The wine industry is experiencing a diversification. It’s a slow shift, but a discernible one that’s bringing not only better representation but wines made from a different point of view. More and more women are holding key decision making roles at wineries here in Canada and abroad, and we’re here to shine a light on some outstanding examples.
Perhaps the most historic woman of wine is Madame Clicquot Ponsardin, who started a Champagne Maison with her husband until his untimely death in 1805, endowing her with the title Veuve, which, en Français, translates to widow. Instead of closing up shop, she forged on with the maison against great odds, even fostering business expansion all over Europe and to Russian royalty and revolutionizing Champagne production along the way. Fast forward to today and Veuve Clicquot is a global phenomenon, the top selling Champagne worldwide. It’s no wonder she’s known as La Grande Dame of Champagne!
Here in the Americas, Mele Sosa is the dynamic enologist at Bodega Garzón, known for stunning Tannat and Albariño single-varietal wines. “Uruguay is predominantly a patriarchal society. I’ve had great mentors in my journey as a winemaker that have supported me, and have been given the liberty to pave my own way,” she says, adding that success comes from having a great support network around you.
The job can especially be a challenge for moms, Jenny Wagner of the Wagner Family of Wines recounted during a quick trip to Vancouver to host a winemaker’s dinner at the Vancouver International Wine Fest, leaving three young kids at home in Napa Valley. We spoke also to Christa-Lee McWatters, GM of the iconic McWatters Collection, as well as Lynzee Schatz, winemaker at Time Family of Wines. The sentiment among all three women is similar with respect to being a woman winemaker: they are generally supported and have earned a spot at the table, but are still the minority among the greater population of winemakers. All three are also pleased to see this evolving.
The Okanagan Valley has seen a number of trailblazing women in addition to Christa-Lee and Lynzee; Christine Coletta is an industry icon who co-created Okanagan Crush Pad and helped establish the B.C. VQA program to raise the bar on the exceptional quality we see today in B.C. wines. Ex Nihilo Vineyards also deserves praise, as co-owner Decoa Harder bootstrapped the winery to great success today (unsurprising with the name Ex Nihilo, which in Latin means out of nothing). And the outstanding wines produced by Bree Toor at French Door Winery speak for themselves. Says Bree, “We’ve come a long way [in diversification], but we have miles and miles to go.”
One issue that persists is that to be a woman in a male-dominated industry is to have your ability questioned: are you strong enough, resilient enough, willing to lead and willing to face opposition? The answer in the case of the above women is a resounding yes, though it’s not always an easy road to travel. Challenges still arise, but the wine industry has made great strides over the years. Now, if we continue to support the under-represented players, like women and people of colour, we’ll keep seeing true diversity behind the wine labels and more great wines in our glass.