Celebrate Women in Wine: Today and Every Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day - a “global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity,” according to the event’s website

The wine industry suffers from the same gender disparities as most others. Although women comprise more than half the population, women hold far fewer positions in the wine industry, fewer leadership roles, and even fewer ownership roles. Karen MacNeil’s Second Annual Report on Women in the Wine Industry reveals that “an estimated 10 percent of winemakers in California are female, compared to 7 percent in Washington, and 5 percent in New York.”

WWOW logo courtesy of the Wonder Women of Wine website

WWOW logo courtesy of the Wonder Women of Wine website

Wonder Women of Wine Conference

At the Wonder Women of Wine (WWOW) inaugural conference in Austin, Texas last weekend, a group of winemakers, wine professionals, and wine enthusiasts (like the author) gathered to discuss their personal experiences within — and solutions for fostering and achieving gender equality in — the wine industry. Participants came from near and far with winemakers representing wine regions throughout the United States, including Napa, Sonoma, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and Texas plus a few winemakers from France and Italy.

WWOW Founder Rania Zayyat packed the two-day agenda with rich and informative content: talent-packed panel discussions; a 1:1 discussion with winemaker Krista Scruggs on Taking the Path Less Traveled; a powerful speech by Cote Beverage Director and author Victoria James entitled, Letters to a Young Wine Prodigy; and a keynote address from Karen MacNeil titled, A New Terroir of Women in Wine Feminism. And then there was wine. Day two of the event featured a tasting exhibit featuring wines from women-owned wineries and women winemakers.

Karen MacNeil delivering the Keynote Address at Wonder Women of Wine - March 2, 2019

Karen MacNeil delivering the Keynote Address at Wonder Women of Wine - March 2, 2019

MacNeil, wine expert and bestselling author of The Wine Bible, offered some strategies for women in wine to move women forward in the wine industry, closing her keynote address with these wise words:

“My friends, men are not going to fix this. Many of them don’t even think a problem exists. The situation is ours to change, and the time is now. So, move forward unwaveringly and ambitiously. Get really good at what you do. Give a lot and ask for a lot. Don’t second-guess yourself. Be supportive of other women. Look the part, and act the part. And help create a new terroir of wine feminism.” 

Krista Scruggs of Zafa Wines with WWOW Moderator, Senay Özdemir - March 2, 2019

Krista Scruggs of Zafa Wines with WWOW Moderator, Senay Özdemir - March 2, 2019

Wisdom for Aspiring Winemakers from Women Winemakers

Representation is critical. Seeing successful women in wine helps inspire other women winemakers. These panelists offered advice for aspiring winemakers:

  • Cathy Corison, pioneering winemaker and 2018 James Beard nominee for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional, encouraged aspiring winemakers to consider winemaking regions outside of California due to the skyrocketing real estate costs and financial barriers to entry. Corison said that after making wine for others, she started making her own wine in the 1970s by “buying grapes and barrels instead of cars and houses” and bouncing around to several production facilities. She finally built her own production barn after her 13th vintage of Corison. Today she’s got 31 vintages under her belt and international acclaim for her age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

  • Krista Scruggs, Zafa Wines owner and winemaker who farms in Vermont and ferments in Texas, discussed the confidence she has in herself and her abilities, which enables her to “ferment fearlessly.” Scruggs said, “trust your instincts” and “surround yourself with people who lift you up.”

  • Martha Stoumen, owner and winemaker at Martha Stoumen Wines, discussed the unconscious bias of men getting physical cellar work and women being sent to the lab to take samples. Stoumen championed self-advocacy: “you have to say what you want to do. Be vocal.” If you want to be a winemaker, you have to be in the cellar to learn and build relationships.

