Do you know why there are so many famous widows in history— like Veuve Clicquot, Camille Roederer, and Madame Bollinger-–making wine or owning wineries in Champagne?
No it’s not because research shows that women are more sensitive to scents or have a more critical palate.
While in the past, when men went to war, the women stayed behind and were allowed to make the wine, they weren’t allowed to own property, including wineries, unless they were widowed!
Now of course women don’t have those limitations. Yet Karen McNeil reports that in 2018 when she asked trade associations from California, Washington, and New York for an estimate on the percentage of female winemakers in their states, she learned that only “10 percent of winemakers in California are female, compared to 7 percent in Washington, and 5 percent in New York.”
This is surprising when 42% of Enology graduates at UC Davis are women, says McNeil, and the New York Times in 1985 said that women would be making one third of all wine by the 1990s.
Beyond the famous widows of Champagne, there are women worldwide involved with the wine industry. Instead of taking over as widows, more and more women are taking over the reins from their dads– and sometimes moms!
BONUS RESOURCE: Amy Bess Cook’s Woman Owned Wineries reports that with over 4200 wineries in California, 14% have a woman as a lead winemaker. The Woman Owned Winery website offers a searchable directory of wineries in the US.
Here are a few notable women of the world in wine– plus a few of their wines.
Growing up in a Champagne house like Bruno Paillard was mysterious and fun, and Alice Paillard loved it: “Going down to the wine cellar was like digging out treasures.” She learned “respect for the work of the wine, whoever made it, and nourished it.” Fifteen years ago, Alice joined the team, and in 2019, she took over management. While her father has technically retired, he still is around to guide her, and help her with the final blends: “I’m very privileged to pick up the phone. He’s not out of the game. He’s not the type to retire.” Her father’s experience is available to her. And working together? “It’s a pleasure.”
Champagne Bruno Paillard Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru ABV 12% alcohol SRP $80 Sample for review
Color: Platinum, perlage very delicate and fine, and persistent
Aroma: Subtle croissant, lemon puff pastry danish, chalky, chamomile
Palate: Light, refreshing, vibrant, delicate, lemon, minerals, long lingering lemon finish
Pairing: This wine goes well from the beginning of the meal to the end– ideal for a special evening!
BONUS RESOURCE: To learn more about Champagne, check out author Caroline Henry. In the introduction to her book, Terroir Champagne: the Luxury of Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Cuvees, Caroline explains what “terroir” means — beyond simply the place of origin– and why she focuses on how the people who make the wine interpret the expression of the soil. To truly express the soil, Caroline argues that the winemaker needs to facilitate bringing the minerals in the soil to the plant which requires that water “be able to freely move in the soil.”
Like Anne Paillard, Céline Champalou grew up in wine: her mother Catherine comes from 12 generations in the wne business and her father Didier comes from 6 generations. They started their own domaine in 1983 growing grapes organically and biodynamically. Following her university studies in enology, in 2006 Céline joined the domaine, and today makes the wines.
2020 Domaine Champalou Vouvray ABV: 13.5% Grapes: Chenin Blanc SRP $25 Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant Purchased at Point de Chene, Ojai, CA
Color: Yellow, almost daffodil Aroma: Meadow flowers, chamomile, green grass, wet stone, white nectarine
Palate: Zesty acidity, lots of citrus, lightly grassy, clean Eureka lemon finish
Pairing: Great wine for a seafood meal from start to finish.
Claire Villars-Lurton of Château Haut-Bages Libéral is the "happy owner of two chateaus... my grandfather was a visionary who bought these estates." And while it is challenging, wines are made without sulfites and they are certified biodynamic by Demeter. On two blocks of vineyards, she's planted 90 trees per hectare: "the trees and the plants to create beautiful biodiversity" along with carbon sequestration. "The trees are best for creating water, humous, biodiversity," she says seeing the necessity of planting vines with trees. "My way of thinking is to come back with the truth." She finds the vines suffer less when planted with the trees.
2020 Château Haut-Bages Libéral Cérès ABV 12.5% SRP $25 Grapes: 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot Region/AOC: Pauillac Importer: Millésima USA Color: Medium density, vibrant color, very youthful, ruby rose with a vibrant
Nose: Very pretty nose of rose petals, sandalwood, amber, cherry, plum, vanilla bean.
