Women in Wine - International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, so it seemed an appropriate moment to look back on nearly 50 years in wine.  When I joined the wine trade in July 1972, it was very much a man’s world.   Answering the phone at the Wine Society, I was one morning greeted with the words:  I want to speak to somebody who knows about wine!  There were very few women working in the wine trade who did anything other than secretarial work, or if they were a wine grower’s wife, they kept the books and looked after the paperwork, but they certainly did not go into the cellar.   How things have changed.

When I passed the MW in 1979 with a friend, Aileen Trew, we doubled the female content of the Institute of Masters of Wine overnight.   Sarah Morphew was the first female MW, in 1970, 25 years after the foundation of the Institute and Serena Sutcliffe followed her in 1977.   And then a steady flow of women began.   The Institute now numbers over 400 members, world-wide, of whom a good third are women, and the majority of whom passed the exam in this century.


Then consider work in a cellar.  When I wrote my first book on Chablis, published in 1984 I mentioned two women winemakers, Madeleine Coquard and Lyne Marchive.  Things were not much better in my second edition, published 25 years later. The pioneers were still Lyne Marchive of Domaine des Malandes and also Clotilde Davenne of Domaine des Temps Perdus.   Fast forward to my third edition, published in 2018, and there has been a veritable explosion of women making wine in Chablis, with a tsunami of daughters rather than sons.   Some of the most talented of the new generation are women, 


One of the most famous estates, Domaine Raveneau, now has Isabelle Raveneau in charge.   When we met, she observed that her grandfather, François, who established the reputation of the family estate, simply did not believe in women in the cellar.  Had she been speaking English she might have said that he would be turning in his grave at the thought of his granddaughter in his cellar.   She also mentioned that with the mechanisation of so many pieces of equipment, you now longer need the strong shoulders of the earlier generation. 


Other estates with women primed to take over, include Charlene at Domaine Pinson, Camille at Domaine Besson who recently won a Jeunes Talents competition for young winemakers in Burgundy and Julie at Domaine Gilles and Nathalie Fèvre.  Cécilia Trimaille runs Domaine Long Depaquit, after a stint as chef de culture at Château Margaux.  Lucie Dupuydt is in charge of J. Moreau & Fils.  Virginie Moreau makes the wine at Domaine Moreau-Naudet and Marie-Ange Robin at Domaine Robin.  There is Athenaïs de Béru at the Château de Béru in the eponymous village, Nathalie and Isabelle Oudin in Chichée and Eléonore Moreau in Poilly-sur-Serein.  I know I have missed some names, not to mention other examples in the surrounding villages of the Yonne. 


In the Languedoc, there is an organisation called the Vinifilles, which is primarily for sharing marketing and communications.  Not all the women in the group are winemakers, but they all play an important part in their family business.    And with the Languedoc’s openness to outsiders, there are perhaps more women making wine there than in other more traditional parts of France.  To name but a few, there is Catherine Roque at Mas d’Alezon in Faugères, with her daughter Alix running Domaine du Clovallon in Bédarieux.   Brigitte Chevalier created Domaine de Cébène in Faugères.   In the Minervois, Patricia Domergue runs Clos Centeilles, with her daughter Cecile and there is Isabelle Coutale at Domaine Eugénie and Anne Gros from Burgundy has also come south.  Nicole rather than John Bojonowski is the winemaker at Clos du Gravillas in St Jean-de-Minervois; Estelle rather than Pierre makes the wine at Domaine Clavel. Jo Lynch shares the winemaking with her husband André Suquet at Villa Dondona in Montpeyroux.   Emmanuelle Schoch created her own estate of Mas de Seren outside Anduze.


Researching my next book In Roussillon, I have recently enjoyed cellar visits with Frédérique Vaquer at Domaine Vaquer; Wendy Wilson at Domaine le Soula, and Carrie Summers at Domaine de l’Enfant and Laetitia Pietri-Clara at Domaine Pietri-Giraud in Banyuls


I could carry on, but lists become boring.  So I just wanted to say that it is just so gratifying to see how the balance is being corrected and continues to be corrected.   The wine trade is no longer a man’s world, but it is still a white world, and that now needs to be addressed.  




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