Women in Wine
There has been no better time to be a woman in the wine world than now. In November 2014, a session at the Digital Wine Communications Conference was cleverly entitled, “We Don’t Need More Women in Wine.” What it was, really, was Felicity Carter’s (Editor in Chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International) way of saying that women are now the most powerful force in the world wine market. In Britain, for instance, research company Nielsen has found that 7 out of 10 bottles sold are bought by women. So, yes, the “fairer sex” cannot be taken lightly, after all.
This is true not just in the field of buying wine. Women are also taking the wine school world by storm. Women have a higher success rate than men in The Master of Wine (MW) exam, considered the most difficult wine qualification test of all time. The annual top prize in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust exams in the past eight years, taken by 56,000 students all over the world, have all been won by women.
Laura Jewell, herself a Master of Wine was named as the 10th Most Powerful Woman in Wine by The Drinks Business in 2012. She has been at the helm of fine wine at Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in the UK, since 2010 and is currently heading Wines of Australia in Europe. She is also the chairman of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the first woman in WSET’s 44-year old history to claim that post. At the end of the 20th century, the more popular wines tended to be potent, with strong, super concentrated flavors and high alcohol content. Very male, if you will. This century, however, there is a preference for lighter, fresher wines that speak more of their provenance than actual winemaking practices. This change in palate, also allowed more women winemakers to increase in number. Yes, men winemakers make these more restrained wines, too, but more and more women are taking the lead.
She is the chief winemaker at Gallo Family Vineyards and is responsible for overseeing winemaking operations at the world’s “largest privately owned winery.” Under her able leadership, 75 million cases of wine are sold from their vineyards every year. It was also under her watch that their 1995 Estate Chardonnay won the “Best Chardonnay Worldwide” at the International Wine and Spirits Fair in 1999.
In the service industry, women sommeliers are also breaking new ground. They are taking over cellars and rewriting wine lists, much to the delight of their clients.
Pesquera, Wine director for the 65 branches of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in the United States, told Bloomberg.com that more than 40% of the restaurant chain’s sommeliers are women.
It is understandable how women have found their niche in the role of sommelier since the art of putting people at ease generally comes easier to ladies. Women sommeliers tend to be more approachable and would not be seen as being inconvenienced with the many questions that tend to crop up when ordering wine. Also, with women having a keener sense of smell in general, some see them as better “tasters” of wine than men. Some studies conducted have proven that most of the so-called “super tasters,” who have double the normal number of tastebuds, are women! Linda Bartoshuk, a professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, discovered that 35 percent of American Caucasian women qualify as supertasters compared to just 15 percent of their male counterparts.
Another woman of note in the wine world is Jancis Robinson, MW. Robinson is a U.K. journalist, wine critic and editor of some of the most well known wine books in the world. The most famous of which is what many wine geeks would consider THE holy grail of wine books, The Oxford Companion to Wine. Ms. Robinson travels the world to taste, rate and write about wines but has gained a reputation for being humble, open and easy to talk to. Despite having access to the most expensive, exclusive wines that the world has to offer, she is open to trying new wines from newly mapped out wine producing regions of the world (e.g. China, Georgia, even India). She also gives expert wine advice to Queen Elizabeth II for her majesty’s wine cellar. Now if that is not impressive, I don’t know what is.