As a young Sommelier, I began to notice all the amazing women around me. From the jump, women who I had never met, now my closest friends, helped me study and invited me in. These women have shaped how I view wine. They became my work family, although we never worked in the same places. The more I studied, the more I saw how women had left their mark in this industry. Champagne wouldn’t be the celebratory drink it is without Barbe-Nicole Cliquot. That bookshelf in my bedroom would be lighter if it wasn’t for Jancis Robinson. And Screaming Eagle wouldn’t be Screaming Eagle without Heidi Barret.
There are countless examples of women that have made the world of wine what it is today. Pushing wine regions into global notoriety, reviving fallen vineyards, and becoming the first female Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine. All done in spaces that were not always cognisant of women’s worth in the industry. That feeling of being passed over, belittled, and pushed down is all too familiar. The only upside is how women in wine have come together to empower, network, mentor, lift each other up and bring to light some of the most significant conversations in wine.
Empowerment in Visibility
Women in pivotal roles in the wine industry are powerful. Their presence gives hope to others accomplishing their goals. Seeing women from different backgrounds, communities and social status ‘make it’ really drives home that feeling. When I passed my Sommelier certification, it meant the world to me to see Master Sommelier Emily Wines being an out and proud person at the top of her field. Being green in my career and part of the LGBTQA+ community, watching her success proved to me that I could do it. Speaking with friends across the industry, it was clear that race, sexual orientation and gender identity played a role in what job you could end up with. Like me seeing the possibilities in my own life because of Emily Wines, they too saw what they could do through Julia Coney, Tahiirah Habibi and Pascaline Lepeltier.
Mentoring the Next Women in Wine
When it comes to wine study, from winemaking to wine theory, women make up a sizable portion of the classroom. However, the more I network with women in wine, a similar story starts to pop up; that women were present when learning about wine, but when it comes to getting a job, it is a whole different story. I spoke not long ago with Susan Balbo about this. She was the first female winemaker in Argentina and the woman that gave Torrontés the notoriety it has today. When I asked her about her career, she recalled that there were many women in her classroom learning alongside her, but after schooling had ended, it was difficult for them to find a job. She credits her success to the mentorship she received during her transition from school to a full-time winemaker. Finding a mentor to guide you is monumental. They become the person you can lean on and strategize with. They make you not afraid to ask questions and to push yourself. In my own experience in wine, I have found that women in this industry have camaraderie and are ready to act as mentors. Advising the newest lot of female Sommeliers, winemakers, sales reps – you name it – to make more space in this male-dominated industry.
Exploring Difficult Conversations in the Wine Industry
This year brought to a head some of the most challenging conversations the wine industry has been due to have for a long time. Let’s face it. The wine industry has been dominated by men. It hasn’t been fair to women, it hasn’t been fair to women of colour, it hasn’t been fair to women in the LGBTQA+ community, and it has taken into consideration the global impact of wine. Female leaders in the industry have taken on these conversations. SommCon, started by Michelle Metter, created an Unheard Voices series lead by Lia Jones that dove into black wine professionals’ experiences. Tahiihar Habibi called out the Court of the Master Sommeliers for their lack of understanding voices of colour. Taking on the wine industry’s role in climate change, Tasting Climate Change and founder Michelle Bouffard continue to bring light wine’s global impact. Women have pushed these conversations to the forefront and, although difficult, realize that nothing will change if we don’t address them. Women in wine continue to shake up the industry. Here in Canada, the group to watch is Femmes du Vin. This year the Canadian not-for-profit is taking a giant leap growing from a national to an international organization. They are bringing women worldwide a platform to discuss diversity and inclusion, natural wines, carbon neutral initiatives in New Zealand, and women changing up Burgundy and Napa Valley regions all online with speakers from nearly every corner of the globe.