It’s nothing new, women leading in the world of wine. Champagne seems to have been particularly blessed in the past.
At the age of just 27, La Veuve (the widow) Clicquot, took over her husband’s wine business after his death and made huge success of it, developing new techniques including, it’s said, riddling and dégorgement.
Madame Lily Bollinger famously drank Champagne “when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory.” Well you would if you could wouldn’t you?
When I worked a vintage in Alsace as a student it was clear that while Monsieur was in charge in the winery and the vineyards, Madame was the one running the ship while Colette Faller, just down the road from where I lived, built Domaine Weinbach into one of the world’s most admired estates by investing in the vineyards and understanding the terroirs she was working with. Jancis Robinson said the word ‘indomitable’ could have been invented for her. She’s not wrong.
So who’s making waves today? The list is long, growing, and there are women in every wine producing country in the world setting the pace. Here are just a few of them.
Readers of previous columns will know of our admiration for Elisabetta Foradori already, who makes beautiful elegant wines using both traditional and progressive techniques from indigenous grape varieties on her biodynamic farm in the Dolomite mountains of Süd Tirol.
Arianna Occhipinti got involved in wine at the age of sixteen, working with her uncle Giusto at COS, in Sicily, but stands in no-one’s shadow now making wine which, in her words, “in its harmonies and roughness, talks about the land where it comes from and also about me.” She takes inspiration from Goethe: “Substance is nothing, what counts is the gesture by which they are made”. She has learnt to accept; the diversity of soils, the slope or altitude of a vineyard, the weather.
Perhaps this is the common thread amongst great winemakers? To accept what nature gives them rather than impose what they want on it? And perhaps this character trait is more common amongst women winemakers than men? The antithesis of the alpha male winemaker for whom grapes are just a canvas on which to stamp their style. I can’t think of many of those wines that float my boat.
Certainly Judith Beck in the Burgenland region of Austria treats her incredibly diverse vineyards as individual gardens. “International style can be produced by everyone, everywhere. My wines are my own. They are here and now. And that is, for me, the most beautiful thing. Like my life in the vineyards”.
And then there are women like Maya Sallée at Domaine la Calmette in Cahors, South West France, who has brought her technical expertise to a very natural producer so while she and her husband farm with no herbicides, pesticides and there’s no “messing around” with chemicals in the winery, they know exactly what is going on and watch for any potential problems. A wonderful combination of cutting edge science and back to basics wine growing.
The final word has to go to two women who are not winemakers first and foremost but who have done a huge amount to democratise wine and move it on from its traditional and elitist past.
Isabelle Legeron is a Master of Wine so knows her stuff. As well as writing books and articles championing natural and organic wine she has created a series of fairs called RAW. The next is in London in March with spinoff events around the UK (including Shrewsbury!) then Berlin, New York, Montreal, and Los Angeles later in the year. It’s incredibly refreshing to see the eager, young crowd at these events, discovering wine and talking to the makers.
“Wine Folly” is a book, series of podcasts, videos and so on created by sommelier Madeleine Puckette which are fantastic, no nonsense and fun introductions and explorations of the wonderful world of wine. A fresh and exciting take on a much discussed topic.
Two to try:
Birgit Braunstein, “Wildwux”, Burgenland, Austria - This red is a blend of Austrian varietals Zweigelt, St Laurent and Blaufränkisch, full of red berries, herbs and minerality, made by Birgit who’s family has been growing vines next to lake Neusiedl for 400 years.
Barco del Corneta, “Cucú”, Castilla y Leon, Spain - Made by Beatriz Herranz from Verdejo grapes grown near Segovia. Think Sauvignon Blanc with attitude. Citrus zest, bitter lemon, and what teenagers would call “hench”
Both wines available at Iron & Rose in Shrewsbury Market Hall and at Glouglou Wine Bar | Shop on Castle Gates.
And head over to the online store for mixed cases featuring wines made by women winemakers...
This article first appeared in MyShrewsbury magazine, March 2020