Friday, 7 March 2014

International Women's Day: Celebrate the Women Winemakers!

The unstoppable Katie Jones. Photo by Oliver Valenghi.
Last year a piece I wrote about women winemakers was published in The Wine Society's newsletter, after it had been shortlisted for Young Wine Writer of the Year Award 2012 (how chuffed was I?!), but I thought - seeing as it's International Women's Day tomorrow - that it would be a good time to revisit the subject.

If you read my original piece, you'll see there are plenty of examples of amazing women winemakers out there, from living legends like Susana Balbo (Dominio del Plata, Argentina) and Norma Ratcliffe (Warwick Estate, South Africa), to women not afraid to push boundaries and be individuals like Vanya Cullen (Cullen Estate, Australia), to newer faces making huge waves in France, like the inspirational Baseline Despagne in Bordeaux and Katie Jones at Domaine Jones in Languedoc-Roussillon.

But there wasn't time to address some of the many other top women winemakers across the world, and I'm afraid to say that not enough people champion what they do, and what they've overcome in the last 30 years or so. These are women who studied oenology at night school while bringing up their children, who came top of their classes, who took the brave step of becoming the first women winemakers in their country, and who didn't give up their place in a man's world.

I know that women have been dominating major wineries for hundreds of years - just look at Madame Cliquot, who became the first woman to run a Champagne house in 1805 - but I still don't think women winemakers get enough credit. Here are ten other names we should be shouting from the rooftops:

Evelyne Roques-Boizel and Isabelle Tellier - Champagne Boizel
These two ladies have followed in the footsteps of Madame Clicquot, as they run and make the wine at Champagne Boizel. Evelyn has been involved since the 1980s, and another sweet marker of the woman's touch here is that each Christmas she commissions a "woman of style" to design the company's gift box.

Jane Hunter - Hunters Wines
Jane overcame great personal tragedy to go on to create one of New Zealand's most iconic wine brands. Her wines are exquisite, benchmark examples of the Marlborough region, and when I had the good fortune to meet her last year she was utterly lovely. A true talent.

Paz Espejo - Chateau Lanessan, Bordeaux 
An dynamic Spanish woman who works wonders at this Haut-Medoc property, breathing new life into the wine and showing the blokes how it's done.

Cecilia Torres - Head winemaker at Santa Rita
A huge company making a wide range of wines, so it's great to see a woman at the helm. Santa Rita also do wonderful work in social sustainability, providing healthcare, education and entertainment for its vineyard workers, so it's a favourite company of mine.

Colette Faller and her daughters - Domaine Weinbach, Alsace
Colette took over in the late 1970s and she and her daughters have helped make this a hugely respected, premium Alsace estate that is a go-to for fans of the region.

Tamra Kelly-Washington - Head winemaker, Yealands Estate, Marlborough
A rising star in the winemaking world, she's worked at several wineries around the world already, and has been responsible for several awards since she took over at Yealands a few years ago.

Laura Catena - Bodegas Catena, Argentina
Laura has a brilliant mind, and her research at this estate into high-altitude malbec has enabled the team to create some exceptional red wines from carefully-selected vineyard plots.

Louisa Rose - Chief winemaker at Yalumba, Australia
This is one of Australia's oldest wineries, and Louisa has been at the helm for several years, amassing a ginormous array of awards as she goes along. A restaurant near us serves only Yalumba wines, and I take great satisfaction from making my way through their wine list in the knowledge that every marvellous creation has been orchestrate by a kick-arse woman.

Genevieve Janssens - Director of winemaking at Robert Mondavi
Arguably one of America's most iconic estates, Genevieve runs a tight team here, and has done since 1978! She's picked up several personal awards along the way and is a bit of a legend.

Even today the wine industry is seen as an overwhelmingly male-dominated land. Vinspire is one of the few wine-related sites that caters for both men and women in equal measure, (and have equal numbers of male and female writers!) but most wine companies and events that I've been involved with over the last seven years have been incredibly male-heavy in their focus - particularly catering for middle-aged men and above.

Why, when so many women have fought to change that perception, and so many women are avid wine fans as well as producers? Thankfully, much progress has been made - I'd argue the most famous wine writers and presenters in the UK at the moment are the likes of Jancis Robinson, Jane MacQuitty, Victoria Moore, Susie Atkins, Kate Goodman, Jane Parkinson etc.

So women are clearly passionate about making wine, talking about it, and most of all drinking it, and yet we still haven't been able to convincingly change the perception of fine wine as a man's drink.

The good news is, all we have to do to continue to change this is to keep doing all of the above but with more confidence, more conviction and more determination, and from the look of the women in the industry I've met so far, this won't be hard. We're getting there, ladies - I'll raise a glass to that.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent article that I very much appreciated and enjoyed reading. We plan to post your article as our featured article of the month on our website, Women Winemakers of California,

    Lucia Gilbert
    Santa Clara University