In an industry traditionally dominated by men, female winemakers are making major changes, says Master of Wine Emma Jenkins.
women in winemaking
It seems fitting in a month that celebrates mothers to consider women in wine. Of course, not all are mothers, but the process of tending vines and making wine is a nurturing sort of role – one in which there are increasing numbers of women involved.
Women have a complicated history within wine, being both revered and regarded with suspicion. As the gatherers of berries, women are thought to have been the planet’s very first winemakers some 8000 years ago, and the earliest of wine deities were women. However, by Greek and Roman times their gods of wine, Dionysus and Bacchus (who also looked after fertility, and madness – read into that what you will!), were male and the separation of women from wine had begun. French winemakers thought having women in cellars would “curdle” wine, so for a long while women and wine were seen as being incompatible. Restricting women from partaking in wine was also a convenient way to keep them from many social and political meetings. Some things take a while to change…
Despite all this, history abounds with influential women in wine. Champagne, in particular, had a number of notable widows who went on to establish some of its most famous names – Veuve Clicquot, Pommery and Bollinger among them – and a number of key production techniques/ styles. Mary Penfold took the reins after her husband’s death, helping to create a company that became one of Australia’s most renowned producers, and New Zealand’s wine industry fairly bursts with female talent.
It’s not just in production either. Jancis Robinson, MW OBE, is arguably the world’s most influential wine communicator, and globally there are few major wine companies without women in senior positions. At New Zealand’s recent flagship pinot noir conference, it was notable how many key speakers were women, a fact – along with the many female winemakers in attendance – much commented on by overseas delegates. Women now buy around 80 per cent of wine consumed at home, which makes it all the more depressing to see restaurant wine lists still automatically handed to the man – my husband has become very adept at handing them swiftly across to me!
While women are now much less likely to enter the industry via widowhood or inheritance, instead following their own talents and passions, there is still plenty of work to be done before true parity of opportunity and recognition is achieved. So this month, raise a glass to the fantastically clever and able women in wine – see below for a few great choices from local winemakers.
History abounds with influential women in wine.