Wine­mak­ers break­ing the glass ceil­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - KOSHER - BY RACHEL GROSS

WHEN MOST of us think of a wine­maker, we imag­ine a stooped old French man c o m p l e t e with wal­rus mous­tache and black beret. Wine­mak­ing seems like a mys­tic pro­fes­sion, with se­crets passed down from father to son from time im­memo­rial. Or is it from father to daugh­ter?

The world of wine has moved on since Lu­cille Ball crushed grapes with her bare feet. Stain­less steel vats have joined hand­crafted oak bar­rels as the tools of wine­mak­ing, as the craft has be­come a multi-mil­lion-pound in­dus­try. Some things re­main the same — the care­ful se­lec­tion of grapes to cre­ate a del­i­cate bal­ance of flavours is what makes wine­mak­ing an art. But some things change — and the male dom­i­nance of the field is one of them.

Around 50 years ago, MaryAnn Graf be­came the first women to grad­u­ate in viti­cul­ture and oenol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Davis, the world’s top school for wine­mak­ers. In the 2015 grad­u­at­ing class, women made up 50 per cent of the co­hort.

While more women are com­ing up through the ranks, world­wide only 10 per cent of wine­mak­ers are women. A se­ri­ous dis­par­ity, when 57 per cent of wine glob­ally is drunk by women. But one coun­try is push­ing for­ward, oblit­er­at­ing the glass ceil­ing for women wine­mak­ers — Is­rael.

Is­rael has been the sur­prise suc­cess story of the wine world in re­cent years. Cast­ing off its im­age as a maker of ba­sic wines for sacra­men­tal pur­poses only, Is­rael has gained the re­spect of wine lovers world­wide. It now boasts its own in­ter­na­tional wine fes­ti­val, the Ter­roVino com­pe­ti­tion, which this year drew 448 en­trants from 30 coun­tries.

Tali Sen­dovski, from the Golan Heights Win­ery, was the first fe­male wine­maker in Is­rael. She never in­tended to be a one. “I fell into it as a ca­reer. My fam­ily moved to the Golan re­gion and with a de­gree in bio­chem­istry my­op­tion­swere slightly lim­ited. I spent two years work­ing Yael San­dler: ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ at a dairy farm be­fore mov­ing to the Golan Heights Win­ery.”

The win­ery was just start­ing out and Sen­dovski was brought in to set up the lab­o­ra­tory.

“I knew more about drink­ing wine than mak­ing it when I first ar­rived at the win­ery, but I fell in love,” she says. It’s a long-run­ning love af­fair; nearly three decades later, she’s still at the win­ery, spe­cial­is­ing in Caber­nets, Chardon­nays and sweet red wines.

The wine­maker’s job in­volves mon­i­tor­ing ev­ery stage of the process, from choos­ing when to har­vest the grapes, to the fer­men­ta­tion to blend­ing the prod­uct of var­i­ous vine­yards.

Sen­dovski takes a parental pride her “new­born” wines and is hard pushed to name a favourite. “If I had to choose one, I’d say the Blanc de Blancs. There are few Is­raeli sparkling wines and it’s been very suc­cess­ful.” Her 2011 Yar­den Heights sweet dessert wine won a gold medal in the 2014 De­canter world wine awards, com­pet­ing against sam­ples from around the globe.

As the first fe­male wine­maker in the coun­try she has seen many oth­ers work­ing their way up the ranks and has en­joyed her pro­fes­sional life so much that she would rec­om­mend it to other women as a ca­reer choice.

Yael San­dler is at the be­gin­ning of her ca­reer. Un­til re­cently she was work­ing at the Binyam­ina win­ery, af­ter re­turn­ing from four years of study at the Univer­sity of Ade­laide, Aus­tralia. There is no viti­cul­ture pro­gramme at any Is­raeli univer­sity, soIs­raeli wine­mak­ers all have to study abroad.

San­dler grew fas­ci­nated by wine when she was work­ing in a restau­rant. “I wanted to have a deeper un­der­stand­ing of how this mag­i­cal bev­er­age was made,” she says. “This is what pushed me to pur­sue a ca­reer that has be­come my great­est pas­sion.” San­dler is un­daunted by the pos­si­bil­ity of a glass ceil­ing, say­ing “Th­ese days you see more and more women wine­mak­ers, as well as women fill­ing other po­si­tions in the wine in­dus­try; som­me­liers, mar­ket­ing man­agers, win­ery CEOs and more.” Al­though s o me t a s k s in­volve physic a l l a b o u r — mov­ing heavy­bar­rels or har­vest­ing grapes b y h a n d — she says that “where there is a will, there is a way.” The only lim­i­ta­tion she can imag­ine as she em­barks on her ca­reer is jug­gling chil­dren with long hours.

Dur­ing the har­vest, wine­mak­ers are re­quired to work un­con­ven­tional, ex­tended hours, some­times start­ing at 4am. “I’m sure you can work it out ei­ther by hav­ing a sup­port­ing hus­band or a great nanny,” she says.

Sen­dovski says that “Is­raeli wine mak­ing is al­ways mov­ing for­ward. It’s very in­no­va­tive. With wine­mak­ers leav­ing to study, when they re­turn to Is­rael they bring home the best tech­niques the world has to of­fer.”

“Wine en­thu­si­asts are al­ways look­ing for some­thing unique to drink,” says San­dler. “Hope­fully Is­rael of­fers some­thing that they can’t get any­where else.”

Her great­est wish for Is­raeli wines is that “one day some­one in the UK will be able to pick up a glass of wine, sniff, swirl, taste it and say: ‘yes, this is an Is­raeli wine’.”

With more peo­ple dis­cov­er­ing the qual­ity of Is­raeli wines, the fu­ture is bright.

And with more and more Is­raeli women be­ing em­ployed at the high­est lev­els of wine­mak­ing, Is­rael is lead­ing the way in gen­der equal­ity, to the ben­e­fit of wine lovers ev­ery­where.

Tali Sen­dovski: rec­om­mends wine­mak­ing as a ca­reer choice for women

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