In recognition of International Women’s Day on 8 March, I’m celebrating female winemakers in this blogpost. Wine production has traditionally been very male-dominated and that situation has been slow to change however in the last 30 years or so there has been a quiet evolution with more women than ever involved in wine. And, if the general consensus that women are more sensitive to aromas and flavours than men is to be believed, then the industry – and wine – can only benefit from more women in wine.
Back in the early 19th century winemaking was certainly not considered a suitable profession for women. But, after the death of her husband in 1805, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, became the first woman to run a champagne house, Veuve Clicquot. Rather than just a figurehead of the business, the widow Clicquot was heavily involved in the business and is thought to have come up with at least two important inventions:
– the riddling process whereby champagne bottles are moved upside-down over a couple of months from a horizontal position to dislodge the yeast sediment and
– adding a little red wine to champagne to create rosé champagne.
So we have a lot to thank Veuve Clicquot for.
None of the main educational organisations offering oenology courses provides a breakdown of the number of women attending or passing its wine courses but it is evident to me visiting wine regions, attending trade fairs and reading wine trade press that there are an increasing number of women involved in wine.
Here are just three of the amazing female winemakers that I work with and whose work and wines I admire:
In 1943 Tiziana’s grandfather, Domenico Settimo bought what is now the Aurelio Settimo estate in the hamlet of Annunziata in Piedmont and the family they practised mixed farming, producing fruit, corn, hazelnuts and grapes and breeding hens, rabbits and cows. Most of the grapes were sold off to local wineries with a small amount used to produce wine for the family as was the custom although by the late 1950s Tiziana’s father Aurelio had begun to bottle some wine. When he took over the winery in 1962 he decided to grow only grapes and expanded the vineyards, producing wine under the Aurelio Settimo label. It was only in 1974 that the winery stopped selling 50% of its grapes and kept them all to produce more wine.
Tiziana worked alongside her father from 1987 until his death in 2007 and then took over the wine-making. The business is still a family affair and the philosophy remains the same: a focus on quality and respect for tradition. They continue to produce only red DOC and DOCG wines from the Nebbiolo and Dolcetto grapes from their own six hectares of vineyards. Whilst respecting traditions in her wine-making, Tiziana keeps yields low and practises careful maceration to avoid over-extraction, with the aim of elegant, balanced wines that are not excessively tannic – and wow, does she succeed! The 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo which she describes as her “baby Barolo” is fresh, fruity and smooth in texture – and drinking beautifully in 2023. The 2011 Barolo is fuller in body and more complex given its age and wood ageing but it still retains elegance, balance and a silky long finish.
In recognition of their daughters’ involvement in the business, the Ferran family business name is Ferran et Filles. Fourth generation and elder daughter Madeline has been involved since 2018 after studying oenology and gaining experience both in France and overseas. Working alongside her father, Madeline is now at the forefront of the business with a growing influence on the 30-hectare vineyards in the southern Rhone and on the wines themselves.
Practising sustainable viticulture, Madeline is driving the estate towards organic farming certification, a process that takes a number of years. The aim is to “produce authentic and unique wines, a reflection of our terroirs and our work”. The vineyards are the highest of the Rasteau appellation which allows them to achieve freshness and balance in their wines which many in this warm region cannot. Domaine des Escaravailles benefits from a number of different soils ranging from the water-retaining blue marl famous in the appellation, large stones (“galets”) as can be seen in the photo and sandy soils all of which have their advantages (and challenges). The range of terroirs also allows plot-specific wines to be produced from 15 different grape varieties, though Grenache dominates. Most of the vines are old which combined with low yields means wines that are concentrated, complex with depth.
Anna Flowerday and her husband, Jason, produce a number of stunning wines at their 11-hectare vineyard and winery, Te Whare Ra (pronounced Tea Far-ee Ra and Maori for ‘House in the Sun’) in Marlborough, New Zealand. From McLaren Vale in Australia, Anna is the sixth generation of her family to be involved in wine. Having met in Australia and gained experience in winemaking overseas, Anna and Jason bought TWR in 2003, restoring the vineyards and starting the conversion to organic growing and production by saving old vines, the oldest in the region that others told them to rip out, and bringing the soil back to life.
The health of the soil is the key according to Anna. Yields are kept low and the wines are made with minimal intervention as the aim is to make wines that best express their origins. Environmental sustainability is at the heart of the TWR approach showing respect for and with the environment produces the best wines in Anna’s view. Whenever I talk with Anna I am struck by her clear passion for what she does and this is reflected in the quality of the TWR wines which show finesse, balance and elegance with subtle richness, complexity and texture from their old vines and from lees contact rather than being easy-to-drink wines that are full of ripe, tropical fruit flavours so often found in the Marlborough region.
Anna and Jason have two sets of twin daughters so it seems like there may be some more female winemakers in due course at TWR!
I am passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers. If you’re feeling sociable why not follow me on social media or share my blog with others?
0333 772 0301
Sign up to my newsletter to receive exclusive offers and learn more about Wines With Attitude