Sunday, January 23, 2011

Women and Wine: A Feminist-Friendly Pairing?

by imnotme

This post is from Most Wine Is Good.

I'll answer the question first, and expound second.  Yes.  The world of wine is certainly an exemplary account of women breaking barriers and uniting for positive change.  The examples are numerous, and I'll get to some articles in a second which really flesh the issue out well, but I want to give an unusually informal mini-essay on the matter.

Firstly, I want to impress upon the reader that I am deeply concerned with social justice, and in the pursuit of a meaningless college degree I have had ample opportunity to study and analyze major issues and events which the United States has seen.  Slavery, freedom of religion/speech, capitalism (it wasn't the only option on the table), sexual equality, temperance, gay rights, etc., etc.  I've also had the honor of studying women's issues under the former National Women's Studies Association president, Judith Roy.  So the context I'm framing this whole issue from is one of historical struggles and triumphs.  (NERD ALERT: skip this post and read THIS instead... more facts)

With that said, wine was once a gentleman's club.  Actually, even that generalization is too modern.  Wine was once a disgusting, muddy, tart and somewhat rancid indulgence.  The refinement of which finally saw the courts of kings.  With financial backing from these kings, wine-makers began perfecting methods of producing more pleasurable and elegant wines.  As wine became a full blown commodity, monasteries grew eager (ctrl+F : monks ) to realize some of the profits, and began introducing wine-making as one potential life path for monks.  Since monastic life provided an abundance of time and a devoted workforce, monasteries began informing wine-making methods in general and came to produce some of the most sought after vintages.  Even though monasteries are strictly inhabited by men, this would certainly not be the peak of wine's patriarchal days.

Skipping ahead, grape vines from all over the world began traveling.  News of the greatness of a particular vine and it's geo-climate needs would spread and, with money, so would cuttings of the vine.  If successful, these traveling cuttings would yield brave new worlds in terms of blended wines and wines that could cellar longer due to increasing acidity levels and better fermentation practices.  As humankind around the globe began to clash and civilize, wine came to rule supreme (beer makes a comeback in the mid-1700's).

Colonial forces, primarily British, are somewhat to thank (though in no sense of nobility) for the further cultivation of what were becoming increasingly "fine wines".  I credit the British colonialists hesitantly as this occurs during a particularly dreadful time for the British in terms of human rights violations and all-out greed.  Their Empire ever-expanding, the British aimed to bring fine wine to any place Her Royal Army should lay base (this generously parallel's with the history of Tea and black pepper, to name a few).  This promulgation of wine across the British empire was the peak of wine's patriarchal days.

That we now have a Robinson for antiquity's Parker is clearer than a windsock indicating the feminist winds that have blown in since the dark days of male dominated wine-making.  In fact, vocal and respected female wine critics are more of a symptom than a condition.  The overall trend in wine today is that of a veritable takeover.  Some of the most important wineries in the world are run and maintained by powerful women.  Over recent decades women have become so influential in the world of wine that marketers now see that they have no choice but to bring on top paid female executives.  Women in today's wine industry can fill any role they desire with enough hard work (sure, maybe even harder work than men put in, but there's only anecdotal evidence of this), yet the wave only crests there, the full expanse of the social body of said wave is depicted very well in this article published by Food & Wine.

While it's true that women have proven to be both effective and innovative in the world of wine-making, evaluating and selling - like all other struggles women are currently engaged in, there is still a distance to travel to flat equality.  The nature of the struggle will likely vary by setting, but in each setting there will undoubtedly be a struggle.  For example, males and females in my local market are equally open to wine suggestions from either male or female retailers (exceptions exist), yet male servers (in restaurants or bars) are seen as having less culinary/wine-pairing authority as their female counterparts (exceptions exist).  Additionally, males tend to act as though price is less of a concern when choosing a wine than females.  Females are typically quick to name a price point and are usually suspicious of bottles costing more than $30, while males respond positively to higher priced wines and hesitate to name their cost-ceiling.

Those last couple of examples are fairly porous, but I trust you can see the point.  How men and women interact varies by setting, and this invariably affects the speed at which social roles change, as well as the impetuses that can cause such changes.  All things considered... make no mistake: women have an upward momentum in wine that is reaching a stronghold, and I think that's fantastic.  We've heard enough from men who declare sentiments such as, "Pinotage is as untenable as child rape (ctrl+F : pinotage)".

If I'm off on my historical lineage, citation or analysis, by all means email me at  I'll happily give you credit for any corrections I make, and would rather not have a public argument over it.  My take is: if your research is better, let's go with that!