The Status of Women and Wine

MichealaIs the wine industry as open to women advancing up the ranks as it is to men? This was the question that eventually occurred to myself and my beautiful wife, Kathy, a bit over a week ago when I was bugging her with tales of The Masters golf championship, its history and the news surrounding it. She's terribly sweet to indulge me when I talk to her about Golf.

Yet the story that got both our attentions during the Masters Week was the tale of the CEO of IBM. Virginia Rommety. IBM is one of three main sponsors of the Masters Golf Tournament and has been for many years. So connected to the tournament has IBM been, that the exclusive club hosting the tournament, Augusta National, has offered the very difficult to procure membership at Augusta to the past four IBM CEOs. Yet, by all accounts, Ms. Rometty was not offered a membership. Apparently, by the standards of the members of Augusta National, Ms. Rometty does not possess the appropriate genitals to qualify her for the same membership that was Cejaoffered to her male predecessors.

I've experienced absolutely zero discrimination in my life. I was born white and male. I did not profess a faith that stirred particular hatred. I like women. And I grew up in an extraordinarily liberal and progressive area in liberal and progressive California. So, when I read these stories about a woman being denied what a man has simply because she is a woman, I'm fascinated by it in the same way I'm fascinated by the person who can contort their body into weird and seemingly inhuman shapes: it's just not in my set of experiences and seems foreign.

My Kathy has experienced certain forms of discrimination in her life, but nothing too revolting. Still, each morning during Masters Week we read together the ongoing tale of the CEO with the wrong genitals.

CorisonWe both work in the wine industry and we both started to think about the state of women in the wine industry. Is there significant discrimination? Is it more difficult for women to break into any sector of the wine industry, let alone its C-Suite of CEOs, CFOs, CIOs?

I asked around among those who might have direct experience with it.

Michaela Rodeno, a long-time CEO of St. Supery Winery in Napa Valley and a role model for many, tells a story of being lucky; lucky that upon getting into the wine business in the early 1970s she found herself connected with bosses that didn't take gender into account:

"I was lucky and got my first real wine job with a man whose management style was so hands-off, bottom-up, and free-wheeling in the startup of Domaine Chandon that I did get a chance to do just about Guilianoanything/everything, learning as I went.  Such fun!  When it was my turn to be the boss (at St. Supery), I was grateful for the open-ended opportunities I'd had and carried on by hiring smart people who didn't necessarily already know how to do the job I had in mind for them."

Today, Ms. Rodeno is given some pause when considering the plight of women in wine:

"With the increasing consolidation taking place now at the producer level, I fear that wine industry opportunities, especially for women, are shrinking.  Large corporations tend to (a) have male-dominated leadership, (b) stratified organizations that make advancement challenging and even formulaic, and (d) prefer to hire proven executives.  All of these make it harder for women to rise to the top — though some do."

One of the remarkable things about the wine industry is that many of its most prominent faces are in fact women. Jancis Robinson, Andrea Immer Robinson, Karen MacNiel and Natalie Maclean are among the world's most prominent wine writers.

JanicsIn and around the wine industry, some of the most prominent and well-known winemakers are also women: Cathy Corison, Helen Turley, Carole Shelton, Heidi Peterson Barrett, Mia Klein, Merry Edwards, Zelma Long, and Milla Handley are just a few.

It's interesting to note that a 2000 article in Fortune Magazine explained that in the early 1970s, no more than 5% of the enrollees at U.C. Davis, the most prominent oenology school in America, were women. Yet, by the early 1990s that figure had risen to 50%

In the executive suites fewer women are prominent. Rodena set the standard. Today, when we think of women running things in the wine industry, we look to Delia Viader, Amelia Ceja, Joy Sterling, Barbara Benke, Janet Trefethen and think of Eileen Crane, Ann Colgin and Mireille Guiliano of Clicquot. This is not by any means a full list of leading female executives in the wine industry.

LongYet, Rodeno makes an important point. She is want to point to a study that shows that between 2008 and 2010, those companies that had greater diversity among its leadership also experienced more success and were more profitable. This perspective speaks to the idea that the organization with a broader array of experiences among its leaders are likely to be more successful in understanding people and markets. It makes sense.

Amelia Ceja has a different perspective.

