Since International Women’s Day 2016 is upon us, I thought I’d take the opportunity to give a shout out to some groundbreaking, super inspiring women in the world of wine past and present.
1. Dolores Sala Vivé
In 1911 Dolores married Pedro Ferrer Bosch in Catalunya and this union paved the way for the creation of Freixenet, which today is one of the giants in Catalan cava production. Don’t think that it was Pedro who did all the hard work, though. Dolores’ family were renowned for the Sala wine distribution company and Dolores put her talent and knowledge of winemaking to excellent use in a new vinous venture. Together the couple started producing cava in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia under the label Freixenet.
Life didn’t run smooth for Dolores, though. Pedro and her oldest son lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War and Dolores found herself running the company alone during the tumultuous postwar period. This period was a dark time for many in Spain and in Catalunya in particular, and Dolores faced great challenges as a woman trying to do business under the repressive, conservative Franco regime. Remarkably, she was able to expand the business and Freixenet soon gained enormous popularity. In 1941 she launched the “Carta Nevada” cava which is the company’s most sold sparkler. It is thanks to Dolores that the Freixenet brand is known and loved across the world.
2. Susana Balbo
Moving on to a country that is close to my heart, I couldn’t draw up a list of women in wine without including an Argentine. Despite the constrictions the conservative social and political climate placed on women, Susana became the first ever female Argentine to receive an enology degree in enology in 1981. In 1999 she started her own winery in Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza after working a string of highly-regarded Argentine wine producers including Catena Zapata.
Since then her wines have won numerous awards and are popular in Argentina and beyond. She also carries the honours for Argentine women as the first to offer consultancy to wineries across the world.
3. Antonia Adelaide Ferreira
Going back in time again, the woman in the none-too flattering image above is Antonia Ferreira from Portugal. Antonia had inherited vast vineyards from her family but it was only when she became a widow in 1804 aged just 33 that she could to start to make her mark on the wine world. Antonia would become the largest exporter of port, and she forged close business connections with England which had a voracious port appetite in the 19th century. Antonia was especially remembered for her compassion to her workers in times of difficulty like the devastation caused by Phylloxera. She travelled to England where she studied techniques to combat the virus which she brought back to Portugal. Interestingly, Antonia also played a big role in increasing the reputation of Portuguese wine within the country itself; at the time Portugal was actually importing large quantities of wine from neighbouring Spain. Her legacy still lives on today with the Quinta do Vallado which is still in the hand of her descendants.
4. Sarah Morphew Stephen
My final pick for this celebration of female wine celebs is a rather obvious choice but it has much to say about the position of women in wine today . In 1970 Sarah Morphew Stephen became the first woman to achieve the much-coveted Master of Wine title. In an interview with The Times the Institute of Masters of Wine’s executive director, Penny Richards, said, “At school she wrote a letter to a prestigious producer in Portugal asking about a career. They wrote back and said, ‘No, we don’t think it’s a place for women.’” (Read more about women and the IMW in the original article here.)
Sarah’s inclusion in this list is crucial because it reminds us how recently women have achieved recognition at the highest levels of the industry. It is undeniable that historically women have been involved in the wine industry at all levels, but it is only today that the playing field is becoming a bit more level thanks to some of the groundbreakers listed here.
If you want to read more about women in wine, why not head over to an article on “The feminisation of wine” by the queen of wine herself, Jancis Robinson. Don’t miss her list of favourite female winemakers.
Let’s finish with a toast to women in wine, past, present and future! Feel free to add any women in wine who inspire you in the comments.