International Women’s day is a perfect opportunity to celebrate the successes and achievements of a number of brilliant women at the helm of innovative, sustainable and design-led premium wine estates. Although there seems to be no shortage of female wine journalists, sommeliers, bloggers and wine educators on the wine scene, figures suggest that even in today’s more progressive market approximately 82% of winemakers are men compared to just 18% of women. In wine journalist Karen MacNeil’s 2018 report in SOMMJournal, she found that just 10% of all winemakers in California are female, despite the fact that for the past 15 years, women have on average made up 42% of the graduates from the Viticulture and Oenology program at The University of California, Davis.
Despite the existence of a variety of traditional barriers to progression, women are starting to redress the balance and close the gender gap. Many women in CEO roles and working as estate managers, cellar masters, oenologists and in-house master sommeliers are helping to modernise and expand older family estates with regard to export and marketing. Women such as South Africa’s first black, female winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela of Aslina wines, who established the winery in the name of her grandmother in 2016, and Sam Lintner of Bolney Estate in Sussex, England, have combined qualifications with practical harvest and technical experience, to produce premium wines which are a vital component of the revitalisation and transformation of local wine industries.
For sisters Claudia and Giulia Benazzoli, their journey has been a tough but gratfiying one. Their experiential and intuitive winemaking at Benazzoli winery is changing the landscape in Bardolino, an Italian region between Lake Garda and the Adige River, where they have been producing white, rosé and red wine such as Agata Pinot Grigio, Femme Fatale Rosato Spumante, Tecla Chiaretto di Bardolino, Giava 100% Corvina, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso and Amarone Classico for over 13 years. After taking over the business from their father and each completing oenology and agronomy degrees, they have put their unique spin on the range, imbuing the wines (and the design thereof) with distinct verve and personality.
Both agree that they faced prejudice in business because of their young age and gender during the initial stages of their careers but, as Claudia explains, they were provided with the skills, expertise and self-esteem to succeed by their father during his lifetime which helped them to overcome challenges and to diversify and put their own individual stamp on the wines. They use a self-proclaimed ‘new, feminine’ language to describe and to market their range, with strong and arresting wine labels, designed by a friend, in a project called Sogni di Donna (women’s dreams).
At Bodegas Tempore owner and director Paula Yago Aznar is highlighting the value of her family company with nearly 20 years of hands-on experience alongside her husband, brother and sister-in- law and with a team of 25, many of who are also women. She has received awards for business excellence from the Aragonese Association of Women entrepreneurs and is passionately committed to the production of organic wine, once a niche industry in Spain but now the buzzword on everybody’s lips. Paula’s image graces the Generación 73 while the Generación 50 bears the image of their mother, Milagros, who also plays an integral part in the winery operations.
In Rueda’s Verdejo specialist wine estate, Diez Siglos, winemakers Laura Rubio and Noelia Santamaria have many years experience combined in Rioja and Rueda and bring it to bear on this internationally esteemed winery. Compliant with Wineries for Climate Protection certification, they have pledged to ensure the winery becomes fully organic in the coming years and are committed to making pure wines with as little chemical intervention as possible. With 95 Decanter points for their well-known barrel fermented Diez Siglos Verdejo, they are also working on a sister project in Ribero del Duero with Tempranillo as the main grape. The women hold degrees in Chemistry and Agricultural engineering and have found their wines are competing at the highest levels in annual international competitions and reaping medals.
Champagne is another area where women are occupying senior roles and transforming the previously male dominated landscape. In the 18th century Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin (more commonly known as Widow Clicquot or Veuve Clicquot) found her opportunity to help shape future Champagne-making processes when she perfected the process of riddling which is the gradual turning of Champagne bottles to move lees sediment into the neck of the bottles for disgorgement. Veuve Clicquot was responsible for the first ever Vintage Champagne and is one of the most popular and recognisable brands in the world today.
Following somewhat in her pioneering footsteps was Madame Carol Duval-Leroy, the first and only woman to be appointed president of the Association Viticole Champenoise, and head of prestige brand (and Curious Wines house Champagne) Duval-Leroy, which has been producing exquisite Champagne since 1859. In 1991, after the loss of her husband Jean-Charles, she became the first woman to head a modern Champagne house and now runs the business alongside her three sons, Julien, Charles and Louis, with the wine represented on 250+ Michelin starred tables across the world. Carol has also written a Champagne lover’s hand book Femme de Champagne, for those who like to cook food to complement their love of champagne. The book is available here.
Champagne-raised Sandrine Logette-Jardin was appointed Chef de Cave at Duval-Leroy in 1995 and during her tenure has implemented many changes including new methods for vinification and a revamping of the house’s oak barrel regime. It was Logette-Jardin who decided to leave the Duval-Leroy wines unfined in order to retain their purity and after 20 or more years now in the company she has been instrumental in the continued success and reputation of the brand. Sandrine has talked of the pressures of working in a traditionally male-dominated industry and has said that although ‘the field in more open for women today, it is definitely not more easy.’
Sandrine’s advice to women in the industry is ‘to have comportment, to be oneself, and not to adapt to other’s expectations of you.’
‘La Femme’ is the ultimate expression of Champagne established by the two women central to the success of Duval-Leroy. An exceptional cuvée comprising 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir, ‘La Femme’ is smooth, rounded and silky, with a mother-of-pearl appearance. On the nose, Femme de Champagne recalls aromas of white flowers, white peaches and brioche crust. On the palate, a bewitching flavour of ripe hazelnuts surrounds the floral fragrance of honeysuckle, followed quickly by the delicate notes of crystalised mandarin orange peel.