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How Women Winemakers are Making Waves

by Lucinda Beeman - March 14, 2017

March’s ‘Women of the World’-themed Bubble Box celebrates the achievements of women across the business world. For almost 10 years, Deborah Brenner has been supporting women in the wine industry. Now the Founder and President of Women of the Vine & Spirits, the first professional organisation for female winemakers and spirits distillers, she tells Bubble Magazine how the world has changed for women in wine – and why she’s such a big fan of fizz.

Q: What led you to your work with women in wine?

A: Wine was always my passion, but I had no idea that it would turn into a career. I spent 20 years in film and TV, travelling around the world, and I was exposed to different cultures and wines. After so many years I’d become so disheartened with corporate America, and I was looking for a way to turn my passion for wine into a career.

On a trip to Napa I was having lunch with Karen Cakebread, a wonderful proprietor, and she was telling me how male-dominated the industry was. All that time I’d been enjoying all of these wonderful wines with no idea that women were behind the labels, so I started interviewing women for my book, Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine.

The feedback from the book was tremendous. I was hearing from women all over the world. From there I founded the first collaborative, almost like a record label for wine, featuring all-female producers. After a few years that ended and I took a step back. I started re-reading all of those emails I had received; they inspired me to start a trade organisation devoted to advancing women.

Q: How have things changed for women in the industry since you started Women of the Vine & Spirits?

A: We’re seeing change in the world as a whole, but the wine and spirits industry has lagged behind. There are so many different career paths in the wine spirits industry – from winemaking to sales – and a lot of the time women are on their own.

Especially in more traditional wineries – old world, family-run – there aren’t many opportunities to have mentors and role models. That’s something that’s changing: it’s an incredibly demanding job, but we’re now able to come together and persevere against all kinds of odds.

Q: What can the winemaking world gain from greater diversity?

A: The world has so much to gain from more diversity. Jancis Robinson, the famous wine critic, has written about how this is the era of women in wine. Women make up half of wine consumers in the US, and that spreads across the world. Women speak to women in a different way, and that means that diversity can benefit the bottom line.

But, more than that, women in winemaking is driving innovation and creativity. On a global scale, women collaborate and share together – men and women working together can only mean more and better ideas. When we’re dealing with big challenges like climate change and competition in the wine world, everybody can gain from greater diversity in the industry.

Q: What excites you most for the future of women in winemaking?

A: The future is so, so bright.

Women already dominate wine consumption, and I think it’s because when you open a bottle of Champagne together there’s an instant shared experience, and that’s so much a part of who women are. We bring that into our homes. That’s why I think women embrace it so much – we want to embrace sharing and being together.

In this decade, though, more women are becoming winemakers and sommeliers, educating themselves and gaining the title ‘Master of Wine’. So now we need to pay it forward. How do the leaders of today bring more women up behind them, to follow the trails they’ve blazed?

At Women of the Vine & Spirits we’re all about developing the next generation. That’s so important to me – the possibilities for women in wine are really endless. The glass ceiling has cracked. It’s there for us to shatter.

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