8 Questions with Jackson Family Wines’ Mollie Battenhouse

Dec. 15, 2016

There are not many clubs in the world more exclusive than the one Mollie Battenhouse belongs to.


Last year, the Northeast Regional Educator of Jackson Family Wines achieved the status of Master of Wine, an intensive program that can take three or more years to complete. Battenhouse is currently one of just 354 Masters of Wine–a group that hails from 28 different countries across five continents. Being a Master of Wine confers a status within the wine industry that indicates Battenhouse contains supreme knowledge of, and an almost unmatched ability to educate others about, all things wine.


A strong 2016 addition to the JFW portfolio of industry experts, Battenhouse has recently been traveling to various northeast domestic markets to train restaurant sommeliers and servers about consumer traits and perceptions. The topic is one that she covered extensively during the Master of Wine process, and her expertise in marketing wine is one we are acutely interested in–particularly esoteric varietals, which is a constant sales focus for both on and off premise.


Battenhouse will be visiting our Eastern Canada team in Quebec City, January 10, training our associates on wines from Murphy Goode, Kendall Jackson, Cadrans, Freemark Abbey, La Crema, Benvolio and Arrowood, among others. We were thrilled to be able to catch up with before her visit to ask her about the aforementioned esoterics, along with a variety of other industry topics.



Breakthru: As an experienced sommelier, what advice would you have for restaurants who are looking to sell esoteric wines to customers? How does the restaurant sell a wine that’s unfamiliar to most consumers? 

Mollie Battenhouse: Allowing the customer to discover it on their own is a great way to build rapport with your guests and show them new wines. Without letting them taste the wines before ordering a glass, you might not win them over. Also, if the list has lots of wines that customers will have questions about, then the staff selling the wines needs to be well-educated about the wines, otherwise, they will sit on the list unsold. 


Breakthru: JFW continues to expand into Oregon’s Willamette Valley. What do you like about Oregon wines–specifically Willamette Valley?

MB: I really like that the Willamette Valley has a cooler climate, producing wines with higher acidities and lower alcohols than in most California AVAs[American Viticultural Areas] for the same grapes. Pinot Noir here tends to be more earthy and fresh, and grapes like Albarino and Grüner Veltliner are being explored as alternative white grapes to grow in the cooler climate.


Breakthru: JFW’s recent purchase of WillaKenzie Estate is a strong addition to your portfolio. Can you share a bit more about the brand?

MB: WillaKenzie Estate was founded by a Frenchman from Burgundy. The estate has been around for a long time, so it has history and a strong consumer following. It fits in with many other wineries that have been purchased by the Jackson Family, with our commitment to familial roots and to the land being farmed, with a long-term approach to making the land sustainable for the next 200 years. WillaKenzie produces a great Pinot Noir, and also an amazing Pinot Gris. This Pinot Gris was one of the first Oregon wines I really worked with when I entered the wine business back in 1998.


Breakthru: What else is new at Jackson Family Wines? 

MB: The recent purchase of Copain Wines highlights our commitment to working with Burgundian grape varieties in many different climates and styles of winemaking and viticulture. We are expanding our horizons with cool climate varieties and winemaking.


Breakthru: Prior to becoming a Masters of Wine, you began your career in the culinary industry. How did that experience help you as you transitioned into the wine industry?

MB: For my culinary education, I attended the Culinary Institute of America. I have a really solid foundation in the restaurant business where I have gained valuable, practical experience working with restaurant guests, and knowing their wants and needs. Cooking brought a new level of love for food, and it has only expanded as I’ve been able to travel the globe learning about wine and its many cultures.


Breakthru: Being a wine industry veteran, what are some industry trends that have caught your eye?

MB: The trend towards lower alcohol wines with higher acidities has been good. I think some of the “trends” will fade with time, such as the trend for orange wines, and wines with lots of flaws–often described as having “character.” It’s not that these wines are bad, but they have taken the sommelier scene by storm, and they’re not always the wines our guests are looking for. 


Breakthru: What are some of your favorite wines to drink during the winter months?

MB: I really love to find older vintages of overlooked wines on the shelves of my local shops. Often these are South African, Australian, or South American. I’ve bought a handful of older vintage Northwest wines for the holidays. I also really love richer white wines with acidity–Vouvray is great with lots of winter flavors, as is Albarino and Bordeaux Blanc. Riesling and Grüner Veltliner always have a place at my dinner table!


Breakthru: Do you have any industry predictions for the upcoming year?

MB: Sommeliers are beginning to look back to New World regions that have been off their radar for a while and discovering what’s new and fun.


*Image from MOW

This interview has been edited for space.

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