Segregating men wine lovers from women wine lovers

A recent post on FERMENTATION concerning a new wine organization/club designed for women prompted a few interesting responses in the comments section of the post. One commentator, Lorenzo (who by the way has a very interesting web site dedicated to food and wine importing), took me gently to task for seemingly being threatened by the idea of a wine club for the female sex or at least for criticizing it too soon in the process. To quote Lorenzo:

"I don’t agree with the preemptive nature of your protest; where are
the specific references to instances where have fallen
short in their approach? at least let them take-off before you shoot
them down.

i also think you’re missing the main point of the site: as a
platform to allow women into to the world of wine – by women, for women.

the wine experience itself may or may not be affected as a result
and it may or may not be better than any other method of introduction
into the world of wine. who cares?? how is that relevant to what
they’re attempting to do?

this club doesn’t take away from anything already established, so there’s no need to feel threatened by it."

Lorenzo’s thoughtful comments gave me pause to think about the issue. What do I really know about women and wine. One thing I do know is that as an industry, wine had indeed been a "boys club" for nearly its entire history. However, sometime around the late 1970s and early 1980s we began to see women appear as important winemakers and winery owners. The names should be familiar to anyone who has followed California’s great winemakers: Handley, Corison, Long, Tanner, Davenport, Graff, Bannister, Edwards, Shelton, Lindblom, Zouzounis.

Today, my observation of the wine industry shows far far fewer barriers to entry for women. The number of women winemakers has expanded wonderfully. So, while I"m not a woman trying to make it in the wine industry, I’m unconvinced that there is a significant impediment to women undertaking a career in wine.

But it’s not so much a career in wine that the new WINEWOMEN.COM, nor Lorenzo, is concerned with.  The issue is more of a difference in the way women and men appreciate and approach wine. Julie Brosterman, founder of described the difference this way: "While men buy wine mostly because of a score or rating, women like to
buy wine because of a connection, a story, and their delight in sharing
wine with others."

Yes, I think we all realize that men are more likely to concern themselves with ratings than women. Yet, I’ve not met a "wine guy" who didn’t enjoy sharing his wine (or conquest…if you like) with another wine lover, with the exception of his one guy who I recall was really protective of a bottle of 1997 Araujo Cabernet. Men want to share as much as women. Furthermore, my experience is that men who are into wine LOVE to talk about wines’ origins, their merits, their connections with people and land. However, we do tend to do it in a boisterous way. Bottom line for me: I don’t think women have a monopoly on thinking of wine in personal, connective ways.

But now here is what I’m really thinking. It occurs to me that someone willing to endorse the segregation of the sexes when it comes to wine appreciation is also endorsing the notion quite common that "wine geekdom" is bad for the spread of wine appreciation, or at least not its most important benefit. This is an idea you see bandied about on a number of blogs and by wine educators who suggest that to appreciate wine you needn’t buy into the "swirl n sniff" mentality, you needn’t consider ratings and reviews, you needn’t even concern yourself with topics of malolactic fermentation and pH levels. This is really just for the posers. And I think there is a subtle, but sure, suggestion in the idea of segregating women from men in wine appreciation that it is the men that are generally the posers.

Yet, if you really do want to appreciate wine, understand it, experience it, adopt it as a significant interest in your life, it really is necessary to go beyond, "boy, I like this wine." If you really are interested in wine, you are compelled to ask, "what makes this wine better than that wine?", "what makes this piece of soil so much better adapted to Pinot Noir cultivation than that one?", "what was this winemaker thinking when he used French oak instead of American oak to age the wine?", and, yes, "what is it about those wines that the experts think are so good they would give it a 94 point score?".

The person who truly appreciates art wants to learn. They want to know what cultural phenomenon led to a particular movement. The person who truly appreciates Greek History wants to know what social and political circumstances led to the Romans overtaking the Greeks for hegemony in the Mediterranean. And the person who appreciates wine wants to dig down deep and understand. It may be geekdom, but it’s not bad for wine. It’s merely a cultivated interest.

What is it about men in general that would lead one to endorse the separation of the sexes when it comes to wine appreciation? Are men more inclined naturally to want to dig down into the subject of wine, while women are more naturally inclined to see wine as a path to interpersonal communication? And are men too likely to want to turn a naturally feminine pursuit of connecting and sharing into a conquest for knowledge and self attainment that places interpersonal connections in a secondary position? Is this what is at the heart of forming a wine club aimed mainly at women?

Posted In: Culture and Wine


One Response

  1. Lorenzo - November 4, 2005

    wahey! looks like i made some waves. ^_^
    i’m glad you took my comment in the spirit it was intended though – good man.
    indeed: “what is it about men in general that would lead one to endorse the separation of the sexes when it comes to wine appreciation?”
    okay, looking beyond the sweeping nature of your statement, there is some truth to what you say and it has to do with the different ways (in general) that men and women approach wine and many other things for that matter.
    remember the “men are from mars, women are from venus” book? there’s a reason why it did so well… it pointed out that men are raised to take control of a situation if they are to conquer it. as you can imagine, the sense of threat comes from the possibility of the loss of that control, which can only come from women.
    women, on the other hand, are raised to negotiate any given situation if they are to manage it. since it’s a common thread, they’ll naturally gravitate towards each other and use their already established common interests to tackle the new situation successfully.
    that’s also why i reckon men should be banned from politics, but that’s a whole other argument. 😉

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