For this month's wine club subscribers, we were excited to introduce our first Guest Sommelier, Sarah Bray. She's a wonderful & fierce advocate for women in the wine industry, and we asked her to pick wines that are woman-made.
Sarah holds a Diploma from the internationally-renowned Wines & Spirits Education Trust and currently works as a marketing consultant for Italian wineries. This summer she oversaw the launch of Bâtonnage, a forum to highlight & support women in the wine industry (seriously, click into that – the forum is amazing). I hope you enjoy her thoughts on the importance of drinking woman-made wines as much as we did. The wines she chose tell the story of place - of Sarah - and they're all made by women. Without further ado... Sarah Bray.
I firmly believe that the answer to that question is a resounding NO. We’re not past highlighting women in winemaking positions. They fight tooth and nail to get there, rising above implicit bias surrounding what they can physically do (carry 40 pounds and work a tractor) to whether they are able to “hang” with a guys culture (oh hey, kitchen culture), and it should be something that is called out and praised.
My own experiences on the brand side have borne this out. For instance, there’s a lot of gray area around appropriate behavior and conversation between customers and you as the salesperson. Sure, sex sells, but what if you don’t want it to? There are also misplaced perceptions around how much I know because I’m just the “marketing girl;” this, despite the fact that I hold a Diploma from the Wines & Spirits Education Trust. And that’s before we acknowledge the difficulty of getting accepted to work harvest positions because, well, I’m a girl, and I probably can’t handle the physical aspects of it.
As a result, I’ve done a lot of work in championing the cause of women in wine, from highlighting them in articles I’ve written to putting on the Bâtonnage Forum this past summer, the focus of which was to highlight the unique challenges and opportunities that women in this industry face. Why? Because I think it is still very important to show women at work in this field.
Research focusing on women in the California wine industry shows that 62% of undergraduates of UC Davis Viticulture & Enology program are women, while only 10% of California wineries have a woman winemaker. Outside of California, the gender disparities are pervasive as well (not to mention harassment). There’s a huge imbalance in the talent pool versus who is able to rise to the position at the top of the field, and that’s without touching upon the wage gap.
So yes, we should highlight and champion women who make wine; there aren't enough of them. However, the fundamental truth is also that the wines have to be good. In this context, using the phrase “female winemaker” to sell wine becomes a marketing gimmick, if that’s the only reason you can find to sell the wine. I don’t care if you’re a male or female winemaker if the wines are not well-made.
With that in mind, here’s a selection I’ve put together for you of some kick-ass wines from places around the world — all good, all with women behind them. I hope you enjoy these, and I hope you keep on seeking out those women-made wines.
Mt. Etna is one of the most dynamic winemaking regions in the world right now, and not just because the grapes are grown on an active volcano in Sicily, which sits in the middle of the Mediterranean. Stef Pollock and her husband Ciro Biondi have been making wines on the volcano’s eastern face since 1999, overlooking the sea below, and this area is where the white wines of Etna shine.
This wine is named “OUTIS” since this is where the Cyclops Polyphemus, blinded by clever Odysseus (who called himself 'Outis' or ’No One') hurled stones after the sailor in return for having been blinded by him. It is made from the indigenous Carricante grape (90%), with about 10% of other local white varieties to soften the linear, waxy character that Carricante brings to the wine. The underlying volcanic minerality and high acidity make this wine such a great wine to sip on during these hot end-of-summer days.
Salty. There’s no other word for this fresh, bright, mineral-driven wine made from the Grillo grape in Vittoria, located in the southeastern corner of Sicily (yes, I have a thing for this island). Gaetana Jacono is the sixth generation to lead this estate, making wines of great finesse due to the Mediterranean breezes that caress the vines throughout the growing season and the complex array of soils she works. Under her leadership, Valle dell’Acate has pushed to really understand the soils and grape clones planted across their property, with joyful results.
I poured beside her over three swampy days this summer on a wine tour of the Midwest, and I can tell you, there isn’t a wine I came back to more over the course of that trip. It’s just so darn drinkable, and that salty note does the same thing that the last potato chip does to me… it makes me just want another.
I collaborated with winemaker Megan Glaab on the panel I moderated on Negotiating & Advocating (take a minute to listen in and hear her talk about making it on the production side of the wine biz) and to taste wines from both her Ryme and Uphold labels. She and her husband are elevating varieties like Aglianico, Carignane, and Mourvèdre, and doing a rocking job of it.
For the Uphold wines, Megan explained to me, “We make these blends to be delicious, everyday drinking wines that go to a greater cause.” They produce three wines where 100% of the profits go to charity: to uphold the protection of the planet (the white wine), women's rights (rosé which was sadly sold out so we couldn’t include, despite the thematic relevance), and people's equality (the wine you are receiving today). Uphold Red is a red blend, predominantly Carignane with a small percentage of Mourvèdre. #DONTWINETAKEACTION
I love this wine; it is in my fridge (heck yes, chilled red!) all summer long. For me, Dolcetto plays the same role on the table as a Beaujolais – it’s a delicious, easy-drinking red wine that goes with just about anything, any time. And, as far as Dolcetto’s go, this is hands-down the best bottle I’ve tasted.
This family-run estate outside of Monforte d’Alba in Piedmont is grooming its second generation, sisters Marta and Vittoria, to helm the estate. These young women are involved in every aspect of farming, making wine, and traveling the world to sell their family’s handiwork, bringing youthful passion and energy to the work of producing wine that elevates their terroir.
Rossese di Dolceacqua takes me immediately to the beaches of Camogli, on the Ligurian coast, where the brightly painted houses hand precariously on cliffs over the sea, where I imagine myself swimming and sipping on this delightfully refreshing red wine (again, chilled, as in this scenario I’m on a beach on a hot summer day).
The Rossese grape is native to western Liguria, bordering France, and Danila Pisano works tirelessly in this same cliffs on terraced vineyards to produce organic wines on her ancient family estate of vineyards and olive groves. Her light-bodied reds are fresh, bright, and utterly charming, and the Savoia cuvée has finesse of wines produced from vigne vecchie, or old vines.
Winemakers Johanna Jensen and her husband Jack Roberts started Keep as a project to create wine with an old world, traditional character. They pick earlier and mess with the wines less, all in the hopes of creating wines that will stand the test of time. For this Pinot Meunier, they took fruit that is usually destined for sparkling but decided to make a still wine from it instead. The result is a fruity, perfumed, delicate red with bright acidity and a delicate body… at least for California!
What I love about the Keep wines is the constant experimentation – when you meet Johanna, you can tell that her sensibility is about about having fun with the entire winemaking process. She’s exploring, discovering new things all of the time, working with different grapes and vineyard sites, and enthusiasm and curiosity exudes from her when she speaks about the work she’s doing.