Nikhila Davis - Sustainably farms 140 acres of grapes for her label Kalasi Cellars.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I jumped headfirst into the Texas wine industry in 2013 with the creation of Narra Vineyards, with 140 acres under management. I’ve worked to cultivate our site, chose varietals that suit our client list as well as our growing needs, and have been the sales force of the vineyard. While doing so, I worked to round out my experience by making wine at Cakebread Cellars in Napa Valley, earning an introductory sommelier certification, completing a certificate in viticulture from Texas Tech University, and earning an Executive Wine certification and Winemaking certification from the University of California at Davis. I’ve earned a Bachelor of Science degree from The University of Southern Mississippi in Business Administration with specializations in international business, finance and economics. I also hold a Master’s degree in Public Relations from The University of Southern Mississippi.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I was always the rebel growing up (by Indian standards— by American standards I was a goodie two shoes). I played sports professionally, loved travel and enjoyed good wines. One day, I was chatting with my father about farming and it just clicked. What better way to get immersed in wine than by visiting wineries, traveling and learning about different cultures than by farming grapes and making wine!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
On the farming side, it has to be seeing the whole cycle, from bud break to loading the trucks full of fruit. Harvest is stressful but every time I load a truck there is this feeling of happiness that consumes me. I am very proud of how we grow, what we grow and our relationships with wineries. On the wine side, it is educating our clients on our wines, our story and why we do what we do. To be able to produce a bottle of wine and share our experience with the customer is rewarding and fulfilling. I love talking about my upbringing, culture and how it has shaped our brand, Kalasi Cellars.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I definitely was not taken seriously and I do believe it has to do with being female, from a different culture and also because I wasn’t farming my entire life. I do think hard work and putting in the hours changed a lot of people’s perspectives. My first harvest in Texas, people were shocked that I was running the crew, planning our picks and standing with my crew all night while we picked grapes. That has not changed for me since our first harvest but all I can do is to keep doing it! I love it and it makes me feel proud to be there and to make our clients happy. Even when I have worked in the cellar, doing punch downs, pump overs and the like, I have experienced folks telling me that I don’t need to do it and to step aside because it takes manpower. In those circumstances, I tend to zone in and do more, not to prove them wrong but to prove to myself that I can do it too.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and are often more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each other and change that behavior?
It is very easy to judge. I think when I do feel a judgement coming on, I try to take a step back and change my thought process by asking more questions, listening and encouraging the other person.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
Sometimes, I see women focusing on being a woman and losing their voice rather than believing in themselves as a person to push forward with their great ideas. By better supporting women and getting our voices heard, it will create a bigger community in which we can all come together to push towards real change and have a stronger voice.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope to see more women leading in every aspect of our industry! From viticulture to enology to running a business there are so many opportunities for us to lead.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
To stay true to themselves. Nothing beats hard work, persistence and honesty. Don’t let anyone tell you that something is not your role or that it will be hard. Everything is hard if you let it be hard. I would encourage them to work in different aspects of the industry so they can have a holistic view of the industry.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality for me is treating everyone with respect and having openness. I hear too many conversations happen regarding the color of someone’s skin, the origin they come from or their gender. This needs to end and we, as women, have a voice to change the course of these conversations.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
We have always hired a diverse crew in the vineyard as well as in the tasting room. We hire based on work ethic, drive and honesty. Also, I lead by example by sharing my story as a first-generation American female.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
A wonder woman of wine should stand up for woman, different cultures and backgrounds and educate our peers and clients. It is to be proud of who we are and to lift each other up in each of our journeys.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Elisabetta Foradori. Her hard work and dedication has made Teroldego relevant again! She has the similar values of sustainability and biodiversity in her vineyard to grow high quality grapes. She took a market that was focused on international wine varietals and quantity and brought it back to what is important: the earth, the soils and the importance of growing quality fruit. We were the first to plant this varietal in Texas and one of our first releases is a 100% Texas Teroldego. It brings me joy that a woman from another country is why this varietal has gained steam in the United States! Julianne Laks. She took a chance on a corporate woman living in Key West. That was me! At the time, it was rare that someone close to 30 who had a career was willing to drop everything to work in a cellar for harvest (I didn’t know this at the time). Next thing you know, Julianne had me driving cross country, within 5 days, to start harvest at Cakebread Cellars. She was the head winemaker yet she was quiet, poised and led by example. In 2014, Napa had a major earthquake and rain threatened that vintage multiple times. Through it all, Julianne was calm yet decisive and taught me to be a better person, winemaker and leader.