Teal Walker + a Love of Wine
Proprietor of Audeant, one of the more exciting wineries to emerge from the Willamette Valley in recent memory, Teal's success is a testament to her ability to take on any task, any passion project — and make it reality.
August 12, 2020 — Teal’s impressive resume is only rivaled by her wine collection — a reflection of the fierce and irrepressible love of wine at the heart of her mission. Disarmingly intelligent and tireless in the pursuit of her goals, the reasons for Teal’s success are evident. However, her true secret is an ability to connect and build relationships with everyone she meets along the way.
This skill set proved particularly valuable in her first encounter with winemaker Andrew Riechers, planting the seed of what would become Audeant.
In this interview you’ll read about Teal’s leap of faith, the reality of starting a winery from scratch and how wine and cheese really are the best things in life (duh).
I started out of college as a developer. I spent a few years doing development work for clients in a consulting role.
Then, after about two or three years, I decided that this wasn’t the direction that I wanted to go in. I wanted to be on the business side — to focus more on customer interaction, testing systems and managing larger technical programs and projects.
Once I’d made this switch, I made another move to the federal side of the house. Although the company I worked for was mainly focused on commercial clients in pillars like media and entertainment, e-commerce, and financial services, they also had a federal practice (US Air Force, Army etc.). This became my focus and, ultimately, before leaving, I was running that portion of the business, serving our federal and Department of Defense clients.
I was always a big traveler. I used to take a month off every year and travel. I did Australia, Cambodia, Thailand — I also studied in Europe when I was in college and visited up to 18 countries.
Around 2000, I started traveling out to Napa and Sonoma from Chicago. It became an annual trip. I began doing wine tours, drinking more wine and collecting wine. When I would go out there, I would totally geek out — 99% of the places that I visited were small boutique wineries, where I couldn’t go to the local liquor store and buy the wine.
One of my best friends was in Michigan at an Outstanding in the Field event — where they set up a 100-person-long table in a field somewhere and serve a farm-to-table meal.
My best friend and Dan ended up sitting next to each other and spent the whole night talking about wine. At the end of the dinner she said, “You know what, I’ve never done this before, but you should really meet my friend Teal.” And she gave Dan my phone number.
By the time Dan and I met, I had a pretty big wine collection and he had a big wine collection. We always joked about it being like The Brady Bunch, but instead of combining kids, we were combining wines [laughs].
Combined, it was probably upwards of a thousand bottles. Now it’s much bigger than that. But, back in the day, I lived in a nine-hundred-square-foot condo in downtown Chicago with my two wine fridges — one was in the guest bedroom and one in the kitchen / dining, which were basically one and the same.
Dan and I had planned a trip to France — and long story short, we had to cancel it at the last minute. Dan pointed out that I had never been to Oregon. Frankly, I didn’t really like Pinot Noir, which now seems quite comical. Dan, had gone out with friends a couple of years prior and had an amazing experience at a winery called Antica Terra, where he met winemaker Maggie [Harrison]. He managed to convince me that I’d love Oregon — and so we went.
There was just something about it. It was peaceful and calm. I loved the natural beauty. It was so different from Napa — not better or worse, but different. We went to Antica Terra for a tasting, but Maggie was away, so we were told the assistant winemaker would be in charge of our tasting. That was Andrew.
The tasting was supposed to be an hour long — but three and a half hours later, we were still there. We probably opened around 15 different bottles, not that we drank all of them [laughs]. I remember there being this ladder and how Andrew kept climbing up and yelling from the top rung about another amazing wine we had to try.
Even before meeting Andrew, Dan had made a joke about wanting to work with wine in some way. During our trip, we kept hearing about French winemakers buying land, so we began to consider buying something as an investment.
We were definitely not thinking about starting a winery at that point [laughs]. But then we met Andrew and everything changed. We had this long conversation about his love of wine and our love of wine and the culinary arts — and literally a week or two later, we were back out on a plane to meet with Andrew and look at properties. When we didn’t find the perfect one, Andrew asked us how we felt about custom crush, and that’s what we decided to do.
In the end, it took us about a year and a half to find the right property, but we started the winery before that in 2016.
From the beginning, I told Andrew: “I know nothing about this. I know how to drink wine, not make it.”
So I relied a lot on his expertise and on what he wanted out of the property. Andrew has carte blanche on winemaking; it’s his philosophy. And this is true of the property too, especially regarding the types of soil and location. There were definitely certain areas in the valley from where I don’t care for the wines as much, and certain areas that I do, so I gave some input there — but a lot of it was just lonely Andrew [laughs].
Very collaborative. Beyond the winemaking, of course — all decisions relating to how the wine is made are Andrew’s. We talk a lot about strategy, our approach to the brand and our plans for the year. We collaborate on everything so that we can really understand who we are, what we’re doing and where we want to go.
It’s interesting because you have a young, creative, artsy winemaker and then me with a business and tech background. We have two very different ways of thinking about things, which sometimes makes it easy, but can also make it difficult. It’s good. We are always looking at things differently, and talking through them.
I think it brings each of us down to earth. When Andrew makes decisions, he’s not necessarily thinking about the financial implications. And he keeps me from thinking about things solely from a business perspective.
The wine always comes first. That is — and will always be — the most important thing.
The idea of owning a winery was never on my radar. When visiting wineries, whenever I met the winemaker or the owner, I was always just in awe. I never thought that could be me, that I could be one of those people.
I think a lot about our first vintage — that moment we opened our first bottle. I was so scared and nervous. I kept thinking, what if this isn’t something I actually want to do? Then I remember tasting the wine and thinking: damn, this is good.
It was an overwhelming feeling of a dream come true, even though it wasn’t originally part of the plan. We were drinking our wine and it was awesome. I think this is probably my proudest moment — though there’s been a lot of moments like this since we started.
I’m so used to being in a world that’s dominated by men.
I’ve never been a shy person and I’m a very dedicated and hard worker — so I don’t feel like there was anything that held me back. I always just thought that I would do my job and do it to the best of my ability.
One of the most important things for me has been establishing relationships with everybody. I think this is one of the things that I’ve focused on throughout my career. You’re obviously not going to have the same philosophy or mindset as everybody, but I think it’s about really trying to learn, understand and figure out how to work with different types of people.
Definitely my mother. She taught me everything that I know and was a very important part of my life. She always inspired me; she was very strong willed. She made me who I am today.
Wine and cheese [laughs].
I would be on a boat, drinking my wine and eating cheese. There’s nothing better. Five days a week. That’s what I’d have.
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