I have always felt that wine is an illuminating lens into the history of a place and a people. Similarly, wine is in many ways a social commentary. There is certainly class stratification within wine, whether those “in the business” actually acknowledge it or not. Within the world of wine, there are also issues of biases and wine has a long way to go before female winemakers, winemakers of color, and LGBT winemakers are afforded the opportunities to truly show what they can do in the vineyards and in the cellars. For me, any honest effort to travel and learn about people and places requires acknowledgment of these facts. Certainly some of the lack of equality and diversity within wine has been due to history and the way vineyards were passed to father and son, or father to son-in-law, but that does not account for the very long way wine has to go to properly diversify.
Some wine publications have recently made lists of their top female winemakers in X region in honor of women’s history month. Sure, it’s a fun idea to make lists like this and I enjoy reading them, but I also often finish those lists and think to myself about any number of others who should have, or could have made the list. I can’t help but wonder why “she” wasn’t on the list? I am hoping that I can avoid a bit of that by creating my own list of favorite female winemakers from around the world – my personal top 5 of favorite wineries run by female winemakers, and an additional list of 5 other female winemakers whose wines I hope to try some day. I will caveat this list by stating at the outset it is not exhaustive and is down to my personal tastes, my budget, and some special wines I wish to try in the future. Some of the greatest wines in the world are made by women, but are out of reach for me (read $$$). That doesn’t mean I don’t want to try them if I ever get the chance. Lastly, I’ve included some regions I hope have a larger female presence in the near future. Admittedly these are Old World-focused lists. That is largely down to the fact that the New World has been somewhat more inclusive and less set in the patriarchy of Europe.
Outside the Pegau Tasting Room
Top Five Favorite Female-led Wineries (in no particular order)
- Stella di Campalto – she is making Brunello unlike any other for me. Her wines are aromatic and pure in a way I have never experienced from others in the region. Sadly, the wines from Stella di Campalto are becoming more difficult to find and increasingly cost-prohibitive.
- Lopez de Heredia – many fans of this classic and now en vogue estate may not realize that these wines are being made by the sister duo Maria Jose and Mercedes. These wines will always have a special place for me personally because Lopez was my first ever winery visit.
- Simon Bize – Chisa Bize has been at the helm in Savigny-les-Beaune since 2013, after the sudden death of her husband, Patrick. The domaine is in excellent hands, and it seems that these wines have gone from underrated to benchmarks in a few years. These are Pinots from a lesser appellation, but are total class for me.
- Domaine du Pegau – Laurence Feraud is producing one of the premier, old school style wines of Chateauneuf du Pape. She is making wines that manage both power and grace, in a region that sometimes has difficulty striking that balance or reigning in the heat of alcohol levels. There is nothing more intriguing in a wine than aromatics that blend bouquets of red fruit and earthy, meatiness. The Pegau wines have that in spades.
- Podere Le Boncie – well before it was fashionable, Giovanna Morganti at Podere Le Boncie made her flagship wine “Le Trame” from mostly Sangiovese grapes (around 90%) and a finished blend that includes native Italian and Tuscan grape varietals. Morganti’s wines are perfumed and bright expressions of Sangiovese. Morganti opted to leave the Chianti Classico consorzio several years ago and has focused on creating what she believes to be true to the terroir of Castelnuovo Berardenga property.
Wineries I Hope to Try
- Bartolo Mascarello – the wines from this cantina are considered top of the class in Piedmont. Maria Teresa Mascarello has been at the helm for a long time, and taken the winery to new heights though many had doubts she could live up to her father’s reputation. I am so eager to enjoy it in the near future.
- Domaine Leroy – Lalou Bize-Leroy is a flat-out powerhouse. Leroy is without question one of the top domaines of Burgundy, and just one of three that Lalou spearheads. She has a notoriously unrelenting attention to detail and oversees every single step in the vineyard management and winemaking process.
- Chiara Boschis – in just one year, I first learned about Chiara Boschis, it seems that her Barolo bottlings have garnered much fanfare. Along with that, unfortunately, the prices of her wines have increased substantially. Now may be the time to try these wines before they are too far out of reach.
- Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet – Amelie Berthaut has quickly gained attention for turning out quality wines from Fixin, a village that has nearly fallen of the entire landscape of Burgundy. These wines are still relatively affordable and I have sought them out recently.
- Chateau d’Yquem – quite possibly the greatest Sauternes to be found. Sandrine Garbay is the cellar master for the chateau. I have learned to appreciate the beauty of sweet wines, and this is high on the list of wines I hope to try.
As women continue to break through the cellar doors and join the ranks of elite winemakers of the world, I hope to see more women working with the Syrah grape. Particularly in the Northern Rhone, where Syrah has such a special expression, it would be wonderful to see what women can do with the grape in that place. I’m also excited for more women to start producing Champagne. While it was a woman who invented the method, large, male-dominated houses have historically powered Champagne. Now that small growers have gained acclaim and consumers are seeking out these wines, I am looking forward to the prospect of more women making Champagne.