LYDIA TOMEK - One of Canada's youngest winemakers at age 23. Head winemaker at Ravine Vineyard & Est
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I guess you can say I have been in the winemaking business since 1998, that was when began studying Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture at Brock University. While I was earning my degree, I managed to work at local wineries and research facilities to gain hands-on experience in the vineyards and cellars . After graduating in 2003, I was honored with my first winemaker position in August 2004 at Hillebrand Winery (Andrew Peller Limited). Since then, I have been part of the winemaking team at Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate, Hernder Estate Family Winery, Burning Kiln and am currently the Head Winemaker at Ravine Vineyard and Estate Winery (an organically farmed vineyard).
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I was working on a chemistry research project in high school and had to find some research papers at the local university’s library. While flipping through organic chemistry papers, I stumbled across a book that was left by the computer I was working at. It was about the history of winemaking in former Yugoslavia (where my parents are from). Inside the book was a brochure about CCOVI, a new state-of-the-art science facility that focused on wine chemistry and grapevine biology.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Being able to create a harmonious liquid medium that captures a place and time, that requires science and art and flourishes when made with love.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry?
There have been occasions were I was overlooked for a position or was judged based on my age, sex, family life, and where I was from. It was frustrating because that was what defined me to them, not my years of experience, skills, or academic achievements. I personally experienced insults from bosses where they would call me names that were demeaning (i.e porca, putana, dyke, cunt, bitch, etc). I even recall having a job interview where I was asked if I planned to have children in the near future (something I am certain a man is never asked). I even had a former boss tell me to not show up as polished and as pretty for a wine writer because they wouldn’t take me seriously.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by advocating for diversity and inclusion?
Encouraging people to be true to themselves and celebrating who they are ( aka celebrating their own “terroir”) is important for their soul and for their wine. When you allow people to work in an embracing environment, their creativity and passion will flourish. A community that embraces it will only evolve for the better and translate to better tasting better aging wines.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
More open-mindedness to modern winemaking techniques and new varietals that are sustainable. More intolerance to oppressive behavior. More Canadians drinking and buying 100% homegrown Canadian Wines
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Compensation based on education, experience and success
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Demonstrating that I, as a woman, mother, and wife, can help bring success and improvements to a winery reinforces that it is a person’s abilities and dedication — not their color, sex, or age— that proves their worth . Showing that you are able to work and succeed with diversity on your team is also reinforcement.
What message do you have for anyone now entering the wine profession?
Don’t worry about the standard, worry about how you can be your best self and how you can stand out from the rest. Don’t let age, sex or color limit your opportunities.
What other industry heroes do you admire and why?
Dr. Linda Bramble - her palate, her compassion, and ability to teach and inspire . Dr. Helen Fisher - the smartest woman I know. She knows everything grape and is a pioneer. She is committed to her research, she is always available to guide and supporting inspiring minds, and she is dedicated to her craft like no other. She is respectful, treats people kindly, has the warmest kindest laugh and patience that calms any nervous grad student.