, May 15, 2012, pp. 46-47; Andy Perdue, “Whidbeys Port Part of Washington Wine History,” Great Northwest Wine website accessed July 5, 2022 (greatnorthwestwine.com/2014/02/17/whidbeys-port/); Snoqualmie Vineyards website accessed July 5, 2022 (www.snoqualmie.com); Sustainable WA website accessed July 5, 2022 (www.wawinegrowers.org/page/SustainableWA); Ste Michelle Wine Estates website accessed July 5, 2022 (trade.smwe.com); HistoryLink Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Kay Simon (b. 1953) and Clay Mackey (b. 1949)” (by Peter Blecha); “Chateau Ste. Michelle (Woodinville)” (by Peter Blecha) (www.historylink.org); “Recognizing Winegrape Innovators in Washington,” February 17, 2017 (www.farmprogress.com/crops/recognizing-winegrape-innovators-washington); Joy Andersen interview with author Cynthia Nims, notes in author’s possession.
The Free Encyclopedia of Washington State History