March 8 is International Women’s Day - a “global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity,” according to the event’s website.
The wine industry suffers from the same gender disparities as most others. Although women comprise more than half the population, women hold far fewer positions in the wine industry, fewer leadership roles, and even fewer ownership roles. Karen MacNeil’s Second Annual Report on Women in the Wine Industry reveals that “an estimated 10 percent of winemakers in California are female, compared to 7 percent in Washington, and 5 percent in New York.”
Wonder Women of Wine Conference
At the Wonder Women of Wine (WWOW) inaugural conference in Austin, Texas last weekend, a group of winemakers, wine professionals, and wine enthusiasts (like the author) gathered to discuss their personal experiences within — and solutions for fostering and achieving gender equality in — the wine industry. Participants came from near and far with winemakers representing wine regions throughout the United States, including Napa, Sonoma, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and Texas plus a few winemakers from France and Italy.
WWOW Founder Rania Zayyat packed the two-day agenda with rich and informative content: talent-packed panel discussions; a 1:1 discussion with winemaker Krista Scruggs on Taking the Path Less Traveled; a powerful speech by Cote Beverage Director and author Victoria James entitled, Letters to a Young Wine Prodigy; and a keynote address from Karen MacNeil titled, A New Terroir of Women in Wine Feminism. And then there was wine. Day two of the event featured a tasting exhibit featuring wines from women-owned wineries and women winemakers.
MacNeil, wine expert and bestselling author of The Wine Bible, offered some strategies for women in wine to move women forward in the wine industry, closing her keynote address with these wise words:
“My friends, men are not going to fix this. Many of them don’t even think a problem exists. The situation is ours to change, and the time is now. So, move forward unwaveringly and ambitiously. Get really good at what you do. Give a lot and ask for a lot. Don’t second-guess yourself. Be supportive of other women. Look the part, and act the part. And help create a new terroir of wine feminism.”
Wisdom for Aspiring Winemakers from Women Winemakers
Representation is critical. Seeing successful women in wine helps inspire other women winemakers. These panelists offered advice for aspiring winemakers:
Cathy Corison, pioneering winemaker and 2018 James Beard nominee for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional, encouraged aspiring winemakers to consider winemaking regions outside of California due to the skyrocketing real estate costs and financial barriers to entry. Corison said that after making wine for others, she started making her own wine in the 1970s by “buying grapes and barrels instead of cars and houses” and bouncing around to several production facilities. She finally built her own production barn after her 13th vintage of Corison. Today she’s got 31 vintages under her belt and international acclaim for her age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Krista Scruggs, Zafa Wines owner and winemaker who farms in Vermont and ferments in Texas, discussed the confidence she has in herself and her abilities, which enables her to “ferment fearlessly.” Scruggs said, “trust your instincts” and “surround yourself with people who lift you up.”
Martha Stoumen, owner and winemaker at Martha Stoumen Wines, discussed the unconscious bias of men getting physical cellar work and women being sent to the lab to take samples. Stoumen championed self-advocacy: “you have to say what you want to do. Be vocal.” If you want to be a winemaker, you have to be in the cellar to learn and build relationships.
Some of us feel the need to rely on advanced degrees or certifications to provide credibility or prove our expertise or value. Others say, fuck it. Marissa Ross, who authored the book, Wine. All the Time, spoke on a panel entitled, “To Test or Not to Test” representing the path to success she took - having no advanced education or formal wine training, but becoming a published author and later landing the job of Bon Appétit magazine’s Wine Director. Read her recent article entitled, “Krista Scruggs Is Making the Most Exciting, Most Delicious Natural Wine Right Now” - a beautiful piece of writing demonstrating she doesn’t need formal training because she’s empirically brilliant and a gifted storyteller. The lesson I take away from her is that each of us must find our own, unique voice and share it with the world.
How You Can Support Women in Wine
If you missed WWOW, don’t miss your opportunity to join the movement by attending or supporting future events and women-owned wineries. Here are a few ways you can get involved:
Batonnage Forum - the second annual event about women in wine takes place in Napa on May 4, 2019.
Les Dames d’Escoffier - an international philanthropic organization of women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality.
Wonder Women of Wine - support WWOW for future events and scholarships.
Women Owned Wineries - Amy Bess Cook’s endeavor to “celebrate female wine entrepreneurs through storytelling, advocacy & commerce” with a wonderful directory of women-owned wineries throughout the United States and a wine club featuring women winemakers.
Finally ask your wine retailer or restaurant for selections from women-owned wineries or women winemakers. These are just a few suggestions based on the participants whose wines I sampled and loved at the Wonder Women of Wine tasting event in Austin, Texas on March 2, 2019:
Brook & Bull - Walla Walla and Columbia Valley, Washington
Corison Winery - Napa, California (legendary winemaker of age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon; 2018 James Beard nominee for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional)
DaMA Wines - Walla Walla, Washington
Day Wines - Willamette Valley, Oregon
Domaine Dupeuble - Beaujolais, France imported by Kermit Lynch
Donkey & Goat - Berkeley, California
Jaclynn Renée- Sonoma, California
Jenny & Francois Selections - From the Tank wines - natural wine imports
Resign Wine - Texas
Smith Story Wine Cellars - Sonoma, California
Trail Marker Wine Co. - California - sourcing fruit from small California growers between Mendocino and Santa Ynez
Wine for the People - Texas - Rae Wilson’s Dandy Rosé is the perfect Sunday afternoon sipper. Rae just announced her plans to open a tasting room in Austin called Citizen Wine. You can help support her launch by contributing to her Kickstarter campaign.
Zafa Wines - Vermont