March is Women’s History Month – a celebration of the contribution of women to events in history and contemporary society. Women have made a more than a significant contribution to Loudoun, especially in the development of the county as a renowned beer, whiskey, cider and wine destination.
Here we profile some of the dynamic women of Loudoun who create the craft beverages that make us happy. Cheers!
Melanie Natoli, Cana Vineyards & Winery
When you discover the perfectly balanced rosés and red blends at scenic Cana just outside Middleburg, you’ll have Melanie Natoli to thank. The former physical therapist transitioned to winemaking in 2011 when she joined Fabbioli Cellars as assistant winemaker, learning the ropes from the master, Doug Fabbioli. She took the reins at Cana in 2015 and within two years became the first Virginia winemaker to be named Woman Winemaker of the Year at the Women’s International Wine Competition. She has an affinity for dry rosés – try her sublime 2019 Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot – although we are partial to her 2017 Unité Reserve red blend, made entirely with grapes from Cana’s vineyard.
Allison Lange, Head Brewer, Old Ox Brewery
If making great beer is a science, why not turn to a scientist? Allison Lange graduated in genetics from Dartmouth and then got a PhD in biochemistry from Emory. “I spent a lot of time with yeast at grad school,” she recalls. It was actually her student experience planning grad school happy hours that introduced her to craft beer; when she volunteered to go buy the beer she was determined to find “the good stuff.” Before joining Old Ox, Lange was director of brewery production and lead brewer for 3 Stars Brewing Company in Washington, D.C. and brewer and beer scientist for Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria, where she put her microbiology skills to work setting up a brewing lab. Lange says her approach is analytical, with a particular focus on process. “A faulty process can ruin a great recipe; a well-thought-out process can improve any beer.”
Becky Harris, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company
When Becky Harris and husband Scott opened Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in a former Buick dealership in downtown Purcellville in 2009, it became the first distillery in Loudoun since Prohibition. Fast forward 12 years and Becky is arguably the greatest female whiskey maker in America, her flagship Roundstone Rye sold in bars from Malibu to Munich. At the distillery, they also make a range of craft gin and brandy and serve cocktails in the tasting room. As a brand ambassador for Autograph Collection Hotels, Harris hosted the superb travel series “A Whiskey Maker’s Exploration of Craft” as seen at the New Yorker, with episodes in Tennessee and Germany. A chemical engineering graduate from the University of Madison, Harris made everything from phone parts to contact lenses before turning to distilling. What does she love about being a woman distiller in Loudoun? “I feel that my palate is key in designing the whiskey that so many people love, and that has become so well-regarded in international competitions. Loudoun is a really fantastic place to be a distiller. We have a wealth of brewers, winemakers, orchardists and a population of people keenly interested in where their food comes from and who makes it.”
Lori Corcoran, Corcoran Vineyards & Cidery
California-born Lori Corcoran wanted to be an FBI agent, and studied Administration of Justice at college. Instead, when she and her family relocated to a farm outside Waterford in 2002, they planted vines, started making wine – and later beer and cider – and never looked back. The FBI’s loss has been the craft beverage lovers’ gain. Corcoran is the sole wine and cider maker at the farm and has an affinity for the whiskey barrel-aged port she makes, one of which she has cleverly titled USB. (USB port – get it?) While the family sold the beer business in 2017, they have ramped up cider production, making crisp, dry champagne-style ciders with names such as Sinful and Knot Head. “The skill is finding alchemy between art and science,” says Corcoran. “The chemistry is in the balance; the art is in the finish.” What’s it like being a woman in the beverage industry in Loudoun? Corcoran says she doesn’t see any difference, only that people are more amazed when they realize she does it all herself. That said, she has heard women are supposed to have a better palate than men. “Who knows, but if we understand flavor profiles better maybe that’s one of our innate advantages.”
Katie DeSouza Henley, Casanel Vineyards & Winery
When Casey and Nelson DeSouza established a winery on 42 acres of gorgeous rolling hills south of Leesburg in 2006, it didn’t mean a free ride for youngest daughter Katie. The Virginia Tech grad started as a dishwasher – “a crystal technician” she calls it – before graduating to Tasting Room Manager under the tutelage of older sister Anna. At the same time, she worked in the vineyard, learning about pruning, trellising and harvesting. Those years paved the way for her current role as winemaker at Casanel, where her acclaimed creations include Red Spark – the world's first French champagne-style wine made from the indigenous Norton grape – and the elegant and balanced red blend, K2. Katie was featured in a recent episode of the popular PBS show UnWine'd in which she paid tribute to another female icon of Loudoun wine: Jenni McCloud, founder and owner of Chrysalis Vineyard at the Ag District, the leading grower of Norton grapes in the world.