This week was International Women’s Day and it is fitting for me to celebrate this through wine. When drinking, women choose wine nearly twice as often as men but the industry itself is still largely a man’s game. Speaking to some women who have worked in wine for up to 40 years, it is clear the tide is slowly turning but more needs to be done to reflect wine’s consumers.
Sandrine Garbay, winemaker of renowned Chateau D’Yquem for 27 years has seen a remarkable amount of change. “Nowadays, women are technical directors or vineyard managers of famous Bordeaux vineyards, which was unimaginable twenty years ago,” says Garbay. “It is not enough, of course, and we need more women involved in regulatory bodies or directory boards, but a big change has operated in the last fifteen years. Our skills and ability to manage are no longer in question which is crucial and opens many gates.”
Elisabetta Geppetti, a champion of Tuscany and winemaker for the excellent Fattoria Le Pupille for the last four decades, says that “when I started, in 1985, I had to stand up for myself because Maremma has always been a male-dominated region. I think that the main trouble [was] being very young when I started, I was only 20 years old. I really had to be patient and to believe in myself and my dreams to get over this”.
Elisha Rai, co-founder of FOLC rosé which only launched in 2020 but is now the most awarded rosé in England, says: “Starting your own wine brand as a woman isn’t something unusual, many of the large brands in the UK and Europe have women as their founders, however the industry as a whole remains male dominated and if you enter any room for a wine event, it’s likely that you will be one of a handful of females”.
Increasing numbers of women are entering the world of wine but the number of female students enrolling at WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) has fallen for the past eight years to less than 50 per cent.
“There’s a brilliant support system within the wine world if you are willing to seek help and advice from those more experienced,” says Rai. “Be prepared to put yourself out there and take the first step with confidence, knowing that it is inevitable that you will make mistakes, but learning from them is the only way you’ll develop your career. You can’t know it all at the start but educating yourself as much as possible so that you can stand tall among your male peers will earn you respect early on”.
For budding winemakers, Geppetti advises women “to follow their dreams, their heart and their intuitions and not the current trend. To get deeply in touch and connect with their territory, their land, to be able to feel it and understand it because that’s how you can get the best achievements.”
“If I have any advice to give to young women,” adds Garbay. “I will say keep confidence in your skill, never forget that you have as much legitimacy as a boy. Boys are conquerors, be a conqueror too. [There is] no need to crush others, just be ambitious for yourself!”
Women-made wines of the week
Le Pupille Syrah 2016, £106, Armit Wines
One of Elisabetta Geppetti’s phenomenal wines, this is a true treat with richly evocative flavours of wild cherries, dark damsons and lilting notes of Tuscan herbs and coffee. Wine to be savoured and revelled in, ideally with rich game dishes and rolling Italian hillsides.
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkap 2016, £73, Justerini & Brooks
Dr Katharina Prüm runs this iconic German estate specialising in the beautiful Riesling grape. ‘Auslese’ means late harvest, so this is a sweet style but still retains its fresh acidity. Chill it well and it will make a stunning accompaniment for your cheese board from comté to goat cheeses.
Taittinger Folies de la Marquetterie NV9, £67.50, Waitrose
A champagne house headed by President Vitalie Taittinger this exquisite bottle is my favourite of all their styles. Rounded yet refined this Pinot Noir dominant champagne is creamy, sumptuous and the perfect way to celebrate the special women in your life.
Clos Martinet, Mas Martinet, 2018, £52, Justerini & Brooks
Pioneering winemaker Sara Perez forged her way in masculine Priorat to create powerful, elegant wines such as this gorgeous blend of Garnacha, Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Smooth and spicy this wine receives consistent rave reviews from international critics.
Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, £20, Simply Wines Direct
Owned by Barbara Banke, named for her daughter and made by winemaker Jill Russell this is a female-led triple threat of a wine with Cambria’s slogan being ‘Women Led, Women Owned’. Delicious notes of baked apple pie, vanilla blossom and a racy line of warm citrus evokes the sunshine and glamour of Napa.