Behind the Brand

Anne Dempsey: Devotion to Winemaking

Anne Dempsey Skyside

Mar. 23, 2021

“Be your own advocate.”

That is the advice Anne Dempsey has for women looking to get into the wine industry. Dempsey, Winemaker for Skyside Wines, spoke with us recently about her career and what she sees in the future of winemaking. From her family’s introduction to the business with her grandfather in the 1920s all the way up to today, history has given her a unique perspective on winemaking.

And to hear Dempsey tell it, winemaking is a beautiful industry, but not for the faint of heart. “You will hear people tell you no a lot before they tell you yes,” she said. “You can’t let challenges stop you from pursuing your goals. From the moment I decided to get into wine, it took a lot of grit and passion to find my footing.”

It takes a certain amount of self-certainty to thrive in the industry, according to Dempsey. “When someone tells me no, my internal voice says, ‘you’re wrong, I’ll show you.’”

Dempsey on destiny

“My first memories of wine are of the stories of my mother’s childhood growing up on a farm with a vineyard, working the vines, picking grapes, growing their food in Sonoma County,” Dempsey told us. “My mom and her siblings loved this life and so, as a kid, wine seemed like a member of our family.” To say that Dempsey has wine in her blood would be an oversimplification. “Wine is a part of me on so many levels,” she said. “It’s a piece of my family’s history that I take with me each day and helps me stay close to those no longer with us.”

Dempsey added her own place to the family history in college, inspired by big family gatherings which always included amazing home-cooked meals and stories, and sharing wine was always on the menu. “I didn’t quite realize the impact this made on me,” Dempsey told us, “until I was in college trying to find a career path that meant something to me. I remember sitting in my first class, Introduction to Winemaking, and the professor dazzled me with wine’s impact on the world including its history, art, global economy, tradition, and science, and that’s the moment I decided to pursue wine and never really looked back.”

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Making it in the field

Wine is personal for Dempsey.

“Each bottle of wine I make represents years of hard work and reminds me of the amazing people and memories involved,” she told us. And the creation of that wine is itself something of a miracle. “I found learning how to make wine could not come from a book,” she explained. “It takes years of seeing different seasons, styles, and vineyards to understand how to navigate mother nature.”

She has spent her adult life studying and creating wine, and has worked all over the world, including a highly formative stint spent working near Stellenbosch in South Africa. “There’s something very intense about the place,” she told us. “Imagine walking along a vineyard and a baboon crosses your path.” She was also greatly influenced by her time in the Champagne region.

“My favorite thing about wine is constantly exploring new regions, varieties and wines I’ve never tried.”

Nowadays, her region of focus is the North Coast of California and what it takes to grow throughout the region. “One thing you might not know,” she told us, “is how much the weather can change within a single day in the North Coast. Temperatures can easily change 40 degrees as the fog moves out in the morning pulling in the warmer air and returns each evening cooling things off. It’s that diurnal shift that makes the North Coast a great region for wine.”

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The industry

With over one hundred years in the industry, Dempsey’s family history puts her in a leadership position on California’s North Coast. “To me, being a leader in the wine industry means I have a responsibility,” she told us.

“Wine has so much history that I want to honor those before me and those to come. It’s important that the decisions we make today pave the way for future generations.” She added, “We must take care of our land, help to inspire promising young talent and always be humble enough to learn from history so we aren’t making the same mistakes.”

Dempsey recognizes that the industry cannot stagnate but must continue to grow and innovate. Finding inspiration is vital to her, she told us. “Today,” she said, “I look outside of the wine industry to various creative careers seeking out experts in their craft, like authors, artists, directors, chefs, and winemakers, and watch how they keep their creative spark alive.”