The Perspectives of Women Winemakers in Abruzzo
Talks About a Love of Wine, Feminism, and the Battle of the Sexes
Despite numerous articles arising about women who make wine, women are still a vast minority in the winemaking field, especially when it comes to head positions. A study by Lucia Albino Gilbert (Ph.D. Department of Psychology, Santa Clara University)discusses how only 9.8 percent of California wineries have a woman winemaker as their lead, or primary, winemaker.
That statistic is even more surprising when we realize that women make up more than 50% of those enrolled in Oenology studies. So why do only a small percentage of women end-up holding a job in the field, and will it or will it not change in the nearest future?
Throughout my travels to various wine regions, I came across some of these talented women we speak of above and learned about the industry challenges they are currently facing, but more importantly, I wanted to understand what are they doing to support each other and make a difference towards helping minorities getting a fair chance in the winemaking industry.
About being the first and daring!
In the beautiful region of Abruzzo in Italy, I met Valentina Di Camillo - the winemaker of Tenuta I Fauri. She comes from generations of winemakers, but none of the women in her family have made wines previous to her. “I am the first woman winemaker in my family” describes Di Camillo, “I grew up in the vineyards, with a plastic box under my feet to be taller and to be able to harvest.”
Vineyards of Abruzzo
Despite her natural passion for winemaking, Di Camillo's first completed a Chemistry degree to become a pharmacist. “I mean looking all around me there were no women involved in the wine business. Winemakers were generally men of 50-60 years old, self- satisfied and very confident. So far from who I am or was.”
After several years Di Camillo took the path to become a winemaker. “When I started it was quite tough, men saw women as being less capable in the wine business. You must be physically strong to go up and down from the tanks, and some people seemed to think that there was a deep connection between your physical power and the wine you made. But wine is not about “physical strength” – winemakers’ job is to taste and advice, and women can do that just as well as men.”
Valentina Di Camillo
A day after I met Valentina Di Camillo I came across Stephania Pepe, the winemaker and owner of Azienda Agri Bio Vitivinicola: A woman with an energy and enthusiasm that fills the room.
Stefania Pepe started her thesis about Organic Wine-making in 1989. In 1991 she presented it to the government for funding: “They disapproved and replied that five billion lire for a winery that produced organic wine (a non-recognized method at that time) all created and managed by a single woman, is insufficient social structure.”
When I asked her what was the reaction from society, on her being a woman (a single woman at that time) and starting her wine project? She replied: “Everyone said I am crazy! But I didn’t care. Every person who starts something new is called crazy!”
Do women make different wines than men?
“I find that women and men make wines of different style,” says Valentina Di Camillo, “Men create quite big, robust, and powerful wines - wines that are produced to win medals. I prefer wines that are more harmonic, genuine, expressive, elegant, but friendly. Great personality does not necessarily mean big muscles, concentration, nor power. I think that women pay more attention to details and are more sensitive. In general, we (women) tend to like natural flavours more and make wines that are free to express themselves. Whatever they have to express.”
Tenuta I Fauri Pecorino
“We have a different touch when it comes to winemaking" explains Stefania Pepe, “The wines I created at my father’s wine cellar were much more elegant and rounder than my father’s wines. My customer recognized my wines during tastings and felt the difference not only on the palate but on the nose as well.”
The changes that have been achieved, and what didn’t change but should!
Women like Stephania Pepe and Valentina Di Camillo paved the way for young women who are interested in entering the field. “The attitude has changed quite a lot,” says Di Camillo, “Once you have earned some respect everything is much easier, but you must study and be prepared to fight hard for that respect at the start of your career. Women who are starting now have it much easier than a generation ago.”
Stefania Pepe acknowledges the growth but still sees the need for much more progress. “The wine industry is definitely male-dominated; it always was,” says Stefania Pepe, “When I started I was disappointed because the workers of my father were not listening to me - because I am a woman; after 30 years it is the same for my niece - she just told us about a dispute in the vineyard with the workers. You cannot change a mentality in one generation, you need much more than that.
The call for action! The new feminism.
Feminism is beyond achieving equal pay and opportunity for women: Gender-based violence keeps accruing around the world, and unfortunately the wine industry is not immune to it.
Donatella Briosi, a 64 years old Sommelier from Pescara was shot by her ex, claiming she "attacked" his financial future. Another friend of Stefania, a doctor in Abruzzo and a mom to two kids, was killed nearby the hospital by a stalker whom she complained about to the police numerous times.
Those murders were a wake-up call for Stefania Pepe to start the project “Adopt a Vine & Adopt a Life,“ which offers women who require a space to live into a place within her farm. The program helps them to re-develop independence by beginning careers in olive oil production, winemaking, or taking care of the vineyard and animals on the farm
“We are going to help by giving women the knowledge, the support and a place to live to start taking care of themselves again,” says Stefania Pepe. “You are a female, you have the power of giving birth to a baby and to everything that you touch and care for - but first of all, you have to start taking care of yourself. We are strong and intelligent enough to live by ourselves.”
Post-feminism is not about waiting for others to treat us differently - it begins with treating ourselves differently, learning how we can support each other and other minorities to not be in choice-less situations.
“There’s new energy,” says Stefania Pepe. “Women winemaker voices are participating in a big revolution: Wine is Democracy, and we should always keep it in mind!”