Happy International Women’s Day!! Let’s be honest, women deserve a national holiday. Simply put, we do and deal with a lot. We should celebrate women every day. Though how lovely is it to have an international holiday to call our own? While great strides have been made towards equality for women in the world, the wine industry is slowly but surely following suit. Winemaker Matilde Poggi of Le Fraghe in the Veneto says it best.
“First of all, my dream is to not be considered a woman winemaker, but simply a winemaker.”
When I decided to work as a cellar hand for the 2018 vintage, I will never forget how the cellar master responded. “Why would a girl like you want to do this? You know you’re going to have to get dirty, right?” To which I replied, “Why wouldn’t I?”
Happily, I have noticed an increasing number of women in top winemaking and leadership positions within the industry. Countless women in wine, both past and present, have achieved impressive accomplishments. Thus, inspiring other women to follow their dreams and increasing the number of women in wine.
In light of International Women’s Day, let’s raise a glass to these women and their impressive achievements! When it comes to women in wine, the following are some of my personal favorites.
Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin of Veuve Clicquot
No notable women in wine list would be complete without Madame Clicquot. Born in Reims to the Baron Nicolas Ponsardin, she married Francois Clicquot in 1798. For years, Francois shared his passion for Champagne production and distribution with his wife. Following Francois’ untimely death, Madame Clicquot assumed the head of the Champagne house.
In a time when women were not the least bit involved in the business world, this was a bold move to say the least. Madame Clicquot welcomed new opportunities and was unafraid to take risks, allowing her to expand Veuve Clicquot worldwide. Ever the innovator, Madame Clicquot invented the “table de remuage” (riddling table), currently used in Champagne and traditional method sparkling wine production the world over. She also produced the world’s very first blend of rosé Champagne. To the Grande Dame of Champagne!
Pascaline Lepeltier, MS
Pascaline Lepeltier grew up in the Loire Valley, France. She holds many titles, including Best Loire Valley Young Sommelier, Best Brittany Sommelier, and Best Sommelier in France from the famous Meilleur Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen of France) competition. Pascaline moved to New York City to become beverage director at Rouge Tomate where she managed a 2,000 bottle wine list filled with natural, organic, and biodynamic wines from around the world.
She was named amongst Wine & Spirits’ five best new sommeliers in 2011. Wine Enthusiast included Pascaline on their 40 Under 40 list in 2013 and she has been the recipient of numerous World of Fine Wine awards. Currently a managing partner and sommelier at Racines NY, Pascaline is also a co-author of The Dirty Guide to Wine with Alice Feiring and a co-producer of New York-based natural wine label Chëpìka. An impressive list of accolades, to say the least.
Delia Viader, Pioneering Howell Mountain Vintner
“I call myself the ‘Wine Mother’. I’m the mother of the vines; and the mother of the wines; and the mother of the winemaker.” – Delia ViaderViader
In the early 80’s at the age of 25 and with no experience in the wine industry, Delia Viader founded the family’s namesake winery on Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain. At the time, there were less than a handful of female winemakers in Napa. Argentinian by heritage, Delia moved to America from France. She accredits her upbringing in Europe to the fact that she was “oblivious, in a way, to the existence of any specific gender ‘glass ceiling.’ It just never occurred to me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t have the chance to do something because I was female.”
Following an in-depth proposal and business plan, Delia received the initial investment for the wine business from her father. She also solicited consultants to get started as she taught herself everything possible about winemaking and viticulture. Delia built a legendary winery from nothing while raising a family as a single parent, creating a long-lasting legacy for her family. Today, Delia has passed on the winemaking reigns to her son and Viader remains a close-knit family business. I so admired Delia’s ambition and drive, along with the legacy she created for her family!
Amanda Wittsrom-Higgins, VP of Operations at Ancient Peaks Winery, Founder of Dream Big Darling
Amanda Wittsrom-Higgins is a second-generation owner at Ancient Peaks Winery where she holds the title of VP of Operations. This acclaimed Central Coast winery farms 900 acres of vineyards in Paso Robles and produces a range of high-end and wallet friendly wines. Amanda’s scope of management includes brand development, distribution, events, and special projects.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Amanda also founded an organization called Dream Big Darling, whose mission is “to foster the success of women in the wine and spirits industry through mentorship, education, life enhancement and professional retreats.” This powerhouse of a woman is also a co-founder of Wine Speak Paso, a premier wine industry summit offering an opportunity for further education and industry insights. Amanda is definitely inspiring other women in wine to chase their dreams.
Jancis Robinson, OBE, MW
If you are even the least bit interested in the world of wine, then you have most definitely heard of Jancis Robinson. Furthermore, you have likely read one of her countless written works. Jancis is a British wine writer and wine critic. She has achieved the coveted Master of Wine title, among a few others. In 2003, Her Majesty the Queen awarded Jancis with an Order of the British Empire. She is now an advisor to the Queen’s wine cellar. A four-time James Beard Award winner, Jancis was also presented with France’s Officier du Mérite Agricole in 2016.
Daily writings from Jancis can be found on her namesake website, JancisRobinson.com. She is the founder and editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine, along with several other books considered to be benchmark references around the world. Wine Grapes is a complete guide to over 1,300 varieties, including their origins and flavors. Jancis co-authored The World Atlas of Wine with Hugh Johnson, of which 4.7 million copies have been sold. Additionally, she penned a paperback guide to the practical essentials of wine called The 24-Hour Wine Expert. Jancis also travels internationally hosting wine events as one of the most respected wine critics in the world. Thank you, Jancis, for your contributions to the wine world!