Eva Hixon is a 2020 graduate of the EV Program at WWCC. Eva spent time after graduation working as an Assistant Winemaker at Alton Wines in Walla Walla. Currently, she is traveling across New Zealand, not necessarily for the wine industry, but more for her own personal growth.
Alyson Badami: Can you please update me on some basic information, including your date of graduation from the EV program, current employer and position, social media handles, and preferred contact details?
Eva Hixson: Graduated spring of 2020 (in the thick of Covid lockdown, yay). Currently traveling around New Zealand for an indefinite period of time doing some good old fashioned soul searching, but previous to this I was the assistant winemaker at Alton Wines (though I did a huge variety of things depending on time of year- very small business vibe). No social media. Preferred contact is firstname.lastname@example.org
AB: How did you get into wine?
EH: I got into wine on the younger side of things for this industry- I finished the EV program at 20, which is funny considering I couldn’t even legally drink yet. It honestly first started as more of a calculated lifestyle move when I was trying to pick an education/career path a year into studying at a state school having no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Wine seemed like a cool option that I’d never get bored with considering the diversity within the field- art, science, agriculture, marketing, etc. I definitely had a keen interest in wine, and grew up in a family that enjoyed it. It was very around me all my life, and as a high schooler I did some bottling and small vineyard work for a local winery. The whole process and concept really intrigued me, and eventually my interest led to just going for it and moving to Walla Walla for the wine program! It was kind of a fun order of things because my knowledge and palate for wine really developed alongside learning how to make it in school.
AB: Is there someone in the EV world that you admire, including fellow EV alums?
EH: I had the pleasure of working alongside Griffin Frey at Alton. He’s worked a handful of places around Walla Walla and makes some damn good wine. He is a vast wealth of knowledge, and has practical, unique, thoughtful approaches and solutions to everything. Even in the midst of a stressful cellar day he was always calm and collected, friendly, crazy efficient, and happy to explain things and teach. I think he has a very admirable combination of no ego and yet so much talent in his winemaking, palate, and people skills. He was also just very funny and kind and made working in the cellar a lot of fun.
AB: What’s special to you about working in the wine industry?
EH: I love that I get to use so many different parts of my brain and personality. It’s pretty cool to one day be clean, in a dress hanging out on a beautiful sunny patio pouring wine for people, and the next be covered in dirt on a crush pad blasting music doing rewarding, physical tasks. It’s so fun to constantly engage all those different skills, and see how they ultimately connect in their different ways. That’s something I really loved about working for a small business. I also enjoy the fact that I get to help create something that is a pleasure product which brings a bit of joy and connection into the world. Not many jobs entail making something that’s just for the sake of pure enjoyment, and that is the catalyst for so many good conversations and experiences among people. It might not be changing the world in some heroic, fundamental way, but to provide a bit of joy and solace for all sorts of people living their chaotic human experience is cool.
AB: What is your favorite part of your job?
EH: I love a good, productive cellar day. Finishing an efficient day where so much got done and things are just going right, alongside some good tunes can definitely get me into a nice flow state. The satisfaction of making good wine with good people in a beautiful setting is very real.
AB: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
EH: I think the extreme seasonal swings are an ongoing challenge for mental health and a balanced life. It can be tricky to work so hard for a quarter of the year during harvest, and have my social life and hobbies pretty much disappear, and then conversely have periods in the winter when it’s cold and dreary and I have way too much free time. Sometimes the thought of a predictable 9-5 seems pretty wonderful, though I know in reality I’d get bored so fast. Pros and cons for sure. I also think being a young woman in
wine comes with its own unique set of challenges. I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of very cool and supportive people at various wineries, but for sure there can sometimes be a sense of needing to work extra hard to prove skills and work ethic to be taken as seriously as a male counterpart automatically is. I think it’s a fine line to walk, because drawing too much attention to the inherent bias can exasperate the problem in a workplace, and singing the praises of women in wine simply for the fact that they’re women feels demeaning and counterproductive to me, but it’s also so important to continue to encourage and nurture women in the cellar to grow and learn if we want it to be less of a male dominated environment.
AB: What do you think differentiates and excites you about Washington wine?
EH: I think our diversity of varieties and styles is what excites me most. I love how many different things we can grow so well here, and how within a small place like Walla Walla you can have such wildly different wine styles and varieties depending on where you go. There’s something for everyone here, and I think it’s a very approachable place for all sorts of wine drinkers to come enjoy and find something they love. I also think being a young and lesser-known wine region in the grand scheme of things on an international level is such an exciting opportunity to not be tied to historical traditions/expectations and
get to make what feels right and exciting in this moment, and be actively defining what kind of region we are.
AB: How do you foresee climate change or social issues affecting the local industry in the next few years?
EH: I think climate change is becoming one of our biggest conversations. Severe wildfire seasons seem like a new normal for our summers, and so a lot of technology and thought is going to need to be put towards combatting smoke taint. Beyond smoke, I also think increasing weather extremities are going to change the way we decide what to plant, when to pick, and how we think about wine in this valley more and more over time. Social issues are a huge one as well- the wine industry is very rooted in a traditional,
more old-fashioned past. I feel there’s a huge need for us to really pause and think about the long-term plan of how we will appeal to younger drinkers who are the future of wine buying. There’s an increasing desire for more sustainable, environmentally conscious practices, as well as a need for a general industry vibe that is less intimidating and more inviting to people who don’t know much about wine yet. My hope would be that we as an industry continue to honor what’s been working and how people have been doing and enjoying things, but also widen the horizon a bit. I would love to see more places embrace the concept of making really awesome, well thought out and balanced wines that are marketed towards a more casual audience in an inclusive way. (As in why do so many “fun” wines you see at the store that catch a younger consumer’s eye have to be so terrible?).
AB: What are some up-and-coming trends in wine that you’re following?
EH: In a general sense I love the increase in more sustainable, natural wines. I appreciate how many places are making that effort, even if they’re not within the exact borders of something like a LIVE or biodynamic certification. I think it’s wonderful to see an increase in conscious choices because of consumer demand, and leaning into a more natural style all the way to presentation in the bottle. Personally, I’d rather something not be crystal clear and perfect looking, but have all the insane, beautiful character of that wine as it tastes in the cellar, and know it’s coming from a vineyard that treats its workers and the planet as mindfully as possible.
AB: What advice can you share with future EV graduates?
EH: I’m only 3 years out of school, but from my experiences so far, I’d definitely encourage people to work a variety of places. Knowing what you don’t like can be just as important as knowing what you do, and help you make informed career decisions. Every place I’ve worked so far, whether for harvest or otherwise, has had winemakers with wildly different philosophies on pretty much everything, so I think it provides a cool range of techniques and reinforces that there really is no one right way to approach anything in wine.