Wine Women Wednesday: Meet Michele Padberg of Vivac Winery

Happy Wine Wednesday! This is an exciting (and long time coming) day for Along Comes Mary as we welcome back our Wine Women Wednesday series. Last year after an incredible visit to several wine countries in Oregon, I was inspired by the number of women I met who are killing it in the wine industry. Thus, Wine Women Wednesday was born as a series to feature and spotlight some of these wine women.

While we’ve been on a hiatus, I’m thrilled to have a terrific lineup planned of wine women I can’t wait for you to meet. Kicking off 2020 is Michele Padberg of Vivac Winery in New Mexico.

When I met Michele at the 2019 IFWTWA Conference, I instantly gravitated towards her. With a friendly demeanor and edgy fashion sense with plenty of black and white, I soon learned she’s also Co-Owner, Co-Business Management Team and Advanced Sommelier for Vivac.  What better a candidate for this series, no? Read on to learn more about this wine woman killing it in the industry!

Meet Michele Padberg of New Mexico’s Vivac Winery

Mary: Tell me a little about you and your background?

Michele: I was born and raised in Taos, New Mexico. I went to The School of The Art Institute of Chicago), then was a BFA Theatre Major (University of Colorado Boulder), and finally was enrolled in Parsons School of Design (out of Manhattan) when I found myself home visiting my family and reconnected with Jesse, a high school friend at a dinner party. He and his brother had started down the path for the winery and he convinced me to not go to New York but stay and help open Vivac.

We had finally ignited the spark that had been between us for all those years. While I had bounced around a bit in my education, I had taken classes in graphic design and advertising and of course, with a theatre background, was very comfortable speaking in front of people. These skills landed me as the events and marketing person for Vivac. Had I any idea you could go to school for booze, I would have!

Make Wine Fun, Not Scary

M: Was there a ‘moment’ when you knew you had a passion for wine?

MP: I don’t know that I had a specific ‘moment’ that made me googoo about wine. In high school, I drank Boone’s Farm, ironically sometimes obtained for me by Jesse. In college, during one of my summers working for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, I became friends with a young woman who had just spent a year in Italy and she taught me how to appreciate wine… and great cheese. I started to learn about regions and be able to shop for and order wines I liked. 

A very basic, but important place to be when I reconnected with Jesse who was excited and impressed as much as I did. He knew his passion to become a winemaker would require his partner to be “into it.”

After literally following him around for a week as he made wine, asking non-stop questions, he got a bit irritated and asked that I go read some of the wine books on his full bookshelf; as he had done. So I did go read those books, one in particular hit the ON switch for me; Andrea Immer Robinson’s Great Wine Made Simple. Not only did it layout the world of wine, but she suggests specific wines to purchase to highlight what she is saying. And I am a sensory learner. As I’ve worked toward my Master Somm, my ability to track wines relies on that sensory component and I am lucky enough to be a supertaster.

Michele Padberg of Vivac Winery. Photo: Courtesy of Vivac.


Love this shot I got of Michele at the IFWTWA 2019 Conference!

Andrea is also adorable and fun, loves wine and inspired me to teach classes and give lectures in the style I do; make wine fun, not scary! It was after that, that I fell down the rabbit hole of wine and began my Sommelier Certifications.

Since starting my wine career nearly 20 years ago, I’ve had so many amazing wine moments! They can be tasting an iconic wine, having a superpower moment of blind tasting and nailing it or a triumph for the winery. I’m a big dork over all of them. Our daughter used to leave wine (not milk and cookies) for Santa since she was tiny and taking her to select the special bottle each year not only was educational but a truly nostalgic, beautiful moment.

Wine has been a part of every celebration and every loss for us. Every opportunity to travel is tied to discovering wines there, I read wine books in my spare time, I seek out new producers and I revel in discoveries. I am truly a wine geek. Being an International Wine Competition Judge, I have been afforded a very rich life of memorable wine moments recently and I cherish each one.

Don’t be afraid to ask Questions

M: What were some of the biggest takeaways for you as you became a Sommelier?

MP: For me, I can read and imagine what the writer is talking about, I can see the soils and the aspect of the land and why Pinot grows great there, but it is when I taste it that my brain locks in and it isn’t until I see a winemaker making the wine, taste the grapes, taste it during fermentation, taste a problematic version, an excellent version, a mediocre version, and piece all the small steps and choices a winemaker made into the catalog that I now call Pinot, that I truly understand and appreciate it.

My advice is to work at a winery, make appointments to talk to winemakers when you go tasting so you can ask questions as you taste their wines, and most of all TRAVEL! Go to weird places, famous places, all places and taste everything. Be annoying, ask too many questions, it’s how I got to where I am.

Revisiting Special Wines on Stressful Days

M: Being a business owner, entrepreneur, event planner AND winemaker is fun, but not easy. When those days hit that you feel like throwing in the towel, what keeps you motivated?

MP: I’m not one of the winemakers, but when my husband feels that way, I like to troubleshoot with him. Sometimes an outside perspective can help when you are feeling overwhelmed. My ability to taste wines accurately can be a service and my data bank for the world of wine can be useful as well as a deep understanding of winemaking around the world.

Michele and Jesse Padberg pouring at the IFWTWA Conference. Photo: Courtesy of Vivac.
Cheers! Photo: Courtesy of Vivac.

That said, again I am not a winemaker and everyone can pretend to be an expert, but no one knows for real until you put it in practice making wine. I have enormous respect for the skill my husband and brother-in-law have in the making of their wines.

Now when I have been on the road too much, stressed over the long list of projects and feel like running away, I buy a special bottle of wine, one that sparks a memory for me, like the Altesino Rosso di Montelcino, a wine we served at our wedding.

It takes me back to the beginning of my career and assists in reminiscing of how far I have come over the years, the growth personally and for the winery. A great wine connected to a great memory is a very special form of time travel that allows you to reawaken to what you have now.

Don’t be afraid to be a Bitch

M: What would you say to women interested in a career in wine?

MP: I would quote a woman that mentored me at the beginning of my career who said: “Don’t be afraid to be a bitch.” We are conditioned as women (it’s getting better with each generation) to be nice. In the wine world, dominated with male Somms and Chefs, you can and will be talked over, dismissed and ignored.

Being confident, assertive and demanding respect are not bad traits, but as a woman are seen as being a bitch. You can be polite, respectful and inclusive while not backing down. You’ve got to own your inner bitch to make it in this business.

M: There’s nothing like a perfect day at your happy place, kicking back listening to your favorite album and drinking your favorite wine. What does that look like for you?

MP: We just spent two months in Central Europe meeting winemakers and touring epic wine cellars, being with a winemaker who is sharing exquisite wines, telling their story and sharing their passion for what they have created, in a dank, dark stone cave, on a gorgeous patio overlooking vines, in a steel metal building lined with oak barrels or sipping in a barn with wines poured into glasses set on an old piece of wood on two sawhorses… that is my happy place.

Oh yes and my family! Truth be told, they are usually with me. My daughter has been raised in the wine tour fashion. 

Connect with Michele

Vivac Winery and vineyards are located in Dixon, New Mexico. They have tasting rooms in both Dixon and Santa Fe, as well as fun seasonal events like karaoke. Michele speaks and judges all around the world, and currently has plans to be at the CU Boulder Alumni Success Stories events in New York (February 27th) and Chicago (April 29th) as well as judging at the Great American International Wine Competition.

Thank you to Michele for such a fun interview. If you’d like to be considered or nominate a Wine Woman for this Wednesday series, email me at [email protected] Cheers!

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