Is the Future of Wine Female? Part II
5 December 2018
Inclusivity and diversity are two topics that have been gaining more traction in the mainstream media in recent years. Industries the world over are taking a closer look at their processes and internal cultures and questioning if they have consciously (or unconsciously) been turning people away.
Like many others, The wine industry is one that has seen an increase in visibility for the women working within it. From the outside it seems like there is no shortage of ladies who are leading the charge, but should gender even be a defining factor in all of this? Does highlighting the fact that a talented industry professional is a woman devalue their achievements? With all these questions in mind, we spoke to some of the industry’s trailblazers to find out – Is the future of wine really female?
Carole Bryon, Lady of the Grapes
“Men like to spread their knowledge about wine and that’s why the sommelier always gives them the wine list first. For some reason, wine falls into the area of competence for men,” says Carole Bryon, owner of Lady of the Grapes
, a wine bar in Covent Garden which focuses on biodynamic wines and supporting female winemakers. Carole was an art director who made a career pivot at the age of 30 to chase her passion for wine.
Carole said that she never realised that the sector was so male-dominated, especially since her WSET diploma class had an equal gender split (this is backed up by stats from UC Davis that show over 50% of graduates from their viticulture and enology course are female), but felt they weren’t as visible in the working world. Through Lady of the Grapes, Carole hopes that she can shine a spotlight on these women, so that they can be given the recognition and exposure that they deserve. Though she has experienced customers questioning her capabilities due to her gender (and youthful genes), she wouldn’t trade working in wine for anything. “I think what I love the most about wine is that I can learn forever. I feel like there is always more to learn…You can experiment with the varieties, soil, weather, all in a sip. It is amazing. There is something magical about it.”
Ruth Spivey, Wine Car Boot
“I’m afraid to say that I think, ’the future of wine is female’ is a total myth. And I hope it is a myth because I wouldn’t want it to be the case,”
says Ruth Spivey, Founder of Wine Car Boot
and London Editor of Star Wine List
. “I like working with men as much as women. There are lots of talented, brilliant men in our industry doing great things — as well as some women too. I hate the idea that women should support other women without question, purely because they’re women. What rubbish! and an insult to intelligence. The future of wine should be good people, doing good things for the good of wine, the people who make it, the people who drink it, and the planet from where it comes.”
Ruth took an unconventional route into the industry, first working in fashion before eventually taking the plunge into wine. As one of the most talented and respected figures in London’s wine scene, her point on how the focus on gender as irrelevant, is one we wanted to explore. “I can only speak from personal experience, but I don’t think any of the challenges I’ve faced in wine have been as a result of my gender. We’re seeing a lot of positive discrimination towards women in wine at the moment — almost feel a bit sorry for the boys—so if anything, my female-ness has been an advantage. It annoys me that it might have been an advantage, because out of pure self-respect, I aim for any successes to be a result of my ability, not novelty.”
Ruth’s work in championing indie wine shops, independent producers, is truly inspiring. Her advice for aspiring wine professionals? “Work hard, know what you’re talking about, and don’t be a dick. It’s critical to form your own opinion and approach — this might take time, so don’t run before you can walk, and definitely don’t copy other people’s views and style. The wine industry offers a great variety of jobs so if you don’t like what you’re currently doing, move into a different area. Plenty of options out there, if you use your head. This is the exact same advice I would give a man. I don’t think women need their own set of instructions.”
Beth Brickenden, London Union
Many assume that it doesn’t take much to select a glass of wine and offer it up to a customer. Beth Brickenden, Wine Director at London Union, the company behind Street Feast
grew up on a farm in West Ireland and was part of the Slow Food Movement. “A big myth to debunk is that people in the service and hospitality industries aren’t educated. Some of the most charismatic and intelligent people I’ve met work in wine, and they continue to shape the industry across the globe. The power to influence consumer buying habits and nurture trends on both a national and global level is a big draw to joining our industry,”
When it comes to that influence, Beth notes that there’s definitely been some pretty big movements in the industry.“Women are increasingly being given equal opportunities and easier, more direct access to career pathways that have perhaps traditionally been more male-dominated. The desire to work in the industry has always been there, but access and opportunity haven’t always been open to many women,” she shares.
“Asking more questions” is a piece of advice that was commonly shared by the ladies we interviewed. The wine world is one where you are constantly learning and relearning. However, this can lead to self-doubt and insecurities. Beth talks about the sense of camaraderie that the hospitality and spirits industry is known for. “There is strength in numbers though, and being able to get the support from your female peers is wonderful. This is why groups like Women in Wine LDN are so important. Having that network means we can seek advice about anything in our unique industry.”
Kate Sims, Bottle Bitches
The wine industry can be an intimidating place; but then there are those like Kate Sims, co-founder of digital studio bgsd
and the hilarious podcast Bottle Bitches
, who makes it her duty to create an environment that is laid-back and welcoming to newbies and experts alike. “To be honest, I’m still getting started in the wine industry and feel like I’m more of a wine cheerleader than any kind of expert or authority. By starting Bottle Bitches with Angela and Caro, I was able to create a place where I can share what I do know, along with what I think about particular wines in a way that’s really accessible and useful to those who like wine but aren’t in wine, which I think is important,
” she shares.
When it comes to finding her place within the industry, Kate opens up about the role that Social Media played in allowing her to connect with like-minded individuals. She also mentions groups like Women in Wine LDN
, who have helped her find a support system of people she can bounce ideas off of. Because her role within the landscape is quite different to the other ladies, so were the challenges she faced. “When we started Bottle Bitches, I joked that we’d probably get loads of hate mail from Red Trousers telling us that our reviews and opinions were wrong, but we’ve been really lucky and have received nothing but kindness and support, which is brilliant. It just goes to show that most people are genuinely kind and we should expect the best, not worst, out of others.”
So is the future of wine female? It’s hard to tell. Is putting an individual’s gender at the forefront an insult to their talent, or is it a way for people to come together and bond over common links and experiences? Maybe it’s both. I believe the future of wine is a bottle filled with ambition, knowledge, and passion for the stories behind the grapes. Carole, Ruth, Beth, and Kate are not only showing us what that future can look like, but they’re inspiring those who share the same vision to be a part of it too.
Words by Ina Yulo
Want more wine? Check out Part I below