I like to think that I am fairly genderblind when it comes to professions. But, when I saw the Women Winemakers website and recently released book, I got to thinking. Karen and I have been seriously interested in wine for over 30 years. Over that time, we have gotten to know dozens of winemakers. But, to be honest, very few of them have been women. I can only think of a few that we can say we know personally (Janell Dusi of J Dusi Wines, Jordan Fiorentini of Epoch Estate Wines, Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wine Company and Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz come to mind) and I expect that not all of them would admit to knowing us.
The website’s official title is Women Winemakers of California and Beyond. Per the website: “The primary goal of our searchable web-based resource is to illuminate the lead women winemakers of California wineries, those who have primary responsibility for producing the wine…Our new…Beyond California section of the site illuminates the lead women winemakers in international wine areas we have visited…”
The “search” feature of the site is especially fun to use, to look up information on the winemakers who I do know, those who I have just heard of, and those who are new to me.
Women Winemakers is the brainchild of Lucia Albino Gilbert, Ph.D. (Professor Emerita of Psychology at Santa Clara University and Professor Emerita of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin) and John Carl (Jack) Gilbert, Ph.D. (Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Santa Clara University and at the University of Texas at Austin).
Dr. Lucia Gilbert’s studies of women’s career paths in male-dominated fields, Dr. John Gilbert’s expertise in organic chemistry and their love of wine resulted in the Women Winemakers website. I asked Lucia and Jack if they could elaborate:
“During our years on the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin, we were close friends with wine aficionados who were financially able to purchase excellent European and California wines. They often invited us to join them for dinner, and they encouraged us to develop our palates for wine. When we relocated to California, joining the faculty at Santa Clara University, we were already quite familiar with California wines but only knew of male winemakers.
We had read, and were told by staff at many of the wineries we visited, that there were many lead women winemakers in California, but these many individuals were not able to identify any women winemakers other than Helen Turley and Heidi Barrett. We were surprised, to say the least, and decided that this was an important area to study. Given that Lucia’s research focused on women working in male-dominated fields, of which winemaking is certainly one, we set out to identify the women winemakers with the intent of learning about their experiences and how it compared to women in engineering, another applied science field with relatively few women. To do this, we developed an extensive and comprehensive database to obtain the actual number of lead women winemakers in California’s then 3200+ wineries. We found that only 9.8% of the lead winemaking positions were held by women, a percentage that was surprising to the wine industry and has now been widely cited in the field.
Having identified the lead women winemakers, we decided that it was important for others to know who they are, and hence developed our website, California Women Winemakers of California, which we later expanded to include lead women winemakers in other important international wine regions.”
Expanding beyond the information in the website, the Drs. Gilbert have recently released their new book Women Winemakers: Personal Odysseys which allows them to take the project further, with the stated goal “to make women winemakers more visible.” Researched over several years, the book tells the stories of several women winemakers both in and out of California, focusing on two primary questions:
First, “When did you know you loved wine?” and then determining which of four pathways best described the winemaker’s career – Sensory [coming to love wine from the aromas of food and wine; Family [coming to love wine while growing up in a winemaking family]; Science/Agronomy [coming to love wine from a grounding in science or agronomy]; or Enology [coming to love wine while formally studying enology].
The resulting conversations with winemaking luminaries such as MaryAnn Graf, Zelma Long, Merry Edwards, Cathy Corison, Carol Shelton, Mia Klein, Angela Osborne, to name just a few, were not just fascinating in their own right but also in how the various women winemakers’ careers had intersected. This was brought home to me early in the book with a photo from the Robert Mondavi Winery from the 1970s that included both Zelma Long and Carol Shelton, among others. The conversations extended well beyond those two questions and into their entire careers. Reading how they coped with the challenges of working in traditionally male roles brought out not only the variety of approaches used but also that gender-blindness is not as common as I’d like to think it is.
Check out the website here:
And the book is available here:
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 30 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. Michael is also President of MCP Financial, which provides outsourced controller services. Michael can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.