With more women winemakers, will wine styles change?
I had lunch with someone from the industry today and the topic of gender arose. We both noted that most winery P.R. is done by women, while most winemakers seem to be men. That started me thinking, as most things do.
I remembered that a few years ago U.C. Davis announced that their Viticulture & Enology Department had finally achieved gender equity, in terms of the number of students majoring. That was after more than a century, and I bet you don’t have to go back very far before coming to a time when there were no female V&E students at all.
When you think about the history of wine, that’s not surprising. I collect wine books of all kinds. If you read about ancient Greek and Roman wines, there are no women (aside from the occasional ode to a goddess). The people who wrote about wine were men: Virgil, Pliny, Horace and so on. (There’s been the suggestion that in the ancient world, women were more involved with winemaking than we think, but that is largely conjecture.)
All of the books about wine written from the era following Gutenberg through the Renaissance were by men, for men. In the 18th and 19th century, when French and British writers wrote about wine, they were all males. The founders of Port, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne were men — often monks — except for the Widow Clicquot, who came into possession of her company only because her husband died young. For most of the 20th century, fine wine writing and winemaking again were dominated by men. It really wasn’t until the last 20 years, and even less, that we’ve witnessed, not only increasing numbers of female winemakers, but female writers and lecturers like Jancis Robinson, Leslie Sbrocco, Linda Murphy and so on. (But even now, so far as I can tell, most of the wine blogs seem to be written by men.)
P.R. has been just the opposite, at least in the wine industry. Somehow, it was “relegated” to women, seemingly not as “important” as marketing, finance and sales (not to mention production). There seemed something vaguely clerical about P.R., so it was women who did it — and got paid less than men got paid in their jobs. But that’s changing, too. There are many men now who have started their own P.R. firms.
Here’s what I wonder: When there are finally as many, or more, women winemakers than men in California, will the style of wine change? It’s tempting to prophesy that wine will become more balanced, more nuanced, and not as powerful as some of the fruit bombs we’ve been seeing. But then, think of winemakers such as Helen Turley, Heidi Barrett, Martha McClellan and Mia Klein. Their wines are not exactly shrinking violets. Then again, those women belong to an older generation than the young women currently attending V&E classes. Will a newer generation of women winemakers eschew big, ripe wines? Answer: Not if the market continues to demand them. Money trumps gender.
P.S. I’m going to be away in the North Coast, probably out of reach of a computer, for a few days. So if anyone writes a comment, I may not be able to approve it right away. Back Wed. morning.