Winemakers come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. Some have only recently come into the industry; others come from families who have been making wine for countless generations. Some are celebrities, famous for exploits away from the vineyard; others are known only for their wines.
And, although the industry has long been dominated by men, an increasing number are women, and they’re making some exceptionally good wines. Thankfully, the industry no longer widely believes that wine will be spoiled if a woman so much as steps into a vineyard (a fallacy introduced by no less a figure than Pliny the Elder), and female winemakers have been able to make great strides in the industry.
In fact, science says that women may even have an advantage in the creation of fine wine – they have, on average, a better sense of both smell and taste than men.
In historical terms, one of the most notable women of winemaking is one whose name is still familiar today; La Veuve Clicquot, or the Widow Clicquot.
Widowed in 1805 at the age of just 27, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, née Ponsardin, took over her late husband’s business and turned it into a thriving wine house. By developing a new technique known as riddling, or remuage, she was instrumental in creating early champagne. Her name remains on the famous yellow-labelled champagne bottles of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin to this day.
In Spain’s coastal Rias Baixas region, women have always had more of a role in winemaking; today it’s estimated that they make up more than half of the region’s winemakers. Traditionally, the men of the region would spend much of their time out at sea fishing, whilst women took care of the home, the children, and the vines. Whilst those lines have blurred more in recent years, it has created an area where the industry is less resistant to female winemakers. Angela Martin, winemaker for Bodegas Castro Martin, said that, “The future for women in our industry is bright, and the apparent acceptance of women winemakers can only make it easier for those in the future.”
In other parts of the world, however, women have faced more resistance in finding their place in the vineyard.
Seen in the above video speaking briefly about wine tourism in Italy, Donatella Cinella Columbini runs an estate in the Montalcino area of Tuscany. When she inherited the estate from her mother in 1990, she approached the oenology school in Siena seeking staff. At first, they informed her that she would have to wait months to find a good student to employ, but when she said she was seeking female staff they told her there were plenty to choose from – as no other winery wanted to employ women. This was the impetus for Cinella Columbini to establish Prime Donne, Italy’s first all-woman vineyard. She hopes that, in the future, women will have more of a voice in winemaking, and more opportunity to put their ideas forward.
Across the world, women are finding – or creating – new opportunities in winemaking. America’s Gina Gallo has become an influential winemaker, thanks to her position as winemaker for the Gallo Family, one of the country’s largest exporters, whilst in South Africa, the country’s first black female winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela, is about to step away from her position at Stellekaya to launch her own independent brand – named Aslina, after her grandmother.
The wine industry is still heavily dominated by men, but the number of female winemakers is growing; in fact, it’s increasingly likely that some of the excellent vintages in your wine cellar have benefitted from the feminine touch. Could you tell the difference?