Wine blogger and wine importer Mike Turner argues why we should not forget the struggles against sexism that women winemakers have to undergo and asks that we all raise a glass to the Wonder Women of wine.
Mike Turner applauds three women winemakers from Juvé y Camps, Quinta do Noval and Monfaucon, and looks at the struggles that women in wine still have to face.
There’s this American singer and songwriter called Ben Folds whose first solo album had a title track called “Rockin’ The Suburbs”. It starts off with the tongue-in-cheek lyric of “Let me tell y’all what it’s like, being male, middle class, and white!” The frustration of the song is that deep down, in society anyway, you’ve not got much to moan about. I remember listening to this at uni over a decade ago and chuckling that as far as I was aware, none of that stuff mattered anymore anyway, society had moved on, right?
But then a couple of weeks back I met Ausenda Matos. She’s the Cellar Master of Quinta Do Noval, one of the most prestigious Port houses going. She’s been working at the Quinta for a couple of decades now, is great to listen to, and has some great stories about how she got into wine in the first place.
But one of her stories left me having a ponder afterwards. It’s when she spoke about her struggles against inherent sexism when she was starting out, and at times still has to cope with, and how she came through it.
I’d like to firstly point out that this is not a culture at Noval or anything. Noval deserves huge credit for being the first Port house to appoint a woman as Cellar Master. They couldn’t have given a stuff about whether she was a man, a woman, or Ziggy Stardust. She was/is great at what she did/does, and she got the job. As it should be.
What got me thinking, though, was whether I’ve just missed the struggles of women in the workplace. I’ve just never thought about it. My mum was a brilliant doctor, my sisters are both successful and my wife is just incredible. Why would it ever enter my head that they weren’t equally capable of doing anything just based on gender? I saw a bit of stuff that was appalling when I used to work in banking, but I’d just assumed they were isolated incidents of morons being morons.
The fact that Ausenda had to work double hard to win over the respect of her male cellar hands as recently as it was, was a bit of a shocker to me. So I guess I just wanted to write this piece to raise a metaphorical glass to Ausenda and her triumphs and successes. And extending it to all the women of the wine world that have faced, or worryingly enough continue to face, the same issues.
The current climate and the future are definitely looking rosier. There is a celebration of Women in Wine throughout the world, with get-togethers, awards ceremonies, and a plethora of focused events, which includes Wine Australia’s Women in Wine Awards event coming up in September. It allows us all to celebrate the successes of women in what, without me actually realising it until recently, is probably still a male-dominated industry.
Talking of winemaking awards, one of my favourite winemakers in the whole wide world is Dawn Jones-Cooper at Château de Monfaucon, and I spend most of my time with 20h33 trying to get private clients to try her wines. She’s based out in Entre Deux Mers in Bordeaux, and tells me that quite a few of the regulatory staff that she deals with from the CIVB, a growing number of world class winemakers, and château owners are women. Gender is seemingly a lessening issue in arguably one of wine’s stuffier and old school regions.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to recently be on a trip to Penedes to meet the new team at Juvé Y Camps, the Gran Reserva Cava aficionados. Now headed by CEO Meritxell Juvé, she’s taken the reins of the company from her father and run with it, bringing in a new additions to the team including new assistant winemaker Gloria, and marketing guru Anna. It’s arguably the most enthused I’ve been about a wine company in a very long time, and not just because the wines are absolute knockouts.
I think in an industry that gets accused, and fairly, for doing the same bloody things the same bloody way, and often failing to engage the audience we’d like to, it feels a bit strange that change clearly hasn’t always been embraced with two very widely extended and open arms. It’s great to see so obviously that that is changing quickly, and about time to.
Cheers to all the amazing Women in Wine
HAVE YOUR SAY: Have any women reading this article had to struggle to get respect from your peers…just because you are a woman? Please don’t name names but we would love to hear your stories… Use the Comments box below.
Oddly enough, when I was writing my book about the women of 22 Piemonte wine families, I never heard a single story about mistreatment or sexism on the part of a particular person. I heard stories of mistreatment because someone was considered an outsider, but not because she was a woman. Ok, I submit that the fact that women could not inherent like their brothers was a societal mistreatment. And women who did break out into their own businesses like Tota Virginia had to work so much harder than the men. The system was the problem and yes, men ran the system, but it has changed.
The Piemontese women I interviewed revere the men in their families and the men outside their families, such as Domenico Clerico’s mentoring of Chiara Boschis, who helped them make it in the business. And the men I interviewed had nothing but glowing remarks about and reverence for the women in their families and the women with whom they work. Just ask Giulio Grasso what he thinks about his three daughters’ contributions in their family winery, Ca’ del Baio, and watch him light up as he answers. Or watch Enrico Scavino’s broad smile as observes his two daughters Elisa and Enrica present the family winery to a group of oenophiles. Pride and adoration are written on his face.
I believe it is sad to speak only of the problems women in the wine business (or any business for that matter) have with men when in fact women can hinder — or torpedo — careers as easily as men. I’ve heard many stories from the Piemontese women, particularly those who don’t have boys or who, like Giovanna Rizzolio, had no children and are therefore seen as weak by other women. Women can be pretty nasty to other women and to not admit that is wrong. Personally, when I was working in a heavily male business environment in Zurich, women, not men, were the ones I had to beware of the most.
So in closing, is it fair to say that there is “inherent sexism” in the wine business? Is it permanent, pervasive, or fundamental? Women like Chiara Boschis, Giovanna Rizzolio and their peers have had to work hard to prove themselves, no doubt harder than their male peers had to, but I doubt any of them would say that sexism is a fundamental trait of the industry.
Hey Suzanne, really glad that you’ve got some really positive experiences, especially in Piemonte (my second home!!)
I’m so sorry if you took this article to mean that there was inherent sexism in the wine trade. I didn’t mean for that to be the message. I think the only time there was ever an accusation of inherent sexism was in Ausenda’s case, and that was, as you mentioned, a societal thing, not necessarily a wine industry thing. Never the less, something that had to be encountered and dealt with.
Apologies if my very average writing style didn’t make that clear 🙁
As with many other industries, many women in wine also face challenges proving that their skills and capabilities are judged on an equal par with men. It’s a complex issue, with no one cause. This is why it is important for the industry to highlight their accomplishments, like in the Australian Women in Wine Awards.
That’s why we founded Women in Wine LDN; to further support and encourage their success. We organise events in which we discuss and debate the main issues facing the wine industry such as innovation, improving communication to consumers, and wine buying in a challenging economic environment. Being knowledgeable about today’s wine industry is very important in getting to the next level in one’s career, regardless of your gender. However, the forum which we provide allows women to network in a way that hugely positive to their professional development.
Like in any industry, it’s important to provide women with the opportunity to engage across sectors. Women in Wine provides that opportunity; at our panel discussions we hear from those who have been catalysts for change within their own career and encourage new recruits to explore the industry.
WIW LDN is a community group for women in the wine industry. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about what we do.
Got lots of mates who have been loving the events and promotion you put on, really looking forward to seeing everyone at the Wine Australia day!