This International Women’s Day, we are raising a toast to the women trailblazers of the wine world. The wine industry has held steady during the pandemic, and much of it has been on account of women consumers. The number of women graduating with winemaking degrees is on the rise. There is also a growing focus on women winemakers and leaders in what is distinctly a male-dominated industry.
Over the years, pioneering women in wine – from the first woman to run a champagne house to the first female Master of Wine – have been slowly but steadily shaping the future of the industry. In honour of their contribution, we at Ideal Wine Company are shining a spotlight this March 8th on eight contemporary movers and shakers who are making waves in the wine business from around the world.
A star of France’s Alsace region, Pierre Sparr named their experienced oenologist – Alexandra Boudrout – the estate’s Cellarmaster in 2017. She had been assisting the winegrowers and helping nurture the vineyards at Pierre Sparr as their terroir and vine growing specialist.
Born in Burgundy and exposed to the wine world from an early age, Boudrot faced some difficulty establishing her credibility as a young woman, despite her education and experience in oenology. She was part of the Oenological and Winemaking Council early in her career. She also played a role at the Cave de Beblenheim, where she helped develop environmentally sustainable viticulture methods.
Amy Bess Cook
Founder, Woman-Owned Wineries; Sonoma, California
When wine veteran Amy Bess Cook moved to Sonoma, she was struck by the gender inequity rooted in the heartland of the industry. Despite there being many women in winemaking, the number of women winery owners was abysmally low. Armed with her experiences as director of a boutique winery and winemaker for her startup, she launched Woman-Owned Wineries, a platform for female wine entrepreneurs.
What started in 2017 as a free online directory of about 600 female-owned wineries from across the country soon grew to encompass a wine club and a storytelling project for wine lovers. Two years later, Cook was named Wine Person of the Year by Imbibe Magazine.
Director, Aslina Wines; Western Cape, South Africa
South Africa’s first black woman winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela, began her career at a boutique winery in 2004. Five years later, she was named the country’s Woman Winemaker of the Year. Biyela had been a domestic worker before a South African Airways scholarship allowed her to study oenology. Her passion for winemaking led her to start her own business, Aslina Wines, in 2017. The same year, she was named one of the Top 20 Most Innovative Women in Food and Drinks by Fortune magazine.
Winemaker, Wynns Coonawarra Estate; South Australia
Sarah Pidgeon has been crafting beautiful wines at Wynns Coonawarra Estate since 1998. A graduate of the prestigious Len Evans Wine Tutorial, she is immensely knowledgeable of the Coonawarra vineyards terroir and equally skilled at extracting the best from old vine Cabernets. She has nearly two decades of experience judging regional and national shows.
Along with her colleague Sue Hodder, Pigeon was named Winemaker of the Year in 2016 by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology Awards. Having faced her fair share of prejudice as a woman winemaker, she believes that community support is key for women to persevere and succeed in winemaking careers.
Saskia de Rothschild
Chairwoman, Château Lafite Rothschild; Pauillac, France
A few years ago, Saskia de Rothschild became the youngest person to helm a first-growth Bordeaux estate – the famed Château Lafite Rothschild, and the first woman to chair the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) wine business spanning three continents. She had been an investigative journalist until then, but had also been training in the art and business of winemaking.
For Rothschild, both her gender and age were factors that spurred her to work harder than others to earn respect and legitimacy in the industry. She has since been addressing business challenges, such as the escalating demand for biodynamic wines, with modern solutions that emphasise sustainability and organic farming.
Winemaker, KITÁ Wines; Santa Barbara County, California
Tara Gomez’s love for winemaking harks back to her childhood. A scholarship from her tribe, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, allowed her to study oenology at the California State University Fresno. She went on to work at top Californian wineries and soon started her own label by the name of Kalawashaq Wine Cellars.
Gomez had always dreamed of giving back to her tribe, and when they purchased a vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, she was able to join the all-female team of KITÁ Wines as a winemaker. Here, she channels her Chumash culture by supporting the community and giving back to the land through sustainability.
Theodora R. Lee
Owner, Theopolis Vineyard; Yorkville, California
One of the first African American women winery owners, Theodora Lee is known in the wine world as Theo-patra, Queen of the Vineyards. She took viticulture classes even while practising as a full-time lawyer, before launching her passion project in the form of Theopolis Vineyards in 2003.
Ten years down the line, Lee produced her first batch of wine when she was unable to sell her grapes due to ill-timed rainfall. That wine went on to win a gold medal from Sunset Magazine and she hasn’t stopped producing wines ever since.
As a charter member of the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), Lee is a serious advocate and mentor for black women in the wine industry.
Founder, Lady Penguin; Beijing, China
China’s wine industry is growing fast, and among the women leading the growth is the young and influential Wang Shenghan. A graduate from Le Cordon Bleu, she burst upon the scene with wine reviews and videos that attracted millions of followers overnight.
Known by her moniker Lady Penguin, Shenghan established the most active wine community in China by the same name. It produces the country’s most popular wine show. Shenghan herself is a guest taster for the Bettane & Desseauve wine guide andhas a column in the Chinese edition of the Financial Times. In 2017, she was named one of the top 30 Under 30 entrepreneurs in China by Forbes.