On March 8th, 2021, International Women's Rights Day, some insights are needed on the place of women in wine. Prejudices, old beliefs... What about today?
Wine has a long history in which women have long been sidelined, under absurd pretexts. In the 18th century bourgeois society, for example, "honorable women" were not to consume wine, nor even to uncork a bottle, let alone serve it, a synonym of absolute impropriety. Another example in the last century, where women were prohibited from entering cellars during their period of menstruation, on the pretext that they would turn the wine into vinegar. An aberration that we still hear sometimes.
Many of these beliefs are still visible, as Silvia Heinrich, oenologist and owner of the Austrian winery J. Heinrich, attests: “My parents did not want me to become a winegrower, and still believe today that it is not a women profession”, she regrets. Elected oenologist of the year in 2014, Silvia Heinrich is recognized worldwide as one of the great figures of Blaufränkisch, the emblematic red grape of Austria.
In France, women are increasingly present in the wine sector, and in 2019 represented one in three vineyard managers, as well as a third of oenologists. However, this is far from the case in other countries where women are often left behind. In Australia, for example, the number of women in the wine industry is estimated at less than 10%. Another example with South Africa, where to overcome the difficulties of integrating women and black populations into the wine industry (another equally important subject), women created Women In Wine, the first wine producer company run entirely by women.
Even today, prejudices rooted in the agricultural professions stand in the way of the female gender, as witnessed by Alix Bern, cellar master at Château Couhins, who looks back on her recent winemaking experience in Lebanon : “The first day of harvest, a truck arrives with boxes of 10kg of grapes, I begin to take out the boxes when the transporter starts filming me. In Lebanon, women do not do agricultural jobs, considered too physical, and this transporter was very surprised to see me handling it, to the point of immortalizing this moment on video“.
For a long time, women have fought for technical positions and to be heard in the world of wine, putting aside their own sensitivity, to establish themselves as a "male equal". The challenge for these women today is to gain legitimacy, to express themselves, to manage, to create, without being compared to male methods and visions.
They represent caring communities, where women have the opportunity to express themselves freely, to share ideas and to jointly promote their vision of wine.
This article, co-written by Sarah Lagarde and Jean-Baptiste Ancelot, is neither a criticism nor a praise, but an observation and a tribute. One observation, for the collective awareness: it is always good to recall the facts. A tribute to all these women we have the chance to meet every day - winemakers, cellar masters, sommeliers, wine merchants, journalists, bloggers… - and who put their passion, energy and talent at the service of wine.