In honour of this year’s International Women’s Day, taking place on Thursday, March 8th, we have decided to take a closer look at women’s changing role in the global wine industry and to highlight some of our favourite lady wine makers and winery owners along the way. Discover the increasingly influential role of women in a historically male-dominated industry and how a few brave pioneers blazed the trail for many.
Women in Wine: Challenges Throughout History
As is the case for an overwhelming majority of professions, women have not had an easy time filling positions offered by the global wine industry. For centuries, a combination of lasting archaic traditions, restrictive religious beliefs, silly superstitions, social stereotypes and biological differences have kept women out of what has for too long been considered a “boys only” club. In ancient Greek and Roman societies, women were not even permitted to consume wine and were either put to death or (worse!) divorced if they were found with a glass in their hand. Throughout the centuries that followed, the ability to create and detect the subtle nuances in wine was one seen as an exclusively male trait. Women were believed to ruin tastings by masking a wine’s bouquet with their own perfume.
Nevertheless, over time, a few pioneer women wine professionals took the stand. Some of the first among them were the wine widows of Champagne, the Veuves Cliquot, Cordoniu and Bollinger, who took over their husbands’ estate after their deaths. The result? An advancement in winemaking practices, which included the invention of riddling (at Veuve Cliquot by the Grand Dame herself) and the introduction of the “récemment dégorgé” style (by Madame Lily Bollinger). Although overcoming the gender-barriers continues to pose challenges, passionate women wine professionals have made great strides in the past few decades. In 1970, Sara Morphew Stephen MW became the first Master of Wine. Today, 125 out of 370 MW’s are female. British wine critic, journalist and editor Jancis Robinson has become one of the world’s leading references in wine. And in the field of winemaking and winery management, the legacy of the Wine Widows continues…
Caroline Fiot, Winemaker at Ruinart
Driven by her passion for chemistry and biology, Caroline began studying Agronomy Engineering at Montpellier SupAgro, eventually choosing a specialisation in viticulture and oenology. She found herself motivated by the idea of terroir and the values reflected in the viticultural sector, particularly those of sharing, tradition and innovation. It was at Chateau Mauvinon in the appellation of Saint Emilion Grand Cru that she first put her studies to practice, with the support of a local family, who encouraged her to become an oenologist. After several experiences in Bordeaux at Baron Philippe de Rothschild, in Vietnam and in the United States, Caroline joined the ESSEC Business School within the LVMH Chair to hone her knowledge of Marketing and Luxury. At the end of the course, Caroline decided to join the prestigious Maison Ruinart to work as an oenologist in a team led by Cellar Master Frederic Panaiotis. Her position at Ruinart in Champagne is one that combines a presence in the with winery (to control fermentations, for example) and tasting in the panel room, with testing out new innovations in the Research and Development laboratory and traveling around the world to lead tasting with sommeliers!
Catherine Corbeau Mellot, Owner of the Joseph Mellot estate
Taking over the family estate after the death of her husband, Alexandre, in 2005, Catherine Corbeau Mellot found herself at the head of Domaine Joseph Mellot, one of the largest vineyards in the Sancerre appellation of the Loire Valley. For the past 13 years, she has contributed immensely to the growth of the domain. In 2014 she acquired a majority stake in the Domaine of Emois (producing organic wines) in Sancerre and added Geoffrenay-Morval in Chateaumeillant, making Joseph Mellot the only estate to hold property in each winemaking appellation of the Centre-Loire. Catherine has also been a fierce advocate of sustainable development at the estate, embarking on several projects to help save resources, reduce CO2 emissions, preserve natural biodiversity and protect the landscapes of the Loire region. She has also created an association for women winemakers, named les Dames de Coeur de Loire, to allow women in the wine industry to share their experiences and support each other.
Donatella Cinneli Colombini, Owner of Cinneli Colombini
© Donatella Cinelli Colombini | source : http://www.cinellicolombini.itInheriting her family’s ancestral estate, Casato Prime Donne, through a female line in the late 1990’s, Donatella Cinneli Colombini made the revolutionary decision to employ only female workers at her winery. Her decision was in response to the discrimination against women that she witnessed in Tuscany, where recently graduates of oenology school had difficulty finding jobs. The 16-hectare property, planted with Sangiovese, produces Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wines, elaborated by an all-female staff. In fact, the property has taken the idea one step further in creating the Prime Donne selection of wines, made by eight women and chosen each year by a panel of four. By entrusting the task of creating beautiful DOC and DOCG wines to a team of female winemakers, Donatella Colombini hopes to offer women opportunities that have historically been withheld from them by the historically male-dominated winemaking community of Tuscany.
Elena Walch, Owner of the Elena Walch estate
Originally trained as an architect, Elena Walch deciding to transition out of this profession and into the world of wine after marrying an experienced winemaker of the Alto-Adige area of northern Italy. Moved by the quality and distinctive personality of the estate’s Trentino – Alto Adige terroir, Elena decided to create her own label with grapes grown on her husband’s own vineyards. She embarked on a quest to introduce new varietals to the region, and began producing single-vineyard varietal wines from the best parcels. A keen advocate of environmentally-friendly agriculture, Elena also implemented sustainable agriculture practices, now adopted by several other winemakers in the region. What’s next for the Elena Walch label? The winemaker’s daughters – Karoline and Julia – recently joined the family business, after finishing their studies in wine management and oenology. Since working together, the all-female team has began the construction of a new gravity-fed winery and high-tech fermentation cellar. The ladies have also purchased 18 hectares of new vineyards near Termeno and further south in the Trento DOC, where they will begin producing Blanc de Blancs sparkling wines, to be released in 2022.