Today is International Women’s Day. The wine world seems full of women doing great things, but that doesn’t make it the slightest bit egalitarian, nor often very pleasant for them. It does not mean we work in an industry free of misogyny. This past year we have seen senior wine colleagues making inappropriate and hurtful comments towards fellow women professionals, women whose intelligence and powerful journalistic prose, drawing in a new generation to wine, might just threaten the position of a few staid old-timers who may have taken their finger off the pulse.
I cast an eye over my extensive wine library this morning. There are wine books written by women, including Wink Lorch, Anne Krebiehl, Alice Feiring, Rosemary George, and not forgetting a good number by Jancis. But the recognition which comes with authorship (and remember, Wink’s amazing and important books were self-published) is mostly granted to men.
In the world of the sommelier, we saw many reports of sexual harassment at the highest level through 2020. I’m not surprised. A young woman of my acquaintance was assaulted by her boss a few years ago. He was successfully prosecuted but yet perhaps typically, his colleagues blamed the victim for ruining his career. Such stories don’t always come to light as that one did, but they are there.
Women abound in wine retail, yet it is most often in the “ranks”, rarely in very senior management positions, and certainly not in proportion to their presence on the shop floor. There are, of course, exceptions. One is Littlewine.co (who naturally have a special pack of three wines to celebrate this day). Founded by two young female entrepreneurs, who completely share my own values over a range of issues, what they have taught me, and this came very much to light in the way they addressed discrimination within the industry, is that one must look for the positive. Positivity wins, negativity loses. So, I don’t intend to write any more on the ills affecting women in wine. Others with a real stake in the discrimination they face have done it with more authority than me. Today I want to celebrate the female contribution to wine, and in particular, that contribution to my own treasured bottles.
One area I have not yet touched on is women actually making and creating wine. I have met the majority of the women winemakers I’m going to be listing below, but I don’t know any of them well enough to know what difficulties they have faced as they set out to make wine in very much a male dominated profession.
The recognition of women winemakers as a distinct group is relatively recent. There have always been women making wine. We can go back a lot further than Lalou Bize-Leroy (of DRC and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy), who began her illustrious career in the mid-1950s, but there were few women taken seriously in the winery back then. One of the first women who caught my attention, because at the time I used to buy the first wines she made, was Caroline Frey.
Growing up in Champagne (her dad owned half of Billecart-Salmon), she studied oenology at Bordeaux and has since shot to fame making wine at La Lagune in Bordeaux and at Paul Jaboulet in the Rhône (and, on her own account, in Switzerland). Although her talents are considerable, and her positions (it goes without saying) deserved, she does have an obvious advantage in working for her father’s operations. But that doesn’t detract from her pioneering achievements in two bastions of conservative male domination.
My plan is to raise a glass to a number of women winemakers who, without any particular rhyme or reason, have become important to me. I find myself buying and admiring their wines more and more, wines which bring me intense joy. I don’t know why, but especially in the past few years that number has grown tremendously as indeed has the number of prominent women winemakers on wine lists around the United Kingdom. I resolutely refuse to say that they make feminine wines, or bring a “female touch” to winemaking. Nor that they are “intuitive” or “empathetic”. I believe in equality in the core of my soul. They are no “different” to men who make wine per se, but it is clear that these women make wines with a great deal more personality than many of those men.They have talent.
In the spirit of, and borrowing from, the contemporary jazz supergroup, Sons of Kemet, I would just like to raise a glass on International Women’s Day and say:
My Queen is…Jutta Ambrositsch
My Queen is…Veronica Ortega
My Queen is…Annamária Réka-Koncz
My Queen is…Victoria Torres Pecis
My Queens are…Stefanie & Susanne Renner
My Queen is…Stephanie Tscheppe-Eselböck
My Queen is…Marie-Thérèse Chappaz
My Queen is Julie Balagny
My Queen is Alice Bouvot
My Queen is…Kelley Fox
…and many more, especially for some reason around the shores of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee, but I’m not sure that it’s down to any mist of egalitarianism that drifts off those shallow waters. Thank you all for such glorious wines..