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Women in Wine
On International Women’s Day a few years ago, wine writer Jancis Robinson wrote: “I think we can all agree that women are slowly assuming more prominence in the wine world.” And while women like Ann Sperling, Julia Coney, Alice Feiring, Jenny Lefcourt, Isabelle Legeron, and Camille Fourmont, to name a few, represent some of the roles occupied in the wine industry — from winemakers, sommeliers, educators, writers, importers, marketing, management, and hospitality — it is difficult to quantify representation. On the role of winemaker in particular, a historically male-dominated role — “up until the 1970s, women were not allowed to step foot inside wine cellars” — statistics for women winemakers are not widely available.
The most accessible research comes out of California, which shows that 14% of the state’s 4,200 wineries have a woman as their lead winemaker. As it is hard to find data for other winemaking regions, I did some math for Ontario, Canada, where this newsletter is based and found that 34 out of 184 Ontario wineries, or nearly 1 in 5 wineries, have a female head winemaker. To learn more about a few of the women in Ontario wine, visit Destination Ontario’s Meet Ontario’s leading women winemakers.
Women Bringing Greater Stewardship to the Wine World. In the Financial Times' Italian women cultivating a life in winemaking, Amy Kazmin writes about one of Italy’s oldest family-owned wine businesses. Marchesi Antinori was started in 1385 by Giovanni di Piero Antinori, and for 25 generations its winemaking operations passed from father-to-son. But today it is run by the three Antinori sisters, led by the eldest, Albiera, the company’s president:
My father did not have a son — that made things much easier. Coming from a very traditional family with a long history, it could have been an issue to think about a girl or woman working in, and possibly in the future even leading, the company. But life is such.
Kazmin goes on to write about the impact of climate change and winemaking, and the role of women:
Women’s growing influence comes as the industry confronts the impact of climate change, demands for more sustainable practices, and concerns over the next generation’s willingness to take charge of family-owned wineries.
Antinori says “the priority is to pass the land that we are taking care of in a better condition to the generation after,” and sees women being the ones to bring more stewardship to the wine world.
Women in Wine in Bordeaux. In the rise of women winemakers in London's The Spectator, Jonathan Ray writes about some of the women in wine, including Blandine de Brier Manoncourt, co-owner of Château Figeac, a wine estate in the Saint-Émilion appellation of Bordeaux:
Twenty-five years ago, Château Figeac was one of the very few estates to hire a woman to work in winemaking, previously something of a taboo that we helped eradicate. Until then, the wine world was almost exclusively run by men, especially in Bordeaux. It’s exciting to see the changes that have occurred over a relatively short period, with women entering every level of the wine industry, from winemaking and viticulture to business management and leadership positions.
It’s a similar story with Château Léoville-Poyferré, a winery in the Saint-Julien appellation of Bordeaux, whose female winemaker, Isabelle Davin, started in 2000 at a time when it was rare to see women in that role: “It has had its difficulties and its rewards, but I’m delighted to see so many more women in these roles today.”
The Champagne Widows. In the BBC’s little-known history of Champagne, Lily Radziemski writes about the three widows who “created some of Champagne's most lauded empires.”
Some of the biggest innovations of Champagne came down to the ingenuity of several women. In the 19th Century, the Napoleonic Code restricted women from owning businesses in France without permission from a husband or father. However, widows were exempt from the rule, creating a loophole for Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin, Louise Pommery and Lily Bollinger – among others – to turn vineyards into empires and ultimately transform the Champagne industry, permanently changing how it's made and marketed.
In 1798, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin married François Clicquot, who ran his family’s textile and wine business, originally called Clicquot-Muiron et Fils in Reims. Clicquot died in 1805, and the 27-yeard old widow took over the company, changing its name to Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin (veuve being the French word for widow). Madame Clicquot created the first known vintage champagne in 1810.
Next, Louise Pommery, took over her husband’s Champagne house in 1858 after his death. In those days Champagne was very sweet (300g of residual sugar compared to about 12g today) but in 1874, Madame Pommery introduced a brut (dry) Champagne with no added sugar. She was also one of the first company directors in France to create retirement and health funds for her employees.
Next was Lily Bollinger who took over the Bollinger Champagne house in 1941 (a time when women’s rights to business ownership were still restricted) when her husband Jacques passed away. For months, Bollinger travelled alone in the U.S. to establish the Bollinger brand.
The drive, spirit, resourcefulness, and intuition of Lily Bollinger, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, and Louise Pommery — during a time when women were barred from owning businesses — is said to have helped pave the way for generations of women.