How to Celebrate & Support Women in Wine this Mother’s Day
The tradition of gifting wine is a great way to show love and appreciation to anyone special in your life - especially the Mothers out there who often sacrifice so much for others. With the riveting effects of the pandemic that have set women back 36 years in just over 12 months (according to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report), supporting women in any industry is more important than ever this Mother’s Day!
It has become increasingly evident that we essentially ‘vote’ with our dollars: what we buy, from whom, and why is an important statement we make on it’s own. Wine (and any other product for that matter) goes way beyond how good the end product is! It’s about what the winemaker stands behind, who the company employs, what their core values are, and how much they follow through with what they say. In this day and age wine isn't just about the great flavours and complexity brought to the table, it’s saleability also comes down to the people who make the wine and the stories and morals behind it.
A common challenge many people face is the process of sorting and choosing from the countless products we have at our finger tips - so many wines to choose from! We are tasked with figuring out which wines have great value both inside and outside of the glass. In other words, we see which wineries compose beautiful flavours and invest in their underlying social values - not just talking the talk! Purchasing and enjoying wines becomes an even more complex endeavour when we begin to also take into consideration the social footprints our favourite wineries create in their wake of making exceptional wines. But this mission is exactly what I’m here for!
As a sommelier who has worked in the industry for the past 20 years, I make a point to keep learning as much as possible about the wines that are out there. From tasting each wine to personally talking to winemakers and owners about their practices and beliefs, my journey in this field has always leaned more towards the human side of things. I believe in asking the right and necessary questions in this world and holding each other accountable for implementing these ideas into society.
And speaking from this personal crusade to find and uphold these social values within the wine industry, there is a truth that must be said: The wine industry has a long way to go when it comes to achieving equity and diversity from within.
It is still an industry highly dominated by white men, speckled with only a few exceptional white women who have overcome these unfortunate odds - odds caused by decades of not asking the right questions about our favourite wines and how they came to be! And by odds, I'm referring to the strategic ways specific people are excluded from opportunities to learn this craft - just ask Donatella Cinelli Colombini (more below)!
This week we celebrate & recognize Mothers of all genders - yes, trans women are women. And I will continue to make noise and stir awareness this week (and every other week of the year) that we - the white women in the wine industry - need to begin actively creating spaces for women of colour and trans women! Why? Because as a successful woman sommelier that has climbed this rickety ladder, I already know what it feels like to be excluded and disregarded in this field. And I do not wish this battle upon anyone else, for any reason. Therefore, my position in this crusade of social politics in wine is simple: all women should become active allies.
In lieu of this celebration of women's empowerment, I’ve highlighted a few wines below that have wonderful flavours and they’re either made by women, owned/led by women, or devoted to the legacy of women. Every wine tells a story, so when choosing a bottle remember to look for the story that speaks to you and your values…
Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Brunello di Montalcino, Italy
Donatella Cinelli Colombini inherited an estate in Montalcino from her family, but when she looked to hire staff through Siena’s Oenology School they told her she’d have to 'wait a few months' to gain access to a good student. When Donatella then mentioned she actually wanted women, they quickly changed their tune and said there were lot’s of those - no winery wants them! This led Colombini to start a winery that proudly only employs women.
Donatella is one of the strongest, most influential women in the wine industry today. She paved the way for many women in this field - sommeliers, winemakers and wine critics alike! But this isn’t the only reason I recommend her wines: She is also an irrefutably talented winemaker. This Brunello is round, rich, full and complex. You may find notes of ripe strawberries, spicy cherries, elegant truffles and liquorice. This is one of my personal favourite Brunello's out there!
Tattinger Brut Réserve Champagne, France
Champagne, France is known for their Veuvé’s - the Widows who took over wineries after their Husband’s passed away. One of the most notable cases of this is Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin; she took over the champagne house after her husband François Clicquot died, calling her wines Veuvé Clicquot. Moving forward 200 years, we are starting to see more and more women (who don't have to be widows now!) in positions of power within Champagne. Vitalie Taittinger is an example of this trend: in 2020 she became President of Tattinger after working 13 years for the company. Trained as an artist and designer, her approach is maintaining the beauty of Tattinger Champagne and keeping all personal ego’s aside. A complex champagne with flavours of apples, apricots, and citrus, the freshness is combined with lingering toasty notes.
Thirty Bench, Winemaker's Blend Riesling, Beamsville, Canada
Emma Garner is one of the most acknowledged winemakers in Niagara. In 2015, she was awarded the coveted distinction of Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards. Garner specializes in making exceptional Riesling’s with minimal intervention, where it ferments at a low temperature, increasing the complexity and intensity. The Winemaker’s Blend Riesling is fresh with crisp mineral notes and rich with tangerine, apricot, and green apple notes.
Be sure to also look for her small-lot Riesling wines: Wild Cask, Triangle Vineyard and Steel Post are three phenomenal and unique wines. Trying them one after (or next to one another) is a very special experience indeed!
Fattoria Le Pupille, Elisabetta Geppetti, Morellino di Scansano, Italy
Elisabetta Geppetti (also called “The Lady of Morellino”) took over the Fattoria Le Pupille winery in the early 1980’s and became the first woman to be President of the Morellino di Scansano Consortium in 1992. She inherited her love of wine from her grandfather and from the age of 20 knew that winemaking was her destiny! A generous wine with beautiful complexity, this is quite a popular selection among my clients. A blend of predominantly Sangiovese with a smaller percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a well-made wine by a truly special woman. Not only does she run a successful business and make wine, she’s also a mother of five!
Henry of Pelham, Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut, Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Although this wine was not made directly by women, I still decided to include it in this list for several reasons: It comes from a great local winery that has respect and appreciation for women in general, as well as the women in their family in particular. As a woman sommelier who at times was discriminated and/or dismissed due to my gender, I’ve received nothing but respect from these owners from the beginning of my career to now. This appreciation of women is seen in their Cuvée Catharine sparkling wine, which is a tribute to the matriarch of the family, Catharine Smith - Henry’s Wife and Widow. Made using the Traditional Method (the same method used in Champagne), the rich rosé colour comes from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Aged for 18-24 months on the lees to achieve a beautiful depth and complexity.
Altesino, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
A deep and complex Brunello from a winery that has been producing Brunello's for almost 50 years! The winery was purchased in 2003 by Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini (who paid an estimated $25 million for the 143-acre estate!), and is considered one of the best producers of Brunello di Montalcino. Her main aim is to keep the core identity of Altesino and invest in the vineyards to even further enhance the estate's quality. This Brunello is traditionally aged for at least 4 years before it’s release with a minimum of 2 years in oak. It boasts excellent structure with firm tannins and notes of tobacco, chocolate and wild berries. A great accompaniment for gamey meat dishes as well as long-braised wild boar.
Overall, you could say my goal as a sommelier in 2021 is selecting wines for clients not only based on beautiful complexities and tastes, but also based on the back-stories that speak to and uphold personal values. And with a personal appreciation for stories such as the ones presented today, I hope we will continue forward with creating a much needed change for women in the world of wine, but also within the world in general.
I’ll leave you with one last thought:
"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” Mother Teresa