WOMEN WINEMAKERS ARE FINALLY MAKING SIGNIFICANT INROADS
March is Women’s History Month, so we’ve decided to feature women winemakers in the Monthly Amaro Wine Club. Again, similar to our February edition on wine made by couples (for previous Wine Club selections and literature, click here), we are focusing on the winemakers themselves in lieu of the winemaking, but of course we won’t ignore the winemaking component altogether.
Before highlighting the exceptional women winemakers who produce the three wines that comprise this month’s wine club, we will discuss the general topic of women in the wine industry. It probably comes as no surprise that women are sorely underrepresented, and equally unsurprising that this has nothing to do with inherent ability and professional skills and training. Although there are examples of women who have run wine estates as far back as a couple of centuries (Champagne houses are a particularly prominent example), there hasn’t been a meaningful influx of women into the wine industry until only a decade and a half decade ago. That said, inroads have been significant enough that there are now highly respected, seasoned women winemakers from whom we can hear meaningful anecdotes about the topic of women in the wine industry. In particular, we found the article in Wine Enthusiast, “Meet 10 Trailblazing Women Leading the Wine Industry Forward,” to be particularly informative as its 10 interviewees are from varied backgrounds and geographies.
Among the Wine Enthusiast interviews there was some predictable consensus, notably that there is still an uphill battle for women newcomers in an industry that has a longstanding fraternal network. Another theme was that women are hard pressed to be taken seriously in the physical part of the industry, that is, in the vineyard and in the cellar. As a result, women who succeed in this respect prove themselves by working long hours and doing extra physical labor. Also, again predictably, every one of these seasoned professionals still encounter situations in which buyers and other professionals in the industry on a first physical encounter assume that a male colleague or staff member nearby are the winemakers. On this note, it is not surprising that women are making much faster progress entering the non-viticultural side of the industry, as export managers, in communication and marketing departments, in quality control, etc.
Geographical differences also appear to be a thing. In the US, women appear to be entering the industry at a larger volume than their European and South American counterparts. Four out of the five of the American women interviewed in the article even mentioned noticing less difference in how they were treated in the cellar and vineyards among male counterparts who were at the same age, level of experience, and training as them, signalling a groundshift.
However, interestingly, this may be a regional phenomenon even in the US as those who reported this groundshift were winemakers in California, Oregon, and Washington, while the interviewee from Long Island, Kelly Urbanik Koch, of Macari Vineyards, noted that in the Eastern United States, it was still quite difficult to get a foot in the door as a woman, and that there was less of a percentage of woman winemakers in the east than even in other parts of the world.
It appears that American women also tend to enter a winemaking career through academic degrees and professional training programs more so than through family and/or inheriting an estate. Meanwhile, the interviewees from Europe who grew up on estates professed to be accepted more easily in winemaking networks than women in Europe who entered the industry through degrees and professional training. One interesting anecdote was telling; Elena Pozzoloni, of Tenuta Sette Cieli, earned a degree in viticulture and enology from the University of Pisa where she specialized in vineyard diseases. She found that teaching the “old men” in Italy best practices to avoid vineyard diseases was an impossible task as they were uninterested in accepting advice from a young woman. So Elena traveled the world and discovered more open-mindedness and less cultural rigidity before returning to Italy with a proven track record.
Andrea León, of Lapostolle Wines in Chile, gives yet another interesting geographical/cultural nuance. While also approaching winemaking academically, with a double major in economics and oenology and viticulture, she felt easily accepted working in vineyards in Chile as she was surrounded by other female laborers, and she even worked two harvests while pregnant. Instead, she felt the gender barricades on the trade side of the business where there was a macho South American social network culture that did not welcome women.
So what can we say about the difference between the actual wine that men and women produce? Among the 10 professionals interviewed in Wine Enthusiast, there were opinions that women tended to be detail-oriented, maybe more attuned to subtleties and nuances, and more aware of their surroundings and able to see a bigger picture, all of which relate more to the creative “gut” aspect of the winemaking process as opposed to the scientific process. But Kelly Koch and Elena Pozzolini both eloquently voiced opinions that more or less mirrored the consensus of the 10 interviewees:
Kelly: "winemaking is such an individual thing and that many differences can be attributed more to personality than gender.”
Elena: “I think women have a different approach, are perhaps more detail-oriented, but everyone has their own style that contributes to great, unique wines.”