Facts and Figures Gathered in Our On-going Research on California Women Winemakers

Lucia Albino Gilbert, Ph.D., and John Carl Gilbert, Ph.D.
Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 95053

(Updated September 2022)

  1. How many California wineries today have a lead woman winemaker?**

    Of the 4200+ wineries in California, approximately 14% of them reported a woman as their lead winemaker in our 2020 study. This represents an increase from the 10% figure reported in our 2011 study. Both the 2011 and 2020 studies are posted on womenwinemakers.com under the heading, Books/Studies. NB: in our studies, lead winemakers are those winemakers who have the primary responsibility for producing wine at a winery or winemaking facility.

  2. Weren't 10% of California winemakers women in 1890? Has so little progress been made toward increasing the percentage of female winemakers?

    This oft-quoted statistic has been attributed to the journalist William F. Heintz (1933-2012), who wrote two books on the history of Napa Valley. Neither book makes any mention of this 10% figure, however. Both books describe the small number of women who became winery owners following the death of their spouse. A few of these owners were thought to be active in winemaking. It was not until the 1960s that progress began to be made.

  3. What is the best-guess scenario for the expected progress in the next decade for CA winemakers who are women?

    A case study using data from only those recognized California wineries with open positions between 1999 and 2014 indicates a best-guess scenario of 21 percent. The case study is posted on womenwinemakers.com under the heading Book/Studies.

  4. Who is the first recognized woman winemaker in California?

    Hannah Weinberger is the first recognized woman winemaker in California. After her husband's death in 1882, she became the first female winery owner and winemaker in Napa Valley. She ran the Weinberger winery until Prohibition laws closed it in 1920. The winery and homestead are on the National Register of Historic Places.

    During this same time period, Eliza Shaw Hood, Ellen Stuart, and Kate Warfield in the Sonoma Valley also became winery owners following the death of their spouses and petitioned to gain the legal right to operate as female proprietors of their estates.

    Josephine Tychson of Freemark Abbey, a contemporary of Weinberger in Napa, was a winery owner, but not a winemaker. She completed the family winery in 1886, following the death of her spouse, and operated the winery until 1894. In 2020, Ted Edwards, its head winemaker for the past 40 years, selected Kristy Melton to carry the baton forward as head winemaker, becoming the only female winemaker in the winery’s history.

  5. Who are among the pioneering women winemakers in the 1960s and 1970s?

    Mary Ann Graf, the first woman to receive an enology degree from UC Davis, is the first woman winemaker of the modern era. Graf, who received her degree in 1965, first worked as chemist and assistant winemaker with Gibson Wine Co. in Central Valley before being appointed winemaker at Simi Winery in Healdsburg in 1973. She was followed at UC Davis by Zelma Long in 1970, whose first position was at Robert Mondavi, Barbara Lindblom in 1972, Merry Edwards in 1973, Sandra Belcher in 1974, Milla Handley in 1975, Alison Doran-Green in 1976, Julianne Laks in 1977, and Cathy Corison, Carol Shelton, and Jill Davis in 1978. Each of these modern-era pioneers is an esteemed winemaker and a leader in the field. NB: Mary Ann Graf and Milla Handley died in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

    For more information, see the article "California's Trailblazing Women Winemakers: The First 20 Years (1965 through 1984)" posted on womenwinemakers.com under the heading, Our Studies, as well as our book, Women Winemakers: Personal Odysseys (2020).

  6. Who are the women winemakers who have been inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame?

    To date, three women have been inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame: Carol Meredith in 2009, Zelma Long in 2010, and Merry Edwards in 2013. This represents 6.25% of all those who have been inducted. NB: no additional members have been inducted since 2014.

