The Door Opens to Women WinemakersA certain number of women winemakers, especially from California, are responsible for the wines that I select each year. Since I evaluate the wines first, I don’t know who the actual winemaker is unless that person owns the winery, and her name is on the label. So for a long time, my sense has been that wine-making is no longer overly dominated by men like it was in the past. A couple of Professors from Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, Lucia Albino Gilbert and husband John Carl Gilbert decided to evaluate the data and came up with some interesting conclusions. The perception that we have of gender parity among winemakers is wildly wrong and may be influenced by the acclaim that a large percentage of women winemakers have achieved relative to their numbers. Think Zelma Long, Helen Turley, Merry Edwards, Carol Shelton, Heidi Barret, Leslie Sisneros, Cathy Corison, among many others.

For some time, nearly half of the graduates of the best enology programs in California have been women. But winemakers are overwhelmingly male, representing a little over 90 percent of the total. If this situation is obscure to you and me, Professors Albino and Gilbert reasoned that women winemakers might be a more highly selected group than their male peers, and their accomplishments may lead us to believe that they represent far greater numbers in the field than actually exist. “Women who persist in male-dominated fields are reported to have high achievement motivation, ability, and self-efficacy, and often need to be more talented and hard-working than their male peers in order to be recognized as successful.”

In order to establish that women winemakers might be more accomplished, the study had to define winery quality. “We used data from Opus Vino,” they said in the synopsis of the study, “a major work authored by wine critics and writers, as evidence of winery quality.” Professors Albino and Gilbert explain that leading wine critics and wine writers worked as a team with the volume’s editor-in-chief, Jim Gordon, former managing editor of Wine Spectator and current editor of Wines & Vines Magazine. This team selected wineries for inclusion in the volume, based on “an accumulation of experiences with wineries in a particular wine region and tasting notes of wines from that region over a period of years.”

So are wineries with women winemakers more highly acclaimed than those with men? “According to our data, yes, they are more highly acclaimed.” To arrive at this answer, Albino and Gilbert counted the number of California wineries listed in Opus Vino together with the sex of the winemaker. “We then calculated the proportion of wineries in Opus Vino having women and men winemakers, proportional to their representation in the comprehensive database of 3200+ [California] winemakers.” The result was that “23% of California wineries with women winemakers were listed in Opus Vino as compared to 14.1% of wineries with male winemakers.”

In other words, the Zelma Longs, Helen Turleys, Heidi Barrets, and Cathy Corisons in the business, who get so much attention and acclaim, lead us to think that they represent a large group of women. Zelma Long, one of America’s best-known winemakers, commented, “I appreciate that Dr. Lucia Gilbert has provided professional quantification of those women’s talents that wine lovers have known intuitively. Clearly it will benefit our California wine industry to have women ever more present as winemakers and wine leaders in the coming years.” Cathy Corison, winemaker and owner of Corison Winery in Napa Valley, said, “It’s very gratifying to see the hard work and tenacity of so many talented women recognized. It’s been a long, bumpy road and a great ride.” Tell your daughters!