Palate: Tart cherry, tannins, acidity, minerals, fresh and clean, with a finish of cocoa nibs and coffee beans.
Pairing: Camembert, blue cheese, braised meats.
Sandra Alves serves as Director of Winemaking at Herdade do Esporão where, since 2020, she oversees the production of 30 wines made from fruit grown on 1,236 acres of vineyards. While Sandra grew up with her grandfather making wine from backyard grapes, she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Oenology. It is to Sandra’s credit that Herdade do Esporão obtained organic certification in viticulture to become the largest certified organic vineyard in Portugal and one of the 10 largest in the world. This move has increased the quality of the grapes, she says.
2020 Esporao Colheita White wine, Alentejo
Certified Organic ABV 13.5% SRP $18 Grapes: Antão Vaz 30%, Viosinho 30%, Alvarino 30% (Albarino in Spain) Importer: Now Wine Imports Sample for review
Color: Pale, golden, very clear and translucent.
Aroma: Green, meadow, fresh meadow grasses and flowers
Palate: Fresh citrus front to mid palate very tart with a tropical fruit finish, salinity with bright acidity.
Pairing: The salinity in the wine is such a perfect match for fresh seafood. Fantastic with traditional pork loin and clams.
“Vines –like humans –prefer cooler nights for better sleep and a nice warm sunny day,” says Anne Bousquet. They shut down when it is too hot or too cold. Anne should know; she grew up in the business, first in Southwest France where her father had a third generation winery and vineyards –until he sold it all and set up shop in the Uco Valley of Argentina’s Mendoza region in the 1990s when no one believed wine grapes could thrive in such a cold, hostile, high altitude place. But he proved them wrong. From the beginning, all of Domaine Bousquet wines have been made 100% with organically grown grapes. Under Anne’s guidance, soon they will be one of the largest organic wineries in the world, producing 1.5 million cases sustainably and ethically produced as evidenced by their pursuit of B Corp certification and biodynamic certification.
Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018
ABV 14.8% SRP $25 Grapes: 85% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Syrah.
Color: Very purple, plum, ruby rim, cloudy density
Aroma: Lots of black and blue fruit, red fruit, very fruity on the nose, mint, sage, chaparral.
Palate: Grippy tannins, blue fruit, great character and complexity.
Pairing: Cheeses, dandelion greens, beef stew with mashed potatoes.
“We’re trying to find other vineyards off the beaten path but with similar values we have with respect for the land and the farming part of it,” says Tara Gomez owner and winemaker at Camins 2 Dreams.. Camins means path in Catalan, Mireia’s native language, and Camins 2 Dream is “the path to our dreams making wine together,” Mireia says.With a degree in Enology, Tara Gomez, who is Chumash, was working as a winemaker in central California when she met intern Mireia Taribó, who is Spanish. They visited each other’s countries, traveled to taste wine, and helped with each other’s projects. In 2014, they married, and Mireia joined Tara in Lompoc on the road (camino) to their dreams. With a focus on the Sta Rita Hills AVA, they purchase grapes that use organic and biodynamic practices preferring lesser known “underdog” varietals like gruner veltliner and graciano in addition to grenache and syrah.
Santa Barbara County Christy and Wise Vineyard Grenache 2020
Located just outside the Sta Rita Hills AVA, the Demeter certified Christy and Wise Vineyard is cool and breezy which brings out zippy yet ripe raspberry with black pepper on the finish.
To acquiesce is to agree, go along; corporate executive Rodney Tipton was listening to k.d.lang‘s song “Acquiesce” when he knew he and wife Sue would own a winery with that name. After raising three sons and living abroad, they found their vineyard in Lodi; when they decided to make wine, Sue became a winemaker, and “surrender to the grapes.” In a region known for red wine, Lodi’s Acquiesce grows obscure white Rhone varietals. After tasting a white wine blend from Chateau Beaucastel, they decided to plant Grenache Blanc in 2008. Pleased with results, they added Roussanne, Viognier and Picpoul Blanc with cuttings from Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles which partners with Beaucastel where these varietals originated. Grapes are hand picked, whole cluster pressed, and fermented with yeast indigenous to the Rhone. Sue started Slow Food Lodi; making balanced wine that pairs well with food matters to her.
