Top female winemakers to know about this International Women’s Day
Surely there couldn’t be a more fitting way of raising a glass to International Women’s Day (March 8), by celebrating with a wine made by a woman. Especially with so many talented vignerons making their mark in a historically male-dominated industry.
As Cherie Spriggs, head winemaker at Nyetimber and Sparkling Winemaker of the Year 2018 (nyetimber.com), puts it: “I’m so passionate about my career and have loved, and continue to love my experience within the wine industry.
“As such, I’m always eager to highlight winemaking as a fulfilling and interesting career for women, especially today.”
The wine world has traditionally been male-dominated, however Spriggs says this is gradually changing. “It has been so encouraging to see more women become winemakers.”
And for anyone looking to broaden their drinking horizons, and learn more about wine and grapes – from driving a tractor, tending the vines to harvesting and marketing – the future’s looking bright, especially on home-grown soil.
“Since starting with Nyetimber, I’ve been determined to prove the highest quality sparkling wine can be made in the UK,” says Spriggs.
For IWD she recommends Nyetimber 1086 Prestige Cuvee 2010 (£150, Nyetimber), which she cites as one of their finest wines. “To me, this wine truly represents the pinnacle of our winemaking.”
Elsewhere, with #EmbraceEquity as this year’s campaign theme, buyers at Berry Brothers & Rudd have released a limited-edition International Women’s Day 2023, Six-Bottle Mixed Case (£225, Berry Bros & Rudd), featuring six female producers from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhône, Rioja and Tuscany.
Barbara Drew, Master of Wine at Berry Brothers & Rudd (bbr.com), says: “We work with incredible female wine producers all year round. To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we have brought together six amazing wines from exceptionally talented producers in a mixed case.
“As a female-founded business established 325 years ago, today we are proud to have a majority female senior-leadership team – and delighted to champion brilliant female producers.”
Fuelled by ambition and not content with becoming Argentina’s first female Winemaker in 1981, Susana Balbo, a three-time ‘president of wines’ of Argentina, is actively committed to women’s empowerment.
One of the most respected producers in South America, she says IWD reminds her we must make a great effort to help all those forgotten by the system. In particular, those who live in isolated regions, with no access to education and/or a sustainable and permanent source of income, which guarantees their independence, access to health and a dignified retirement in their old age.
“I love making wine because it’s my passion, but also it’s the tool that has allowed me to secure the rights mentioned above for myself,” says Balbo.
“Being an entrepreneur and always looking for female talent, I feel I also make a contribution to securing the same rights for many other women.”
She is dedicated to showing the potential of torrontés, a white grape variety. Try Susana Balbo Barrel Fermented Torrontes 2021 White Wine, Mendoza, Argentina (£21.50, The Champagne Company) – which delights with its elegant florals, exotic fruit notes and limey acidity.
Another leading lady who boasts great wines from a high altitude, mountainous region in north-east Italy is Elena Walch. She says: “In the late Eighties, I started to discover wine traditions in Alto Adige – and the wine world became my passion.”
At that time, she says there were few women with responsibilities in the wine world – especially when it comes to wine production and representing an estate.
“Looking back, I would say women had to prove themselves more to be taken seriously. However, I have always liked a challenge!”
A member of Le Donne del Vino (Women in Wine), the world’s largest association of women in wine, Walsh is proud to say the association now counts about 30 members in the region – and more than 1,000 nationwide.
“All of them are women in charge of estates, oenologists, sommeliers, restaurateurs or chefs, with the mission to spread the passion for wine.”
Try Elena Walch Pinot Grigio 2021, Alto Adige, Italy (£19.50, Armit Wines), which comes highly recommended for its purity of fruit and fabulous freshness.
Another woman on a wine quest, Kathrin Jankowiec, production winemaker at Villa Maria (villamariawines.com), first started in the industry as a cellar hand – a very physical job.
“I worked with pumps and presses, and you sure get your hands dirty. Back then, not a lot of females were employed in the cellar,” she says. “For a while, I was the only woman on the cellar floor, and the winemaking team consisted of an all-male crew.
“However, I often found females made the better cellar hands. It’s more about working smarter, not harder, and women brought an extra attention to detail, drive, and passion to their work.”
Fast forward to today, and she says the industry has become more diverse and inclusive. “At the start of my career, I still had to prove I was equally as capable, strong, and efficient as a man, but I am confident employers have recognised the value of a diverse team.
“I strongly believe women bring an extra skill to the table and female leaders are capable of getting the very best out of a team.”
And while the industry is still dominated by men in leadership roles, she’s optimistic this conversation will soon be redundant.
“My hope is talent will be recognised and promoted, regardless of gender. Having a diverse workforce also means more diversity in wine styles,” says Jankowiec. “We can only go from strength to strength.”
And who wouldn’t drink to that? Especially with a delicious glass of Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Marlborough, New Zealand (£12, Sainsbury’s), which stands out for its herbaceous aromas, and zesty, textured palate.
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