Every March 8th, the world steps up to celebrate the role of women thanks to the International Women’s Day. Whilst women are undoubtedly a driving force for the whole world, they still have their importance historically underestimated or subdued – and still face huge obstacles towards equality and safe environments.
It happens in wine too.
While we are delighted to celebrate the importance of women who inspire, who shape and who move forward winemaking, tasting, marketing and all things wine, the stark reality is: women are still very much underrepresented and undervalued in the wine world, being frequently discouraged from taking upon the most challenging tasks which we do know they are up to.
Women in wine still face enormous challenges to this day.
Even though women have all the skills needed to succeed, sometimes female workers in wine face barriers that can feel unsurmountable due to social injustices.
By now we know how women naturally tend to better tasters than men, yet only a third of them are part of the exclusive world of Masters of Wine. Same disproportionality goes for Master Sommeliers in the US, where less than a fifth are women.
Pay gaps are still common. Underrepresentation too: in terms of leading roles and in winemaking tasks, women still lag behind – mostly having their skills downplayed in favour of “bro culture” and amidst a still to this day disgraceful reality that includes mansplaining, sexual harassment and open demeaning.
Women in wine, as in so many other sectors, work twice as hard to try to compete at equal odds. And are still far too overlooked in the industry’s awards.
If women can’t be acknowledged economically or seen as equal to the industry, we will still have a long way to go to find a balance.
Let’s start by reminding a few women who we should all look as important models:
Inspiring women who left (or leave) their mark in the wine world
While we can easily think of great pioneers in the modern development of wine, we think men. But several women who have been underestimated throughout time deserve to have their spot much more appreciated due to their virtues and the achievements they have brought.
Let’s celebrate them, more than ever, and be inspired to have more and more women running the show in viticulture, production, tasting, teaching.
Women like Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, the iconic Veuve (Widow) Clicquot – first woman to run a Champagne house –, or a wildly praised heiress of the widow’s tradition, Louise Pommery.
Women like Hannah Weinberger, first female winemaker to explore the frontiers of Napa Valley, many decades before its boom. Or pioneer Isabelle Simi, who made her way in Sonoma after so many tragic losses and left her legacy to this day.
Women like Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy, the legendary Grand Dame of Burgundy who, among many other traits, showed the world how natural farming could lead winemaking forward as a whole.
Women like Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, aka Ferreirinha, the dame of Portuguese wines that changed the trajectory of Port, Douro, and the country’s winemaking back in the mid-1800s and whose name we proudly celebrate having listed the spectacular Quinta do Vallado’s Adelaide red from Douro.
Women like Donatella Cinelli Colombini, the wonderful producer whose all-women winery is arguably one of the finest tenute in Tuscany and which proudly gave our first Italian initial bottle offering (IBO): IoSonoDonatella, a top-level Brunello di Montalcino. Or the groundbreaking Albiera Antinori, first woman to lead the legendary Antinori estate and step up the likes of our beloved Solaia.
Women like vintners and producers Susana Balbo, Saskia de Rothschild, Andrea Mullineux, Sandrine Garbay, Sandra Tavares da Silva, Hélène Génin, Ntsiki Biyela and so many more that might not have been part of this list, but who are nevertheless deservedly renowned.
Women like wonderful sommelières like Sarah Morphew Stephen, who fought the enormous prejudice to show she had the skills after roaming through Europe and become the world’s first female Master of Wine (MW). Or women like the one and only Jancis Robinson, the superstar MW whose writings and ratings are essential to the industry.
But let us not only celebrate the influential and powerful women in wine.
Let’s ask ourselves: isn’t it time we had many more women leading the way?
Until next time,
Breno (with an enormous shoutout and thanks to the wonderful women who put this list together!)