PUBLISHED: 4:53 PM on Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Boutique winery targeting women
Kick back, relax and enjoy life.

That's the motto behind Working Girl wines, produced by a small boutique winery on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

"We're on a mission to get women to take time off from their busy lives," owner Kathy Charlton said.

Adorned with whimsical labels, the affordable wines - Working Girl White, Go Girl Red, Rose the Riveter and Handyman Red - are crafted to be enjoyed with friends "after a long day in pantyhose and pumps or jeans and a T-shirt."

But having fun is only part of the Working Girl story.

The winery also contributes 2 percent of gross sales on every bottle sold to charities that support working women and their families.

Charlton, who had no expertise in the wine industry, stumbled into the grape business almost by accident.

In 1999, she and her husband had the opportunity to buy a struggling winery.

Olympic Cellars was housed in an historic, 114-year-old barn located on investment property they owned in Port Angeles, Wash.

Charlton, 55, who had worked as a manager in finance and human resources at Texas Instruments in Dallas for 25 years, took early retirement to move north.

"Running a winery was never in my plans," she said. "I honestly thought we were just going to shut it down."

But soon she and winemaker Sara Gagnon were experimenting with varietals, "tasting a lot, pouring a lot out," she said. "After eight months, we crossed the line. I finally thought, 'maybe we can do this.' "

In 2001, Olympic Cellars officially became woman owned and operated.

"As a small winery, it's hard to compete on price, distribution and marketing," Charlton said.

"I knew we needed a niche."

Her female team introduced two signature wine series, La Dolce Vida and Working Girl.

Wine production grew from 1,200 cases in 2001 to more than 9,000 cases in 2005 when Charlton launched her Working Girl wines into nationwide distribution.

At home, the winery sponsors several events aimed at women, from grape stomps "Lucille Ball style" to International Woman's Day celebrations.

"We give women permission to gather," she said.

"Years ago women got together for sewing bees and quilting bees to talk and share. We just don't do that anymore."