A celebration of the women who inspire and shape the wine world

by Mar 8, 2021News0 comments

Donatella Cinelli Colombini (on the right) and staff tasting yet another wonderful vintage in MontalcinoDonatella Cinelli Colombini (on the right) and staff tasting yet another wonderful vintage in Montalcino

Dear reader,

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

Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, the iconic Veuve Clicquot

Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, the iconic Veuve Clicquot

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.

Lalou Bize-Leroy

Lalou Bize-Leroy

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.

Jancis Robinson

Jancis Robinson


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!)


Explore More from Our Blog

Would you bring your child to a winery?

DEAR READER, What a pleasure to be back! I admit it: these mailbags are now my favorite point of the week. Even during the contentious back-and-forth, I always enjoy opening my inbox to see words from you all. “Kind” ones, sometimes—but as you know from last week—I...

Our Sommeliers suggested wine

DEAR READER, I must be honest—I expected many more well wishes after posting that old journal entry. Everyone is modest when they say they don’t want well wishes, and so I expected there would be a few of you who saw through my “plea for privacy”. But, I forgive and I...

Because Life Needs Good and Evil

Black and white. Chaos and order. Sinner. Sinless. Life is a constant search for the happy medium, the yin and the yang. It’s as renowned psychologist Jordan B. Peterson explains, “Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because...

Thank you, Lehman Brothers?

On this day, 13 years ago, the world broke out in a panic when Lehman Brothers filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy. Still the largest bankruptcy filing in US history, it was the climax of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Subprime mortgages were to blame, lending money to...

Beer vs Wine, a timeless debate…

DEAR READER, Blah blah blah let’s get right to it! Dear Sommelier Ferdinand, You’ve dropped some hints that you look down on beer. Why is this, Sommelier Ferdinand? You have a growing fanbase—surely, you’re aware the effect that your insults have? And before you...

What would you do if you found an expensive wine in a cellar?

DEAR READER, Never in my life have I been happier to pontificate about wine than at my computer desk. In person is stimulating, sure, but they always talk back at some point. My lovely readers, however, only speak when I like! This internet thing has utility!...

The Beginning and The End.

Alas, the sun has crossed the celestial equator from north to south. Summer is now quite uneasy, shifting into fall in the north, while life is springing into action down south. What a beautiful time of the year! When grapes are cut from the vine to create new wine,...

Ever heard of a wine cocktail?

DEAR READER, I hope some of you learned from the reader letter last week [hyperlink to Week Ten post] and checked your attics! You never know how much wine sits above you, waiting to be uncorked and decanted—on someone else’s dime! Dear Sommelier Ferdinand, I have a...

The Future of Wine

We humans are bold if nothing else. Unlike any other species (that we know of), only we have chosen time and again to go boldly where no other has gone before. This holds especially true to the modern European, the first to really “discover” ignorance. Though they...

Could Mozart Make Your Wine More Complex?

We usually do three things when drinking wine: look at it, smell it and taste it. We activate three of our five senses to understand what’s going on in the glass. I propose we go further by incorporating sound and touch. Surely what we’re listening to while...

What on earth is a ‘Wine Decanter’?

DEAR READER, It’s come to my attention that many of you are ill-informed, misinformed, and frankly, uninformed about how wine is to be consumed. Were I only a wine enthusiast, it would be wholly dispiriting. But—wine is my profession, and I’m obligated to recognize...

“What’s My Next Question?” – Benjamin Kaplan

What’s My Next Question? On a random day like today 11 years ago, a legendary Harvard Law professor and lawyer, Benjamin Kaplan, died at 99 years of age. A rich, marked life that left an impact long after his last breathe. Apart from influencing the likes of Ruth...