The wine world has long been, and still seems to be, dominated by men. The critics in the established Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, Wine & Spirits magazines, mostly purchased by men, are all men. Most independent wine raters are men, and the judges at wine competitions are predominantly male. Most restaurant sommeliers and wine shop salesmen are men. The Master Court of Sommeliers, an exclusive group of experts, certified by a series of enormously difficult and terribly expensive exams, has a worldwide membership of 230 since 1977; only 32 are women. According to the Women Winemakers of California website, of the slightly over 4,000 wineries in California, about 10 percent have women as lead winemakers, the same proportion as in the 1890s. Of Michigan’s over 100 wineries, five have women winemakers. The percentage of women in all other parts of the wine trade is around 15-20 percent.
Whew! Those are just the stats. There are the crazy but powerful assumptions flying around that define the relationship between women and wine. Women are from moscato, they say; and men, real men, are from cabernet. Women just naturally go for lighter, more delicate, sweeter white and pink “girly” wines, and men want bigger, bolder, stronger, more tannic dark red wines, or “manly wines.” That myth is perpetuated by those “real” housewives of City X or Y who nuzzle the glass and guzzle the wine: NeNe with her moscato, and Ramona with her own special brand of pinot grigio, or Lisa who drinks only the pink stuff that goes with her endless pink wardrobe. Then there is these phrases: “women drink wine and men drink beer,” or “women buy wine by the label; men by rating and price.” According to society, women gossip over a glass of wine; men do serious business.
Yes indeed, most of the wine world seems to be a boy’s club. Yes, it’s mostly men who buy those magazines that assign the ratings and cater to the men who buy expensive, collectible wine for their cellars and who are talking the secret “wine speak.” Yes, the wine waiter in the restaurant assumes the man is choosing the wine and pours that first little approval taste in his glass. Yes, the wine guy in the wine shop initiates the wine conversation with the male customer and gives you a cursory nod.
However, it is mostly women (52 percent of the adult population in the U.S.) who buy the wine! Women purchase 65-70 percent of bought wine in this country. This means that women represent a huge, although quiet, market with great purchasing power in what is assumed to be a man’s world. It means that the success of a very large industry depends on us wine gals.
Did you know? Madeleine Triffon, the first women to earn the title of Master Sommelier (1987) lives in Michigan!
A number wine and gender studies over recent years show that some of the preconceptions about women or men and wine are simply not true or that things are changing.
• More women are drinking beer and more men are drinking wine. More and more interesting interaction is happening in both worlds due to the growing number of wineries, wine bars, breweries and hard cider mills.
• Gender wine preferences for wine varieties are pretty much the same for men and women. In a recent poll, cab and merlot were first and second for both men and women. Chard was equally popular among men and women, as were the intense and fruity sweeter red blends. Men may talk dry, but are actually drinking as much sweet as their female counterparts.
• Women are less influenced by ratings when purchasing than men. They seem to look at the whole package, wine variety, wine origin, label, bottle shape, etc.
• Men are more likely to want to know what the recognized experts think; women want to know what their friends think. Women are likely to go to the internet to find out what the wine
• Men really do prefer the technical tale of wine, how it’s made, what kind of oak it is aged in, what its soil and climate home is, etc. Women want the soul story—who made the wine and why, whether the winery is sustainable or donates funds to charity, etc.
• Men are more likely to spend a bit more on a bottle of wine, especially in a restaurant.
• Men are more likely to show off their wine knowledge in a business or social setting, or to brag about that 90 pint wine he uncovered for a mere $15.
• Women really do have keener palates. By virtue of DNA, women have more acute senses of smell and taste, which may make them more sensitive to heavy tannins and the burn of higher alcohol.
• Men and women like wine for the same reasons: it enhances food; they like the taste; it makes them relax.
Women in Wine
There are some notable women warriors in the history of wine. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin born in 1777 was widowed at 27 and took over the businesses of her wealthy husband François Clicquot and focused all of the resources on the champagne production. She developed the famous technique that produces the elegant, clear, dry ambrosia with its fine bubbles that became the favorite of royalty around the world. La Veuve (widow) Clicquot died in 1866. She is credited for her amazing business and marketing acuity and remembered in an annual award established by her champagne house in 1972 for women owners or managers of companies.
