Meet the Women who Empower Women in the Wine Industry

18 Oct, 2018

Women of the Vine & Spirits is the world’s leading organisation dedicated to the empowerment and advancement of women in the alcohol beverage industry. Lynn Mueting discovers who they are and why the journey to equality in the wine trade is as important as ever.

Does the gender of the winemaker matter?

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Passion is the most common unseen thread that weaves people who love wine together. From the ground to the glass, its passion that drives wine people to prune in the cold of winter and pick in the heat of summer, to spend hours in windowless cellars, to tend vines and test casks, to riddle bottles and spend sleepless nights worrying about the weather. All to pour that perfect nectar that will never ever be perfect enough for them. Do wine drinkers care if a man or a woman produces their wine? I doubt it. Just as I doubt the average consumer knows or even asks who made the wine they are drinking. They may know the brand label and if they are enthusiasts they might know how it’s made. However, only the aficionado or professional is likely to seek out the maker and even then, will gender matter?

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Well, in recent studies conducted by the Technical University of Madrid and another by Rutgers University in the US, show that women have a keener sense of smell (particularly during childbearing years) and are therefore, more likely to be better at discerning subtle nuances in taste. A Yale University study went further, finding that women are twice as likely as men to be ‘supertasters’.  What vineyard wouldn’t want one of those women making their wines?! Yet, according to the UK governing body WineGB, only 11 women hold key roles in the top 50 wineries in Britain.

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Women of the Vine & Spirits

One organization attempting to change this wine industry gender disparity, and globally, is Women of the Vine & Spirits. Founder, Deborah Brenner literally wrote the book on “Women of the Vine” featuring female leaders in the wine industry and has created an impressive collective of influential women (and some smart men) to serve on the American & European advisory boards. Recognisable leaders like Maggie Henriquez (President LVMH Estates), Beatrice Cointreau (Owner & CEO Champagne Tresor, France & Admirable Wines CA), Stephanie Gallo (Vice President of Marketing, E. & J. Gallo Winery), Vanessa Kay (Chief Marketing Officer, Moët Hennessy USA), Cynthia Lohr (Co-Owner, Trade and Brand Advocate, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines), Jancis Robinson OBE, MW (Journalist & Writer), Victoria MacRae-Samuels (Vice President, Operations, Maker’s Mark Distillery) and Stephanie J. Macleod (Master Blender, John Dewar & Sons Ltd.) to name but a few. With global industry leadership members like these and an ethos to ‘Connect, Collaborate and to Commit’, Women of the Vine & Spirits evangelise to the wine & spirits sector that a positive approach to diversity & Inclusion can bring clear business benefits.

Research conducted by McKinsey & Co back this up.  They report that gender diverse companies outperform others by +15% while ethnically diverse companies outperform by +35%. Ana Ines Mendy, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Co, at the Women of the Vine & Spirits Summit in London commented; “if only 30% of managers have learned to address their unconscious (gender) bias, one has to wonder what the other 70% of managers do when it comes time to promote a deserving employee!” Encouraging women to reach above their comfort zone is central to the mission of Women of the Vine & Spirits. Tackling ‘Unconscious Bias’ and providing support of Diversion & Inclusion policies across the industry are also key goals.

Women in wine need mentors

Mentoring is essential to this process and there is no doubt that if women and men in positions of leadership make sure that women and particularly women of colour have the same access to mentors as their male counterparts, we will begin to reach closer toward total gender equality and women will move up the promotion pipeline. In the wine industry, we are already beginning to see women move in to key positions which were previously considered a male domain and female winemakers are beginning to achieve the recognition they deserve. Whether it’s by earning accolades like Australian Winemaker of the year” Vanya Cullen (Cullen Wines), multiple award winner Katie Jones (Domaine Jones Fitou) and “Sparkling Winemaker of the Year” Cherie Spriggs (Nyetimber Vineyards) or by creating a showcase for female makers like the new Lady of the Grapes wine bar in London, sisters are doing it for themselves, gaining traction with consumers and fans – all making good business sense.

Women of the Vine & Spirits offers a strong support system for women in the drinks business to learn from each other and network in ways that men have always taken for granted. The desire to contribute unique talents from the uppermost levels to the most junior entry positions, to be compensated fairly and to feel welcome to fully express their true passion for wine is what these women want most and they are working together to make it happen. 

See Lynn’s piece on the new Lady of the Grapes in Covent Garden here. If it’s more new openings you want, check out what Jess Lamb thought about Bottles wine bar in Spitalfields or see what Lynn had to say about Nine Lives in Bermondsey.

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