2020 Acquiesce Grenache Blanc Lodi ABV 12%
Color: So very pale, white gold, platinum, barely yellow in color
Aroma: Nice light florals, white flowers, very subtle,
Palate: Lots of acidity, apricot, very clean and dry, very enjoyable now but would do well with age.
Pairing: Very food friendly! Try it with seafood or Greek dishes like avgolemono lemon chicken soup.
Two sisters run the show at Eight at the Gate: Jane Richards is the sister who operates the business side of the operation and Clare Davies runs the cellar. “Two sisters working together is certainly a different dynamic than working with your usual work colleague,” says Jane. “I think for Claire and I it works really well though. We work quite independently, staying in our lanes mostly, and then make joint decisions on the larger more strategic issues. Being raised the same way we have the same philosophy around how to combine family and work responsibilities. I think for Claire and I the skill sets that we have are very complimentary. Claire is the trained viticulturist and Winemaker so she handles all things grapes and vineyard.”
2016 Eight at the Gate Family Selection Shiraz Single Vineyard ABV 14.5% SRP $40
Color: Dark and dense, garnet with a brickish rim.
Aroma: Bramble fruit, blackberry, blue berry, cedar, musk, savory with fruit, wet soil,
Palate: Very pure, quite dry, blueberry bramble berry finish with wild blueberry lingering, Christmas pine.
Pairing: Meat pies in mushy peas are traditional Adelaide fare and perfect together, and the wine also goes well with the Italian meatballs in pasta sauce.
As an Italian studying business in California, many years ago Antonella Manuli learned about the organic movement. Back in Italy, she worked in accounting and finance then ran the Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort until she found the land for the Fattoria La Maliosa organic farm where she could produce natural wines, extra virgin olive oil, and honey. From a state of near-abandonment, Antonella revived a 50-year-old vineyard on a site which is one of the oldest places in the world for wine grape cultivation, going back 4,000 years. With the agronomist and researcher Lorenzo Corino, they developed the “Metodo Corino.” On her 160 hectare farm in the Maremman Hills in southwestern Tuscany, Fattoria La Maliosa's owner Antonella Manuli makes natural wine using indigenous grapes that have been certified organic and biodynamic since 2010.
2019 La Maliosa Saturnia Bianco ABV 12% SRP $30 Grapes: 50% Procanico, 50% Trebbiano Sample for review
Color: Very deep orange or amber without the brown.
Aroma: Smells lovely, original, different, florals, orange spice tea, dried orange and clove.
Palate: Very dry and tannic due to the skin contact. Clean and fresh, clean fresh herbs on the finish leaving the palate clean and refreshed.
Pairing: Excellent food wine from salads to seared ahi tuna.
Vigna Petrussa, says renowned Italian wine expert Ian D’Agata is “one of Italy’s best and most under the radar estates.” Praising the producer’s winemaker-vigneron Hilde Petrussa for a “great passion for her craft” he gave all of her wines 90+ point ratings in a January 2020 article in Vinous. Vigna Petrussa also is featured in the Slow Wine Guide Italy Edition. Hilde took over for her mother as head woman winemaker-vigneron in 1995, but Hilde wanted to focus on indigenous grapes and high quality-- and so she has, making a name for herself in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy and beyond.
2018 Vigna Petrussa “Richenza,” Friuli ABV: 14% Grapes: blend of friulano, picolit, riesling renano, Malvasia SRP $32 Imported by VeroVino Sample for my review
Color: Golden yellow, daffodil, buttercup
Aroma: Marmalade, tuberose, minerals, mulling spice with orange rind, thyme, lemon thyme.
Palate: Clean, bright, acidic, herbal, lemon, green olives, lemon peel, sea salt, very long lingering finish, rose petals.
Pairing: Shrimp bisque, crab cakes with aioli, asparagus brie tart, berry galette.
BONUS RESOURCE: Both of these Italian producers are imported to the United States by Sheila Donahue’s company VeroVinoGusto. Based in Ventura, California and Bologna, Italy, Sheila specializes in small, family-owned, estate wines made naturally, sustainably, and organically. “My business focuses on wines that are out of the ordinary,” she says.
10 to Try for Earth Month: Natural, Organic, Biodynamic Wines
Gwendolyn Alley writes about California and Southern Oregon for Slow Wine Guide as well as freelance for various online and print publications. Her blog Wine Predator focuses on sustainability and food/wine pairings. She loves outdoor adventures and travel.