Panelists Amy Bess Cook (WOW), Samantha Sheehan (Poe, etc.) & Cathy Corison (Corison Winery) - WWOW March 2, 2019

Panelists Amy Bess Cook (WOW), Samantha Sheehan (Poe, etc.) & Cathy Corison (Corison Winery) - WWOW March 2, 2019

Some of us feel the need to rely on advanced degrees or certifications to provide credibility or prove our expertise or value. Others say, fuck it. Marissa Ross, who authored the book, Wine. All the Time, spoke on a panel entitled, “To Test or Not to Test” representing the path to success she took - having no advanced education or formal wine training, but becoming a published author and later landing the job of Bon Appétit magazine’s Wine Director. Read her recent article entitled, “Krista Scruggs Is Making the Most Exciting, Most Delicious Natural Wine Right Now” - a beautiful piece of writing demonstrating she doesn’t need formal training because she’s empirically brilliant and a gifted storyteller. The lesson I take away from her is that each of us must find our own, unique voice and share it with the world.

Marissa A. Ross, Wine Director for Bon Appétit and author of  Wine. All the Time. - WWOW March 2, 2019

Marissa A. Ross, Wine Director for Bon Appétit and author of Wine. All the Time. - WWOW March 2, 2019

How You Can Support Women in Wine

If you missed WWOW, don’t miss your opportunity to join the movement by attending or supporting future events and women-owned wineries. Here are a few ways you can get involved:

  • Batonnage Forum - the second annual event about women in wine takes place in Napa on May 4, 2019.

  • Les Dames d’Escoffier - an international philanthropic organization of women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality.

  • Wonder Women of Wine - support WWOW for future events and scholarships.

  • Women Owned Wineries - Amy Bess Cook’s endeavor to “celebrate female wine entrepreneurs through storytelling, advocacy & commerce” with a wonderful directory of women-owned wineries throughout the United States and a wine club featuring women winemakers.

Finally ask your wine retailer or restaurant for selections from women-owned wineries or women winemakers. These are just a few suggestions based on the participants whose wines I sampled and loved at the Wonder Women of Wine tasting event in Austin, Texas on March 2, 2019:

Where Have You Been, Op-Edible?

As you may have noticed, several months have passed since my last entry. In that time, I’ve been on a vision quest of sorts. 

In June I left my job as an employment attorney turned human resources executive for a national retail company to pursue a career in food and wine. I don’t know what shape that will take, but I set out on a mission to explore my own natural curiosities and passions. Simply put, I’ve been doing things that interest me with interesting people in interesting places. Naturally since my interests revolve around food and wine, I’ve been eating and drinking my way around the globe.

Blindfolded Tasting during The New York Times  Travel Smarter: Food & Photograpy  workshop

Blindfolded Tasting during The New York Times Travel Smarter: Food & Photograpy workshop

In preparation for my time off, earlier this year I took a New York Times Journeys weekend workshop called Travel Smarter: Food and Photography. Here I am doing a blindfolded tasting of lunch at Reynard in the Wyeth Hotel, Brooklyn as New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Julia Moskin discussed food writing. The workshop included panel discussions at The New York Times headquarters with the paper’s award-winning travel and food writers, photographers, and photo editors as well as a street photography lesson and a valuable photo review with the pros. It was an incredible experience that got me excited for my impending travels. And while in New York, I dined at some of my favorite spots: Via Carota, Red Farm, and Charlie Bird.

View from the tasting room of Austin Hope Winery in Paso Robles, California

View from the tasting room of Austin Hope Winery in Paso Robles, California

First I spent a weekend in Paso Robles with two of my dearest friends. Of course we tasted wine and ate at the great restaurants in downtown Paso (like The Hatch), but we also took time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. Cultivating friendships and stealing away time together is increasingly important to me as I get older, especially because many of my friends are scattered around the country. See more about Paso Robles in one of my earlier posts here

The study and consumption of wine in progress 

The study and consumption of wine in progress 

Right after leaving my job in June, I became a student again. I took the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 course at the Napa Valley Wine Academy where I learned about each of the major wine regions of the world, their climate, soil types, grape varietals, vineyard management, and winemaking techniques that influence both the style and price of wine (still, sparkling and fortified). The WSET level 3 course required a fair amount of study, which provided an outlet for my need to be doing something (other than work) before my travels began.

