wine making as therapy: how Jennifer Prothow started ErmaRose Winery in Texas
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Throughout International Women’s Month, Chowhound is sharing stories from and about a wealth of women entrepreneurs, businesses, chefs, and cookbook writers who have all found success in the food space. Here, Texas winemaker Jennifer Prothow describes how she turned to making wine as therapy—and how it not only grew into a business but changed her entire life.

Note: This piece was written prior to the spread of COVID-19 but you can currently order ErmaRose wines online, or if you’re in the area, take advantage of their wine drive-through.

Jennifer Prothow, founder of ErmaRose Winery in Katy, Texas served five years in the Marine Corps. She left the military scarred by post-traumatic stress disorder and was encouraged to take on a hobby. Throwing herself into the art of winemaking proved therapeutic for Prothow, and now she’s passionate about her award-winning fruit wines.

Prothow planned a long career in the Marine Corps and completed two tours overseas in Africa and Afghanistan as an avionics tech and flight equipment tech. But plans changed when she was raped and the fallout made her time in the military miserable.

“It completely changed my mindset,” says Prothow. The trial process dragged on, she lost close friends, and didn’t feel supported in therapy. She knew it was time to do something else.

Winemaking as Therapy

After the military, Prothow pursued education and found a job working on aircraft, but ultimately felt restless as she suffered from PTSD. She’d wanted to retire a Marine and spent a lot of time brokenhearted over the loss of the life she envisioned. A psychologist suggested a hobby to keep her busy and stave off depression.

First, she tried cake making. “I suck at that,” she jokes. She’d started looking into winemaking while in the Marine Corps and decided to revisit it. In fact, she spent about three years researching it before attempting her first batch at home. Her mom, Andrea, brought friends over with requests. Prothow says making wine gave her a purpose and a sense of fulfillment.

“I could feel myself coming back to life,” she says.

rose wine Thanksgiving

Annabelle Breakey / Photodisc / Getty Images

So much of the winemaking process is therapeutic for Prothow. She enjoys coming up with recipes and thinking outside the box. Fruit wines in particular offer room for creativity as she tastes fruit and thinks about how it works with wine.

Some of her favorite wines to make are her most creative, like her banana lemon wine.

“There’s a reward, especially when you get a wine to come out the way you planned,” says Prothow.

Taking The Next Step

Opening ErmaRose Winery really helped Prothow turn a corner in recovery. Her dad, Stephen, encouraged her to open the winery, and it made sense once she started getting more requests for wine than she could handle at home.

Owning a winery is a naturally social activity and she’s found herself opening up: “I needed a winery to talk to people.”

For Prothow, being more social is a good sign. “I was really outgoing and goofy and joking when I was in the military. After, it was hard to find myself.”

But the winery has enabled Prothow to get out of her shell, and she is forever changed.

“I’ll never be that girl again,” she says. “I just found a new version of myself.”

The support of her family has helped Prothow, too. “I started this with my dad and that helped a lot.” Her dad passed away before the winery opened, but Prothow’s mom, once retired, is now frequently found working at ErmaRose. “It eases the stress because I know I have them here with me.”

Prothow is hesitant to tout her own success, but the winery’s growth speaks for itself: the demand for her wines was so high, she had to move out of her original 700 square foot location within months of opening. The new home of ErmaRose is a much larger facility with more room to accommodate larger winemaking equipment and more customers with a patio, outdoor space, and an event facility. But getting there was a big step.

Moving into a larger space was terrifying, says Prothow. She’d originally planned to stay in the smaller location to save money and had nightmares no one would show up to fill the new space. But the Katy community has been supportive and encouraged ErmaRose to continue growing. “I love my customers,” she says.

In February 2020, Prothow took home six awards from the Texas International Wine Competition, including silver medals for her Banana, Mango, and Peach wines. She frequently sells out of some of her most popular wines, Royal Dragonfly and Cranberry.

It hasn’t all been a steady road to success, though. Prothow was excited to make elderberry wine with berries grown on the property. Her vision fell apart when she caught a cow on the neighboring fence eating one of the bushes (while staring directly at her, no less).

What’s Next for Prothow?

ErmaRose just hit its one year anniversary, but Prothow isn’t ready to relax.

Prothow wants to win more awards and has her sights set on upgrading her bronze and silver medals to gold. She’s working on perfecting her techniques while learning and networking with other winemakers. She’s still watching videos, reading books, and learning everything she can about the art of winemaking.

“I won’t have a party until the second year, because that’s when you’ve made it.”

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Jessica Merritt is a writer and editor based in the Houston area. Co-owner of board game brewery Battlehops Brewing, Jessica loves beer, board games, and is addicted to grilled cheese sandwiches. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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