  7. Who are the first woman winemakers and winery owners in California to have their own name on their labels?

    • 1982: Milla Handley made her first Handley Cellars Chardonnay under the Handley label in Mendocino.
    • 1984: Merry Edwards left Matanzas Creek to devote herself full time to consulting and Merry Vintners, a small winery that she and her family founded in the Russian River Valley. In 1997, she co-founded a business venture that allowed her to produce Merry Edwards wines in Sonoma County.
    • 1986: Delia Viader founded Viader Vineyards in Napa Valley. Her first vintage was 1989, when she produced 1,200 cases of wine.
    • 1987: Cathy Corison made the first vintage of Corison Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley.
    • 1989: Lane Tanner instituted the Lane Tanner label in Santa Barbara County.
    • 1989: Marty Bannister established Bannister Wines in the Russian River Valley AVA.
    • 1997: Iris Rideau was the first black woman to own a winery in the United States, Rideau Vineyard in Solvang, Santa Barbara County.
    • 1997: Pam Starr partnered with Charlie Crocker to establish the Crocker & Starr label in the Napa Valley, resurrecting an historic winemaking estate.

  8. Do the various wine regions in California vary in the percentage of lead women winemakers?**

    Yes, the percentage varies significantly by wine region. Our 2020 study evidences the increasing percentage of lead women winemakers in the Sonoma/Marin and South Central Coast (San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties) wine regions, which are both now at approximately 17%. In the Napa Valley, that percentage is approximately 12%. The percentages are considerably lower in the remaining wine regions.

  9. Do well-known winemakers craft wine for more than one winery?**

    Yes, a significant proportion of well-known women and men winemakers craft wine for more than one winery and are listed as the lead winemaker for more than one winery.

  10. Are the production ranges of wineries with female vs. male winemakers different?**

    No, the production ranges of California wineries with female and male lead winemakers are quite similar. According to Wines & Vines Analytic, 2020, approximately 2% of these wineries produce more than 500,000 cases; 4% in the 50,000–499,999 case range, 17% in the 5,000–49,999 case range, 34% in the 1,000–4,999 case range, and 45% in the less than 1000 case range.

  11. What percentage of California wineries has a woman as an owner or co-owner?**

    According to our research, female ownership or co-ownership represents at least 38% of California wineries. Our 2020 study is posted on womenwinemakers.com under the heading, Our Studies.

  12. What percentage of California wineries have a lead woman or man winemaker who is also the winery owner?

    Among all California wineries, there is a much smaller percentage of lead women winemakers overall (14% vs. 86%) and thus also a smaller proportion of female than male lead winemakers are also owners of their wineries (6% vs. 35%). Among those wineries with lead women winemakers, 47% are both owners and winemakers; among those with men winemakers, the figure is 41%.

  13. Opus Vino is a widely cited and credible source of winery quality and a reflection of winemaker acclaim. How many women winemakers of California are included in Opus Vino?

    Proportional to their representation in the field (i.e., 14% women, 86% men), we found that 23% of wineries with women lead winemakers were listed in Opus Vino compared to 14% of wineries with male lead winemakers. In addition, although men who are winemaker/owners are far more numerous among California wineries, a higher percentage of women owners/winemakers, proportional to their presence in the field, were among those wineries included in Opus Vino. Our study, “Women Winemaker Acclaim,” is posted on womenwinemakers.com under the heading, Book/Studies.

  14. Is there additional evidence about women receiving increased acclaim for their wines?

    Yes, three key sources provide additional evidence.

    (1) Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Wineries

    Twenty percent of the California wineries listed in Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Wineries were led by women winemakers for four consecutive years: 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. The percentage had been less than 10% in previous years.

