Based in the Finger Lakes and writing about wine in the 1990s, I remember when the region’s first female winemaker in history was hired. It was a big deal.
Fast forward to last year, when I attended a trade conference with a panel discussion of experienced winemakers. The fact that half the panel was women did not seem to strike anyone as extraordinary. That’s progress.
The wine industry in the last century had been treated as male-only work, a view more extreme in some other countries. While the industry has far from equal representation, the strides made in the last 20 years have been great and at great effort.
Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought we could check in at some producers where women are in decision-making positions.
Melissa Burr was born, raised and educated in Oregon, which is helpful in that clannish industry. One of her first jobs was at the upstart Stoller Family Estates in 2002 while the winery went from zero to 17,000 cases. She knew every barrel and bolt in the place and eventually became head winemaker.
Stoller Family Estate 2018 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rose is a lively wine, with some straightforward, fresh strawberry and a feather-light, crisp finish. This lean wine also is food-friendly. $19. ★★★★ 1/2
Alexandra Boudrot studied winemaking in Dijon and consulted on sustainable practices in France before becoming cellarmaster at Alsatian producer Pierre Sparr.
The elegant, dry Pierre Sparr 2017 Grand Reserve Riesling Alsace smells of Asian pear with a hint of lime with a smooth mineral finish. $16. ★★★★
Susana Balbo of Argentina earned her degree in nuclear physics, but when her family refused to let her leave the family business of grape-growing, she studied winemaking. In 1981, she become the first trained female winemaker in the country. She has her own brand and line of wines, including the entry-level Crios.
The Crios Mendoza Malbec is bold and spicy with berry and cherry character plus ripe fruit and oakiness. $11. ★★★ 1/2
But avoid vintages prior to 2017, which are out there. Or, try the higher-end Susan Balbo Signature Series.
Women in wine is about more than gender parity — it’s about a diversity of perspectives in the cellar and recognition that women purchase most of the wine.
GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below average ★★, Poor ★.