As we recognize March as Women’s History Month, I feel motivated to celebrate the vital role of women who work in the wine industry. As a woman working in wine, I have a keen appreciation for the challenges facing women in an industry that historically been dominated by men. Thankfully, as there have been across all industries and part of society, brave women have stepped forward and blazed a trail in the world of wine that benefit all of us.
Living in Northern California wine country has exposed us to some of the most amazing women in wine – winemakers, vintners, marketers, you name it. Here are a few that have been the most inspiring to me personally and have become leading influencers in the way wine is made and sold. At the bottom of this article, I put a spotlight on the women behind some of the wines that I sell in my web wine store, http://www.topochines.com.
Even those with a casual interest in wine or the wine business may have heard of Heidi; Time magazine called her “The Wine Diva of Napa.” In addition to her own label, La Sirena, Heidi is the winemaker for some of the most premium wine labels in prestigious Napa Valley: Amuse Bouche, Paradigm, Lamborn, Kenzo Estate, Au Sommet, Vin Perdu, and Fantesca. Previously, she was the winemaker at Screaming Eagle where she earned her first Robert Parker Wine Advocate 100-point score. A single bottle of the 1992 100-point Screaming Eagle sold at auction for $500,000!
Heidi is so busy with all of her clients that it would be difficult, to say the least, for her to navigate the one- and two-lane roads in Napa Valley and make it to all of her appointments. So she became a helicopter pilot, bought her own bird, and flies across the Valley frequently to maximize her time. You can read more about Heidi here: https://webpages.scu.edu/womenwinemakers/view.php?id=10
Like Heidi Barrett, Celia Welch has her own label (Corra Wines) and is the winemaker for a long list of impressive Napa Valley wineries: Barbour Vineyards, Keever, Scarecrow, Signorello, Hess Collection, Lindstrom, Rewa, J. Davies, and Hollywood & Vine. Celia received her degree in Fermentation Science from U.C. Davis in 1982 – two years behind Heidi who got the same degree from the same school in 1980. Celia’s approach is to make wine that reflects the character of the the grape variety as well as the vineyard location. While all of of her wines are different – reflecting their terroir – there is a consistency to all of them: elegance, structure, balance.
Celia’s 30 years in the wine business have resulted in a number of accolades and awards, including Food & Wine Winemaker of the Year and recognition as one of Forbes Top Ten Tastemakers. You can read more about Celia here: https://webpages.scu.edu/womenwinemakers/view.php?id=281
While the previous two winemakers are perhaps best-known for making wine for other brands, Cathy blazed her trail with a single label: her own. In 1987 she became the very first woman winemaker-proprietor in Napa Valley. Her eponymous Corison Wines are simply fantastic and unique, reflecting a more restrained (perhaps Old World) approach to making wine than that often found in Napa Valley. She describes her style as “traditional” and the wine she produces – most notably her Cabernet Sauvignon – has a French-style sensibility but made from grapes grown in great vineyard locations on the Valley floor.
We have visited Corison several times for tastings and always appreciate the experience. Be sure to ask for a tour of the organic vineyards which include 50-year-old vines, and soak up the authentic feel of the “tasting room” which is actually a barrel warehouse. If you’re lucky enough to visit when Cathy is around, you’ll encounter a truly humble and gracious winemaker and vintner. You can read more about Corison Wines here: https://www.corison.com/
I have a soft spot for Alison because she is the winemaker for one of the wineries we work with (Crane Family Vineyards). But more than that, she is one of the original female wine trailblazers, having graduated from U.C. Davis (you see a pattern here, right?) a few years before Heidi or Celia. She is literally one of the very first modern female winemakers in Napa Valley and today serves as winemaker for a number of wineries: Levendi, Hill Family, Nelson Estate, to name a few. We love her wines because they are balanced and restrained and do not feel over-produced: they respect the variety and the vineyard location.
I wouldn’t want you to think that the only women in the wine business are making wine. Carol is a great example of a women making a significant impact on the business side of the wine industry. Carol is Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing and DTC Officer for the Duckhorn portfolio of wine brands. Perhaps best known for Merlot, Duckhorn has expanded its brand greatly to include a multitude of wines, wineries, and wine regions stretching from Napa to Sonoma, Mendocino, Paso Robles, Central Valley, Oregon, and Washington. Carol has played a big role in developing this portfolio and creating such clear brand identities for each of of the brands. Further, Carol and her team have done amazing work creating consistent, high-quality tasting experiences at each of their wineries. Also, their social media presence, member marketing, and outreach are industry leading resulting in strong direct-to-consumer sales – an absolute must during a pandemic. Recently, the Duckhorn group announced that they would be pursuing an initial public offering to become a publicly-traded company. Quite an accomplishment to be sure, and Carol deserves credit for her role in bringing this about.
These trail-blazers are just some of the amazing women that are making an impact on the world of wine here in California. Beyond California, there are also very important female figures in Old World wine regions such as France, Italy and Spain, as well as across the New World – Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, South America. There are so many books and articles featuring the contributions of women in wine – get your hands on some of them and learn more. Below I post some of my favorite sources on women in wine.
Before wrapping up, I did want to share some of the wines that I import and/or distribute whose winemakers or vintners are women. In honor of Women’s History Month, all of these wines will be 20% off for the entire month of March. Use code Women20 at checkout to apply the discount.
Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha
This winery has had 3 generations of female vintners making classic Portuguese wines from estate-grown grapes. We had the privilege and pleasure of meeting Patricia during our trip to Portugal’s Dao region in 2018 and fell in love with her and her wines. Made with zero oak aging (“the only wood we have here is the house”), these wines have amazing texture and flavor. https://topochines.com/purchase-2/detail?item=2014-vinho-tinto-reserva
Jo Ahearne is one of the world few accredited Masters of Wine. She moved from her native England to produce wine from indigenous Croatian varieties on the island of Hvar. Her wines are spectacular and we have the fortune to offer her white blend (an “orange” or skin contact wine) and her classic Croatian Plavac Mali.
Sharon Kazan Harris makes wine in Champagne, Bordeaux and Napa Valley. We have been selling her Cremant de Bordeaux from France for several years and it is a favorite sparkling wine for many of our customers.
Olet’te and Tribe & Arrow
Our friend Jenny has two wine labels and produces a Russian River Pinot Noir that is perhaps the best we’ve ever tasted as well as a luscious Napa Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Check out one or more of these wines – and don’t forget the discount code to get 20% off. Cheers to all of the women in wine. See below for links to learn more.
March 5, 2021
Facts and figures about women in wine: https://webpages.scu.edu/womenwinemakers/facts.php
The A-Z of California women winemakers: https://webpages.scu.edu/womenwinemakers/winemakersaz.php
Women in wine around the world: https://webpages.scu.edu/womenwinemakers/beyond.php
Corra Wines Website (Celia Welch’s personal label) https://corrawines.com/winemaker/
Amuse Bouche Website (one of Heidi Barrett’s winemaker clients) http://www.amusebouchewine.com/about-us.php
An excellent article on some of the trailblazing women in wine: https://grapecollective.com/articles/californias-trailblazing-women-winemakers-the-first-20-years-1965-to-1984#:~:text=Cathy%20Corison.&text=After%20working%20at%20a%20number,Proprietor%20in%20the%20Napa%20Valley.
An interview with Heidi Barrett: https://grapecollective.com/articles/heidi-peterson-barrett-maker-of-cult-wines