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.
Just back from my semi-annual trip to Santa Barbara County, where I tasted through a boatload of new Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noirs, various Santa Maria Valley wines, and Santa Barbara County Syrahs, in 3 different flights stretched across 3 days.
For a writer, hitting the road is a mixed blessing. It’s a pleasure to get away from the craziness of the city to the quiet, rural pleasures of wine country. Wine regions are always gorgeous, with their hills and dales, rivers and rolling vineyards, and in the case of Santa Barbara County, the pleasure is double because the tourist infrastructure of the North Coast is largely missing. Or hasn’t yet metastisized. During this trip, some of the locals, particularly the Santa Marians, solicited my advice as to how they could draw more attention to their valley, which is a fantastic source of wine, but is largely unknown to the public. You may be hearing more about this. There’s talk of establishing a symposium to celebrate Chardonnay, which is a great idea: It’s the country’s top white wine, but has no big public venue, unlike various “celebrations” of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.
But hitting the road isn’t pure pleasure. It’s hard work. I suppose another wine writer could eat and loaf his way through, spending a few hours at a winery, then relaxing in the hotel jacuzzi for the rest of the day before hitting the bar at happy hour. Not me. My Calvinist work ethic makes me feel guilty for wasting a minute, so I was tasting from early in the morning until nighttime. Tasting can be hard work, particularly in a 48-degree cellar freezing your butt off and wishing you’d remembered the gloves. I actually “hit the wall” after about 200 wines. At my final stop, they’d opened another 40 bottles for me to taste with the winemaker, but I suddenly realized I had nothing left. The tasting machine was out of gas. The palate needed some down time. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. It happens, and you don’t want to fake it, because your brain is in no shape to properly evaluate the wines. I explained my dilemma; the winemaker thoroughly understood. Winemakers taste a lot, too. There’s a lot of empathy between winemakers and writers.
My trip was put together by my friend, the P.R. person, Sao Anash, of Muse Management. She used to run the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association before going out on her own. She does a terrific job for visiting writers and doesn’t ask for a thing, except friendship and for us to do a good job. At one of our dinners, I toasted Sao. I told our group that P.R. people frequently don’t get the respect they deserve. The writers and winemakers receive all the fame and glory; the P.R. folks are lube that keep the gears of the machine running smoothly. Here’s to the P.R. pros.
Got back to Oakland just as the city was mourning the deaths of the 4 cops murdered by a paroled thug. Put me in a philosophic frame of mind. How can America be home both to the Santa Ynez Valley with its restaurants and thoroughbreds and contented cows and peaceful villages with cottages and gardens, as well as to a city wracked with pain and poverty and people determined to wreck themselves and others and a government helpless in the face of such anarchy? I don’t know. Tonight, while I’m drinking some Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, maybe an answer will come.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, RAISE THE PRICE
It happened again yesterday. I was sent a wine, a Bordeaux blend, I’d previously reviewed nearly a year ago for Wine Enthusiast. It was from a Santa Barbara County winery, and it had one of those ridiculously pompous French proprietary names that should be outlawed. When I first reviewed it, the suggested retail price was $54. I gave it a pretty bad score, because it was sweet and syrupy and basically a drag. Now here it was again, rising from the dead like Dracula. The new suggested retail price? $78! I tasted it out of curiosity (at the magazine, we don’t re-rate previously reviewed wines), and it was even worse than before, completely insipid and boring.
Why did the winery re-submit? You never really know. It could be a clerical error, but with expensive wines, I figure they couldn’t sell it the first time around, so they cross their fingers and try again. Okay, but a $24 price hike for this swill? This is what my people call chutzpah.
I remember, back in the 90s, when a winery owner explained to me that he couldn’t sell his wine at $14, but when he raised the price to $25, it flew out the door. If it was inexpensive, people perceived it as non-prestigious. If it was expensive, just the opposite: They figured if it cost that much, it had to be good! Well, that stunt doesn’t work anymore, for two reasons: (1) it’s the economy, stupid, and (2) People these days are a lot smarter.
DEPT. OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
I feel icky doing this — I really do — but I’m doing it anyway because, as mom taught me, if you don’t blow your own horn, who will? So here’s the URL for Tom Wark’s American Wine Blog Awards. If you like my blog, you might consider nominating it in one of these categories, or all three:
- Best writing wine blog
- Best industry/business-oriented wine blog
- Best overall wine blog
HEADLINES WE LOVE TO READ
“Wine may protect men against impotence”
Not that this applies to me, but “There is a correlation between moderate alcohol consumption and lower rates of long term erectile dysfunction (ED).” Thus saith Decanter, the authority on hard news, citing a report from an Australian university. Men of the world, listen to me: Throw away the Viagra and drink wine instead. It’s healthier and more romantic, and you don’t need a prescription.
NOTHING LIKE A BACON BRA TO SHOO AWAY THE DEPRESSION BLUES
But if you eat, cook first.