    • 2019: Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace (South Central Coast), Cathy Corison of Corison Winery (Napa), René Ary of Duckhorn Vineyards (Napa), and Theresa Heredia of Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery (Sonoma).
    • 2020: Cathy Corison of Corison Winery (Napa), Jill DelaRiva Russell and Denise Shurtleff of Cambria Estate Winery (South Central Coast), René Ary of Duckhorn Vineyards, (Napa) and Theresa Heredia of Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery (Sonoma).
    • 2021: Diana Snowden Seysses of Ashes & Diamonds (Napa), Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards (Sonoma), René Ary of Duckhorn Vineyards (Napa), and Tracey Brandt of Donkey & Goat (North Central Coast).
    • 2022: Cathy Corison of Corison Winery (Napa), Kristen Barnhisel (co-winemaker) of J Lohr (South Central Coast), Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards (Sonoma), Maggie Kruse of Jordan Vineyard & Winery (Sonoma), and René Ary of Duckhorn Vineyards (Napa).

    (2) Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Cellar Selections Globally

    Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Cellar Selections Globally included 19 California wineries in 2019, 18 in 2020, and 20 in 2021. In each of these three years, 20% of the wineries included were led by women winemakers. In the previous years, the percentage was less than 11%.

    • 2019: Akiko Freeman of Freeman Wine Estates (Sonoma), Cathy Corison of Corison Winery (Napa), Molly Bohlman of Niner Wine Estates (South Central Coast), and René Ary of Duckhorn Vineyards (Napa).
    • 2020: Brittany Sherwood of Heitz Cellars (Napa), Jordan Fiorentini of Epoch Estate Wines (South Central Coast), Merry Edwards and Heidi von der Mehden of Merry Edwards Winery (Sonoma), and Sarah Quider of Ferrari-Carrano (Sonoma).
    • 2021: Avery Heelan of Larkmead Vineyards (Napa), Jessica Koga of Schramsberg Vineyards and Davies Vineyards (Napa), Theresa Heredia of Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery (Sonoma), and Theodora Lee of Theopolis Vineyards (Mendocino).

    (3) Wine Spectator (WS) Top 100 List for 2020 and 2021

    In both 2020 and 2021, 26% of the California wines listed in WS top 100 wines were crafted by women winemakers, the highest percentage to date. The WS 26% figures are consistent with the findings reported in (1) and (2) above.

    In 2021, of the 100 wines listed, 23 were from California. Of these, 6 (26%) were crafted by women winemakers.

    • #3 Brittany Sherwood of Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Martha's Vineyard 2016
    • #43 Carol Shelton of Carol Shelton Wines Zinfandel Mendocino County Wild Thing Old Vine 2018
    • #52 Diana Snowden Seysses of Snowden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Brothers Vineyard 2018
    • #77 Helen Turley of Marcassin Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Marcassin Vineyard 2014
    • #39 Helen Keplinger Vermillion Sierra Foothills-Sonoma County 2017
    • #70 Pauline Lhote of Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé California

    In 2020, of the 19 California wines included, five of the wines (26%) were crafted by women winemakers. The winemakers were René Ary of Duckhorn Vineyards (Napa), Sarah Gott of Joel Gott Wines (Napa), Sarah Wuethrich of Maggy Hawk (Anderson Valley), Megan Gunderson of Hall Wines (Napa), and Linda Trotta of Reata (Napa).

    In summary, the percentages calculated from these three well-known sources of wine quality are consistent with our earlier Opus Vino study that reported, proportional to their representation in the field, wineries with lead women winemakers receive greater acclaim. Only some 14% of California wineries report having a lead woman winemaker but 20% to 26% of the wineries included in these reputable "Top Lists" have lead women winemakers, further supporting, and illuminating, the greater recognition accorded to these winemakers.

  15. Are there California members of the African-American Vintners Association who are women?

    Yes, there are several including Theodora Lee, Theopolis Vineyards, and the McBride Sisters.

    Note that a guide to Black owned wineries in the U.S. is available. The guide lists wineries, not winemakers.

  16. **********
    **These percentages are derived from our California winery comprehensive database, developed in August 2011 and revised first in December 2013 from data provided by Wines & Vines Analytics about the wineries in California, and then again in 2020, from the same source.

    For more detail, please see the research studies listed under the heading, Book/Studies, on this website.