Itxepec Mezcal Cocktail: pineapple, spiced syrup, and burnt cinnamon at Zandunga, Oaxaca

Itxepec Mezcal Cocktail: pineapple, spiced syrup, and burnt cinnamon at Zandunga, Oaxaca

In early July my husband and I spend ten wonderful days relaxing, eating and drinking to excess in Mexico City and Oaxaca. When we weren’t indulging, we visited a Mezcal Union Palenque to see how the smoky, distilled beverage is made, we climbed the ruins at Monte Alban, and took a cooking class in Oaxaca.

Casa de los Azulejos

Casa de los Azulejos

In Mexico City, we viewed the art of Frida Kahlo (at the Museo Frida Kahlo - “the blue house”) and Diego Rivera (at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera), strolled through the historic streets of the Centro Historico, and marveled at the architecture and tile work on the Casa de los Azulejos (or “Tile House”).

Santo Domingo - Oaxaca, Mexico

Santo Domingo - Oaxaca, Mexico

Favorite meals in Mexico include the tuna tostadas and spice rubbed fish at Contramar; a marathon tasting menu with a soul-satisfying mole and herbaceous tortillas at Pujol; the chile rellenos, beans and rice at El Sazon de Esther adjacent to the Miguel Fabian black pottery studio in San Bartolo Coyotepec; charred octopus at Origen in Oaxaca; and the meal we made at Casa Crespo Flavors of Oaxaca cooking class. You can see my Instagram stories for highlights from Oaxaca and Mexico City.

Moonrise over Eldred Rock Lighthouse, seen from our cruiseship balcony departing Skagway, Alaska

Moonrise over Eldred Rock Lighthouse, seen from our cruiseship balcony departing Skagway, Alaska

In the latter half of July, my mom and I took a cruise to and through the Inner Passage of Alaska from San Francisco. I will always cherish the quality time with my mom and experiencing the beautiful scenery together. It was breathtakingly beautiful and serene. We loved our meals at Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau and the Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan plus the tour of Alaskan Brewing Co

Toasting the Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska with a 2009 J. Schram Schramsberg sparkling wine

Toasting the Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska with a 2009 J. Schram Schramsberg sparkling wine

In August I spent a long weekend in Bodega Bay with my husband, mom, and dog - finding time to study for my WSET exam held at the end of August. Favorite meals on that trip include clam chowder and crab sandwiches at Spud Point Crab Company and another elegant meal at Terrapin Creek.

Bodega Head in Bodega Bay, California

Bodega Head in Bodega Bay, California

Birdalk Coastal Access Trail - Bodega Bay, California

Birdalk Coastal Access Trail - Bodega Bay, California

Next up: Willamette Valley for wine tasting at Domaine Drouhin, Stoller, and Youngberg Hill wineries.  We also enjoyed outstanding cocktails at Thistle before an old school French dinner at Bistro Maison, including an extremelely decadent and delicious Oregon White Truffle Fondue. Then we visited our good friends in Portland, Oregon and had another incredible meal at Ava Gene’s.

Tree swing over the vines at Youngberg Hill Winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon

Tree swing over the vines at Youngberg Hill Winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon

Then for the grand finale in September, I spent 23 glorious days in Spain and Portugal with a quick day trip to French Basque Country. You’ll learn more about those adventures as I post more about each destination in the weeks ahead. I planned my trip around food and wine: visiting the sherry producing regions of Jerez and Sanlucar de Barrameda; the Tempranillo rich La Rioja region; the Michelin star-studded and pintxos bar haven of San Sebastián; the cider and fabada region of Asturias; and the steep slopes of the Douro Valley before ending with a few days and port houses in Porto, Portugal.

Blissing out in Rioja Alavesa, Spain

Blissing out in Rioja Alavesa, Spain

Now four months into this vision quest, I haven’t had any revelations about my future. But I’ve enjoyed my time, learned to relax a little more, and reinforced a few important lessons along the way. Namely:

  • Trust Yourself. 
  • Deviate from the schedule - or better yet, don’t create one. 
  • Never give up, but know when to let go.
  • Take the road less traveled.
  • Get lost. 
  • Be patient and wait for the shot. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Always.
  • Talk to strangers. 
  • Take an afternoon siesta. 
  • Pack antacids for heartburn you are sure to get if you eat and drink like me!