Women Winemakers: Personal Odysseys

Distinguished Wine Writer Miquel Hudin Gives “Women Winemakers: Personal Odysseys” a Positive Review

We're at a point in time where anyone who pulls out the "Some women in wine!" listicle on International Women's Day needs to be shamed. Actually, I take that back, they need to be pilloried now that Lucia Albino Gilbert and her husband, John C. Gilbert, have released a proper reference on this very subject. Their book, "Women Winemakers: Personal Odysseys" is a well-researched, detailed text that covers key women in various wine regions throughout the world by letting them speak directly with their own voices.

The structure is overall laid out a bit like an academic research thesis wherein they provide the background on the initial women to start making wine. This has all been set in the second half of the 20th century, given that before, it was just a male dominion.

They then follow up by how women in winemaking developed over the next decades by talking to women in several other countries outside the US (although California is the main region due to the origin of the project being a website focused there), including Catalunya's Penedès and Priorat. And then they end by talking to women who came into winemaking during this period and ask them to contrast how it's a very different situation than it used to be.

All in all, it was quite interesting to hear from women who came of winemaking age during this period. As it's just been in the last few decades, not only are these key women still alive, but many are still making wine so it was a perfect moment for the Gilberts to get firsthand accounts, as a number of them start shifting into retirement and a new generation is taking their place. I will admit that the text is a bit dry at moments, as it's structured more academically, which isn't a coincidence as both the authors are professors and scholars. But at 250 pages, it works very well to provide a base of information (including very useful charts and analysis) as opposed to the narrative kind of approach to the subject. But if you want a book that documents this quite large shift in wine production over the last 50 years, I can think of no better source.

Note: Hudin's stars for books are the same as for wines in that: one star is a book that's fine and people may find value in and is okay, like a wine in the 80 point-range, two stars is one that brings something new to the table and is a book that people should look into like a wine in the 90–94 point range, and three stars is something that anyone involved in wine should have, like a wine rated at 95 points and up. 

Miquel Hudin is an award-winning wine writer and publisher of the Vinologue wine travel books. Originally from California, he now resides in Catalunya, Spain.

Mike Veseth, Editor of The Wine Economist, writes that "Women Winemakers" makes a distinctive contribution to our understanding and appreciation of global wine.

The professors Gilbert view wine from a different perspective that I find particularly interesting. Wine is made by people—men and women—but not in equal proportions. Men have traditionally dominated the winemaking field and women have only risen significantly in the last generation or so.

The Gilberts want to understand this phenomenon and their book provides observations based on interviews with selected leading women winemakers in California; Champagne, France; Piemonte, Italy; Rioja, Priorat, and Penèdes, Spain; the Douro Valley, Portugal; and Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

The interviews make good reading on their own as they give a sense of the barriers and opportunities that each woman confronted.

There are lots of stories here, but the big story is simply to make these women winemakers visible—to shine a light on them—and so to inspire other women to follow in their footsteps (or maybe forge their own paths).

This is a scholarly volume, but not a stuffy or boring one. The Gilberts are careful to allow their subjects to speak for themselves as much as possible. These are important voices and the Gilberts do a great service by giving them this opportunity to be heard.

Mike Veseth is editor of The Wine Economist and a noted author. His books on wine include Wine Wars (2011).

Perlis Picks: Women Winemakers

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. 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.

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 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.

Michael Perlis is Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101.

T. Healy: Women in the The Evolving Wine Industry

In 1965 Mary Ann Graf became the first woman to graduate from UC Davis in Fermentation Science. In 1973 she became the woman in California to hold the title of Winemaker when she took that position at Simi. Her story, and that of a host of women who followed in her path as Winemakers is told in Women Winemakers: Personal Odysseys by Lucia and John Gilbert. The Gilberts traveled around California, as well as to France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and New Zealand, interviewing many of these women pioneers. Today about 10% of the winemaker positions in California are held by women, and more are coming into the position.

But the book is more than their story. It also outlines the various (four) pathways that Winemakers take to reach their goal. This will be of interest to all of us who enjoy the pleasures of wine.

Finally, the book can be an inspiration to any girl or young woman who is striving to enter a field not traditionally open to women. I see the book as a potential birthday, or whatever holiday, gift to a young woman, a gift that sends the message "you go for it".

This review was posted on Amazon.

Sherwin Davidson: Book to be Admired

I just finished reading your book. You've done a masterful job creating an easily understandable approach to a compendium of information. While your focus is of course the women's stories, you also supply a feel for some of the dynamics of their lives and their styles, and you identify their awards while at the same time putting the winemakers in the context of their cultures, their geographies. While the individual stories are important, it's not the specifics of the personal odysseys that matter. It's how you give them meaning and significance.

You struck a tone that is respectful and appreciative, one that communicates the remarkable contributions the women featured have made on behalf of women to come. Your effectively described studies speak for themselves. I especially like your presentation in Chapter 10, The Women Who Are Leading. You leave the reader with a very well-stated understanding of "Why So Long", a cogent reminder of your purpose, and a realistic, if measured optimistic picture of what is possible.

Sherwin Davidson is an Independent Scholar and Professor Emerita of Psychology, Portland State University.