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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.

  1. While, I’m not a veteran of the wine industry, gender bias is a clear case that cuts across many occupations. It is exciting, as you pointed out, that there is a turning point. In fact, I was pleased to see that Tin Cross featured not one, but two, winemasters; Denis and May-Britt Malbec. They are a husband and wife team that, I can attest, consists of a marriage of passions. Both of them had lives thoroughly invested in wine and met through the wine industry, and it’s great to see that they work together, providing their separate perspectives, in crafting a wine. In the end, I believe it shouldn’t be about one gender trumping the other, but an equal respect and collaboration toward their common goal in a given occupation. What we should value is perspective and anyone can provide that regardless of gender.

  2. Steve – “Money trumps gender.” That’s the crux of it. Money trumps everything.

    But also, my nieces and nephews in their 20’s are more different from our generation than mass media is presenting. To them gender, and color, and all the other social dividers we were raised with seem to be irrelevant.

    You and I may still see new winmakers of different gender or color as something novel – evidence of progress – but they just look at us, shake thir heads and say “duh.”

    – John

  3. Steve
    You must be nuts. It’s 2009, we just elected a black president. Women have been making the same crap as men for years now. Sex is not an issue to most of us. It shouldn’t be to you. Next thing you’ll be saying the new crop of hispanic winemakers are crafting wines that taste great with pinto beans. I don’t blame you for going away for awhile after posting that. I don’t think the north coast is far enough, though. Unless it’s the north coast of Antarctica. Good luck with this one. I think you just stepped on your you-know-what. I will admit, that’s one thing women can’t do. Thanks for the amusement- I hope it’s not at your expense. Mark

  4. This question is like asking: “Do gay winemakers make a different (a more esthetic or more fashionable) style of wine?”

    I posit that what kind of wine you make has little, if anything, to do with what’s between your legs or who turns you on.

  5. T. Vierra says:

    I hate to beat a dead horse but…the topic of gender in this business is so passé. I agree completely with the money trumping everything and couldn’t agree more with Arthur & Mark. Who gives a s*@t? Style is shaped largely upon the vineyard, period. Site is EVERYTHING.

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