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More Women at Acclaimed Wineries

Study correlates winemaker gender with wineries in 'Opus Vino'

by Kate Lavin
women winemakers
Source: Evidence of Women Winemakers’ Success in a Male-Dominated Field
Santa Clara, Calif.—There was never a line for the women’s restroom when Milla Handley first started attending enology conferences. Today, the winemaker and owner of Handley Cellars says, “There is almost always a line. It’s a lot more intermingled.”

Indeed, half of the graduates of California’s top enology programs are women. In spite of this, women hold the lead winemaker position at less than 10% of the California wineries tracked by WinesVinesDATA, according to research conducted by Dr. Lucia Albino Gilbert, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University.

Gilbert’s new paper, “Evidence of Women Winemakers’ Success in a Male Dominated Field,” which she co-authored with John Carl Gilbert, also revealed a promising development for women currently striving for winemaking positions as well as those considering winemaking careers: Wines made by women who serve as lead winemakers are more likely to be highly acclaimed. The authors tested this hypothesis by contacting California wineries and verifying the sex of the lead winemaker at each of them. They then cross-referenced this information with the California wineries included in the 2010 book “Opus Vino,” which includes 4,000 wineries from around the world, selected for their proven winemaking excellence or “rising star” qualities.

The research found that, of the California wineries with female lead winemakers, 23% were listed in “Opus Vino” compared to 14% of the state’s wineries with men holding the equivalent position.

“One of the really great things about the data from ‘Opus Vino’ is it really shows—and it wasn’t their purpose—but it really shows that women winemakers are making significant contributions to this field,” Dr. Gilbert says.

women winemakers
Source: Evidence of Women Winemakers’ Success in a Male-Dominated Field
Regional differences
The paper breaks down the numbers a bit further, finding that some California wine regions are more likely to have women lead winemakers whose wineries were cited in “Opus Vino.” The book, written by 36 authors and edited by Wines & Vines editor Jim Gordon, references 39% of the Mendocino and Lake county wineries where women are lead winemakers. By contrast, 21% of the counties’ wineries with male lead winemakers were included in the book.

In Napa and Sonoma counties, 28% of wineries with women lead winemakers were included in “Opus Vino,” compared to 15% of wineries with men in the lead winemaker position. Based on information culled from six winegrowing regions across the state the authors concluded, “Wine region seems to be a factor in understanding the proportion of wineries with women winemakers identified in ‘Opus Vino’ as top or rising star wineries.”

All of the women interviewed agreed that mentoring in winemaking—both from men and women—is a crucial factor in determining who stays in winemaking and who moves on to other opportunities—both in the wine industry and beyond.

“I have a lot of information about the career paths of many women winemakers, and I’m looking to see who the mentors are and whom they mentor. If there’s a tipping point in a region where there are more women available to mentor, and as women become more recognized in a field men are more likely to mentor them as well. I think that’s what happened in Napa and Sonoma,” Gilbert says.

The authors also compared the number of winemaker-owners by gender, finding that men who are lead winemakers are more likely to own their wineries (52%) than female lead winemakers (39%.) The ratio was similar for wineries featured in “Opus Vino”—28% of the state’s female lead winemakers cited in the book are winemaker-owners compared to 40% of men with the same title.

Kathleen Inman, owner and winemaker at Inman Family Wines, tells Wines & Vines that few female winemakers achieve the title of general manager or CEO by climbing the corporate ladder through the cellar. “There are women who come up through finance or marketing and are CEOs, but not many who come up through winemaking,” she says. “A lot of them have had to create those jobs. That’s where I am. I can be the winemaker and the general manager.”

Handley adds, “I probably would never have been a lead winemaker unless I had started my own winery.”

According to Gilbert, many of the female graduates of top enology programs “get moved into sales because there’s a sense that women have better interpersonal skills. It takes them away from the creativity of winemaking—the art and science in their field.”

Of the California wineries operated by winemaker-owners, 14% of woman-owned wineries were included in “Opus Vino,” compared to 10% of wineries with male winemaker-owners.

The paper’s authors reached the conclusion that “proportional to their representation in the field, the wines from California wineries having lead women winemakers are more highly acclaimed in comparison to those of their male counterparts.”

Such accolades lead many people to falsely believe that women hold a large number of lead winemaker positions, Gilbert says, when in fact less than 10% of California wineries have female lead winemakers. The conclusion is a continuation of research Gilbert first published in 2011 with, “Women Winemakers Make Some Progress in a Male-Dominated Field,” which she presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, D.C.

“The perception is that there are more of us around than there actually are,” Inman says. “I think it is because women are achieving more attention and critical acclaim.”

Further, she adds, many of the wineries viewed as having a female lead winemaker have a big-name female winemaking consultant instead. “Maybe there are more women acting as consulting winemakers up here in the Napa Valley, who have been making wine for more than one brand.”

The research
Gilbert has spent years studying women in male-dominated fields and found that the real number of female winemakers differs greatly from the perception—even within the industry. Referencing her research sorted by California wine regions, Gilbert says, “Nowhere was it close to 15%-20%, which has been assumed.”

“I had heard that there were so many women winemakers and that women had shattered the glass ceiling,” Gilbert told Wines & Vines. However, “Besides some big names, hardly anybody knew a female winemaker.”

Inman said that while she hasn’t worked in a larger winery, her perception is that easier to advance in mid-size to large wineries because there are more opportunities, “and the culture is less paternalistic.”

That said, Inman adds, “When you go and look at the cellar of medium to large wineries, and who is actually hauling the hoses cleaning out the tanks and doing the stuff you do when you are starting out in winemaking, very few of them are women.…Women often get moved into the lab.”

“I even knew someone—a woman who was a cellar master—who actually never hired any women. I asked her, ‘What’s the deal?’ And she said, ‘Well, you have to be strong to do this.’ And I think that’s rubbish.”

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