Meet Heather Rader, Founder of Spirit Horse Vineyards

Horsing around at Spirit Horse Vineyards. Courtesy of Heather Rader.

By Emily Merrell

What do wine, horses, empowerment and philanthropy have in common? Spirit Horse Vineyards. Heather Rader left her job in tech to pursue a career in connection – through wine! Her brand, Spirit Horse Vineyards, has been a catalyst to give women vintners a platform. It also has a “give back” component that offers scholarships for connecting young women with therapy horses. At Six Degrees Society, we’re proud to be part of the wine club led by Spirit Horse Vineyards (sign up through our website). Keep reading to learn more about Heather and the incredible work she’s doing.  

SDS: From tech sales to wine sales you have a common theme of supporting women in their greatness. How did you decide to leave your corporate job and get into the world of wine?

HEATHER RADER: The one thing I really loved in my corporate role was mentoring the women on my team.  When I was coming up, I did not have someone to teach me how to ask for a raise and know my worth. As their boss, I used to take my top performers out for a glass of wine to teach them how to ask for a raise, then made them really do it the following day.  I found this came very easily to the men, and I made it my goal to change that conversation for women when it came to understanding and asking for their worth.  

Heather Rader, founder of Spirit Horse Vineyards. Courtesy of Heather Rader.

 I believe wine is a catalyst for connection. In corporate, I was feeling very disconnected. I wanted to find something that drove connection and community in a beautiful way, and to me wine encapsulates all of those things, especially when you weave in a component to give back. To me wine is like human beings: always changing and evolving. There are a million things that have to come together to get a beautiful glass of wine in your hands and it is the same with people. Honoring yourself and those you are sharing the wine with when you open the bottle can be a moment for gratitude. 

 Finally, I belonged to all these wine clubs where I didn’t know the winery owner or my fellow club members. There was no opportunity to give back. I wanted to align the money I was spending on wine with causes that I cared about, and with women who were like-minded. So, as they say, “If you don’t like something, create it yourself.” So that’s what I did. 

 SDS: Spirit Horse Vineyards is so amazing. Not only is it comprised of women vintners but it has a giving back component to girls in need. Can you tell us more about your giving back initiative and why that was so important for you? 

HR: The giving back initiative is important because at the end of the day, I believe your work should come full circle and do something good in the world. I was a big sister with the YMCA  and I remember there was a waiting list of kids. We use second chance horses who would otherwise be put down as therapy horses to help these girls learn leadership, confidence, trust and true empowerment. It’s such a magical connection and all our Six Degrees club members can come out the equine therapy ranch in Napa to ride, meet the horses and drink beautiful wine with like minded women. I met Charlotte, the owner of Spirit Horse, and we clicked. She came from a tough background and is so incredible with the horses and girls. It’s a real tribe that comes together to teach these women and girls that they not only have worth, but an incredible power.  When that critical mass shifts, the world becomes a better place. 

SDS: As a female in the male dominated wine world, what are some opportunities you see for women hoping to get into wine? 

HR: There are many orgs cropping up that I’m seeing including Assemblage in Oregon, Women Owned Wineries, Grapevine in Seattle, etc. Look for mentors and organizations within the wine community who align with your values. Offer them something of value when you ask them for a cup of coffee. It can be anything you are skilled at. The important thing is to reach out and develop those relationships. 

 SDS: Although you didn’t grow up in the wine industry you were able to make a name for yourself within it. Since we’re all about uplifting women, can you share the names of three women in the wine industry that are really making a difference? 

HR: This list is also kind of three women who I love to share a glass of wine with, for what it’s worth 🙂

Alice Saviez: At 80-years-old, she is a true inspiration – not just in the world of wine but in giving back to the community. I love her joie de vivre and integrity of purpose. She’s also a hell of a lot of fun to share a glass of wine with! Her laugh and her stories are magic.

Janie Brooks: Not only do they make beautiful Oregon Pinot Noir’s, but they are pioneers when it comes to environmental practices and being the first Willamette Valley winery to participate in 1% for the Planet out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. She’s also such a strong leader and great personality. 

 Meg Murray: I love how she has used wine as a means to connect with women politically.  Whether you fall right, left or somewhere in between, I think you can appreciate her strength of voice. 

 SDS: You’ve hosted wine dinners, retreats and so much more. Where do you see Spirit Horse Vineyards in the next 5 years? What’s next for you all? 

HR: What’s next is expanding the Women Vintners Wine Club. I wanted to create a club where we invited everyone to collaborate and lift up not only other women vintners in their businesses, but help the next generation of girls as well. This is where 1+1=100…we want collaboration over competition. We are expanding our model where not just organizations can have their own wine club, but individuals can as well. We’re all giving back to causes that members personally care about.  I wrote checks this year to the SAFE Alliance for domestic abuse victims in Dallas and the Oregon Food Bank to name a few. I look forward to writing a lot more 🙂 

In parallel to that expansion is working with organizations like Six Degrees Society. Emily, you’ve become a dear friend and the real deal when it comes to not just talking about lifting each other up but walking the walk. When we talked about creating the Six Degrees Society wine club, she simply asked “When do we start?” So, here we are! And we are honored to present this to such an amazing network of women and provide an enhanced community experience for you all. First stop, horses and Rosé in Napa. After that, a Six Degrees Member Retreat in the spring! 

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