A best-selling, sparkling biography, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire (Tilar J. Mazzeo, 2009), is well worth the read. In fact, one of the wine activities women report enjoying is curling up with a good book (or movie) and a glass of wine.
Then there is the notorious Lily Langtry born in 1853, another woman wine warrior we should toast, a Victorian actress and producer, a vaudeville performer, a famous beauty, mistress to the Prince of Wales and other members of British nobility, wife to several men. In 1887, in her mid-forties, after a successful theater season in New York City, Langtry retired from the stage and invested the wealth she had acquired acting and raising race horses and purchased a 4,000 acre farm in Lake County, California with the expressed dream of producing “the best claret in America,” a wine she had grown to love during her years in European high society.
Shoot forward in time. In the last decades, the presence and influence of women in the wine business is growing. The seeds were being sown in the ’80s and ’90s of the twentieth century. Now, in the real wine world, women—from grape growers, to winemakers, importers, distributors, retail and restaurant owners, sales representatives, sommeliers, bloggers, wine writers, wine educators, to us consumers—are increasingly well represented.
Look for women wine writers and educators, like Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, an invaluable compendium of all things wine, informative and entertaining; and Andrea Immer, whose Great Wine Made Simple provides easy-to-follow directions for setting up the very best teaching tastings at home.
Explore Madeleine Puckett’s lively and informative wine blog Wine Folly. She recognizes that wine is fun and as women wine consumers, the more we know, the more we enjoy it.
Women are in the vineyards and the wineries. And they are in the classrooms of university programs, both as students and professors of enology and viticulture. They are in the culinary and restaurant and beverage management programs. They are guiding consumers in restaurants and retail. They are making purchasing decisions for statewide distributors and for importers.
One thing is for sure: women like wine. They do most of the wine purchasing. They have the most discerning palates. Wine is social and women tend to be social creatures. Wine oils the gears of conversation and it relaxes. In general, studies tell us women are more adventurous, and wine invites adventure; we need to embrace that adventure.
Did you know? Claret is the British name for the famous red blend of Bordeaux, a blend of up to five wine grapes: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet Franc and petit verdot. Try Guenoc Victorian Claret, a delicious red blend with a picture of Lily Langtry on the label.
Get Out There
Explore wines in the local restaurants. Plan a night out with the girls. Look for restaurants that serve “flights” of wine—usually smaller servings of three different wines that allow you to taste, compare, sample with your food, and discover what you like. When you ask the sommelier to help you choose, don’t be surprised if it’s a woman!
Explore wines in your local wine department. Hook up with a Wine Department that has a Wine Steward and have her help you put together a tasting you can have at home with your girlfriends. Have each guest bring an appetizer to pass and pair with the wines. The Wine Steward you can trust is a best friend. She’ll be dedicated to helping you discover just what you like.
Explore the Internet, wine blogs, wine apps, and get a wineversation going with your Facebook friends. Remember to snap bottle shots of the wines you like, or keep a little notebook for wines in your purse. You only need to jot down the winery or brand, the kind of wine, the year, and maybe what you ate with it, and how much you liked it.
Plan a monthly women’s wine Wednesday with friends or colleagues, a great way to get over the mid-week hump. Set aside one Wednesday a month to join other women over a glass of wine and some grazing food, appetizers, cheese and crackers, easy to prepare, easy to eat.
There is a wonderful world of wine for women warriors out there and this is the time for women and wine. Enjoy, share and learn!
WINE TERMS TO KNOW IN THIS ARTICLE
Sommelier (so-mel-yay): In the 18th century, a French court official charged with receiving and storing wine. In recent times, a manager in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service, a wine steward. Master Sommelier was founded by a member of the Court of Sommeliers in Britain in 1977.
Enology: the science, study, and production of wine.
Viticulture: the science, study and production of wine grapes.