Is the Future of Wine Female?
19 November 2018
What does it take to break apart a generations-old boys club?
Like the vines that they grow on, the business of grapes is one that portrays an intermingling of culture, family, gastronomy, and perhaps more importantly, tradition. Wineries in the old world are known for passing on ownership from one male heir to the next, ensuring that the quality and legacy of their brand is kept in the family. But where does this leave the daughters and grand daughters who spent their lives running through the vineyards, stealing sips at dinnertime, and inevitably learning all the tricks of the trade?
We caught up with some of the women who are shaking up London’s wine scene and kick-starting a wine-revolution in our city and beyond. Surrounded by a group of strong, wine-loving women, we chat about how the wine industry is changing, and how they are breaking boundaries. Because if the future of wine really is female, then these are the women who will lead the change.
All is Fair in Love and Wine : Honey Spencer of Bastarda London
“I wouldn’t say it’s anyone’s fault, but until now, wine has always been a boy’s game. Historically, men have been the winemakers, with a few very notable exceptions. Men like working with men, so blokes have dominated the industry for a long time. However, winemaking is no longer about physically lugging barrels around, so women have gained a stronger foothold”
says Honey Spencer, who works as a sommelier and consultant, as well as founding her own wine company, BASTARDA
Despite being a rising in the industry (she’s worked at world-renowned establishments like Sager and Wilde in London, Den Vandrette in Copenhagen, 10 William Street in Sydney, and Noma in Mexico —no biggie) Spencer shares that she’s had her share of struggles along the way too. “I’ve worked in wineries where I was asked to ‘go help with dinner’, whilst the boys finish up in the vineyard. That being said, none of these examples have caused any roadblocks in my career. From a media perspective, people notice you more, because there are less of you. There are more opportunities and more invites, especially if trips and event organisers realise they need a heavier female constituency. So all is fair in love and wine I suppose.”
Beyond breaking the (wine)glass ceiling, discovering new nuances of a certain type of wine and knowing how they pair with particular dishes is a never-ending process, but it is also a cause for insecurity for any wine-maker. “There is such a stigma in wine that wine professionals are supposed to know everything and it’s complete bollocks. Just keep asking and asking. Use your knowledge as your weapon and develop your palate so that no one can make you feel inferior,” says Spencer.
Check out Bastarda’s upcoming pop-up with Kaizen House here.
Debunking the Wine myths: Sula Richardson, Women in Wine
There are a lot of myths surrounding the wine industry, and Sula Richardson of Women in Wine is all about debunking them. “English winemaking is actually dominated by female heads of business,”
notes Sula. She lists names like Tamara Roberts of Ridgeview Wine Estates and Laura Rhys who is the Master Sommelier of Gusbourne. She shares how she started Women in Wine LDN with Master of Wine Regine Lee and Fine Wine expert Hannah Van Susteren, in order to champion women in the industry, providing them with a network to help further their careers.
Another myth that seemingly needs debunking is that working in wine is all about fun and games. “I love seeing people’s reactions when you say you work in wine,” says Richardson. “Most people are really interested and almost envious, whilst others think you have just made drinking a profession! To some extent we have, but like any other commercial industry, we have to be competitive and attract intelligent and savvy individuals.” - and with the wine industry growing, there's definitely a lot of room for new talent.
A Warm Welcome into the world of Wine: Indiana Rossi, Street Vin
They say seeing is believing, and it makes a big difference when you’re able to see a kindred spirit in a position to make change. “It’s gotten so much better thanks to all the female pioneers who opened the doors for us newcomers”
says Indiana Rossi, a trained chef who now manages Street Vin
, a Street Feast wine bar in London. “Until now, girls aren’t taken seriously straight away, especially by older generations of men. So it's about continuously proving yourself and finding your place in the industry.”
And while the pleasures of usurping the wine-patriarchy is all well and good, there are still those who are curious about the wine industry, but are intimidated because they can’t tell their Merlot from their Malbec. Rossi is very aware of this and has created a more inclusive and welcoming environment for those who aren’t as well-versed in the language of grapes. “A couple of years ago, I founded the Indie Wine Club, a members-only club where we talk about and drink wine in the most relaxed, fuss-free environment. Now, thanks to the good response from my last events, I'm launching a series of wine nights open to the public.”
On finding your ground: Silvia Pampaloni, Divino in Vino
Photo by Ania
Silvia Pampaloni has made it her mission to share her passion for wine, by showing people how to tell their owns wine stories. Sylvia is the founder of Divino in Vino
, a boutique wine service that offers tastings, workshops, classes, and wine tours. When asked what the biggest challenge of being a female wine-maker she says it’s “credibility”
. Because in an industry that has been male-dominated for centuries, women are just now beginning to find our footing.
But things are definitely changing, and the with the growth of the industry — so comes new roles for women to inhabit. According to Silvia the best advice she can give to other women in wine is to “Not let anyone stop you from what you want to do. It’s still a male-dominated industry and there will be times when they will let you feel inappropriate for what you are doing. If you work with passion, nobody can steal your ideas. You can learn how to do a job but not how to have a unique personality.”
Silvia Pampaloni has a list of wine tours around England and South Africa for 2018/2019. See more information here.
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of women who are making big moves in the wine industry. Traditionally excluded from taking part in the patriarchal practice of winemaking, women all over the world are raising their glasses as they toast to a future where they are included, respected, and most of all, just doing what they love.
Words by Ina Yulo
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