"As president and marketing director of Ceja Vineyards, I travel throughout the United States, and I'm asked frequently "What do you do at Ceja Vineyards?" No one ever thinks I own Ceja Vineyards because I'm a Latina woman! There's still so much to be done! There are more women working as viticulturists, winemakers, wine marketing directors, and presidents of wineries than before! Opportunities are opening up in these fields! There are no barriers to the advancement of women in Millathe wine industry today as long as you're white! If you're a Latina vintner, you have to work twice as hard!"

Ms. Ceja makes a good point. I don't know why more minorities have not been drawn to the wine industry. And I don't know why more minorities have not risen higher and further. But it is a fact that the wine industry has a very modest number of minorities, let alone minority women, in prominent positions.

My own experience isn't representative, but it is mine. On the one hand, the most important influencers in my career have been women, from my first boss Gracelyn Guyol to clients such as Milla Handley and Sandra MacIver. Yet I can say without question that my encounters with women in prominent executive positions, particularly at medium and large wineries, has been minimal. I have been most likely to encounter women working with me in the marketing end of the business, in human relations and in the hospitality end of the business.

RomettyWomen for WineSense has been the organization most responsible for and most active in promoting the role of women in the wine industry. Founded in 1990, the organization remains vital today with chapters in a number of cities and states. Is the organization still necessary if its mission is to promote the success of women in the wine industry?

Marcia Macomber, a Napa-area marketer and member of the Board of Directors of the Founding Wine Country Chapter of Women for WineSense says its members believe the organization, and its mission, remains vital:

"As the decades have passed in Women for WineSense, from time to time some of the more senior members have suggested dropping the “Women for” in the title of the organization, as they feel more comfortable in their hard-earned positions of rank. However, at the mere whiff of this idea the greater majority of members object vociferously, reminding everyone that they continue to feel quite challenged in this male-dominated industry. And that WWS provides a safe haven for Sandra_mcivertesting new ideas, strategies and gaining support that they would not otherwise have in this industry."

 Macomber herself agrees:

"Just as women found opportunities in the male-dominated workforce initially as typists long ago (which then became secretaries and administrative assistants), women have found employment opportunities in the wine industry mostly in the lower ranks. Women are rarely found as viticulturists and winemakers, and even less frequently found in the C-suite of wine conglomerates. More often women are seen in hospitality, human resources and marketing positions. Advancement is difficult, at best."

Macomber sees three primary reasons for women still finding themselves at a disadvantage in the wine industry as well as in most industries: The Womb, The Home, Men. She points out that while women often Trefethentake maternity leaves in preparation for childbirth and after the birth of their child, men normally stay at work without interruption to their careers. She points out that women are still the primary gender responsible for home care. Men are more likely out indulging in after-hours networking, while women are more likely home tending to things. Finally, Macomber sees continued bias against women by men that can often thwart a career:

"I have heard numerous stories from women in the industry of being overlooked for advancement, ignored in business discussions and even (on rare occasion) being practically sabotaged in their efforts to perform their duties to the best of their abilities. I can only advise the men in this industry to watch out. We women are rather a ferocious lot in protecting ourselves, our legacies and most importantly, one another."


There is no word if IBM CEO Virginia Rometty has been given a membership at Augusta National Golf Club or if its members have decided that having a woman as a member remains too traumatic an event. Nor is there any word if IBM, in the face of their CEO being blatantly discriminated against, will continue to hypocritically support the Masters.

This was the point that my Kathy kept coming back too. She was less concerned with an all-male club of retrogrades excluding women, than a multi-national corporation continuing to support an all-male club of retrogrades that thought its CEO was not worthy be virtue of not possessing a Y Chromosome.

There is, in general, however, evidence that the presence of women in the wine industry continues to grow. Recalling Michaela Rodeno's point about the value of diversity in leadership, this is a very good thing. It's also a very good thing because the last thing the wine industry wants to look like is Augusta National Golf Club.

Women for wine senseWomen for WineSense will hold its "Grand Event" May 4-6. The grand event is a three day celebration of wine and people that includes receptions, dinners, winery tours, tastings, auctions and seminars. The Grand Event is sponsored by a number of prominent wine industry companies and looks to be a remarkable event. The cost to attend ranges from $70 to $310, making it an amazingly affordable affair also. Most important, it is an opportunity to support Women for WineSense. I'd all my readers to support and/or attend this event.



28 Responses

  1. Josh Hermsmeyer - April 17, 2012

    Nice post Tom. The folks at the Masters need to use their ball cleaners more often.
    Would be a shame not to mention Judy Jordan on this list. She has, and continues to, lead by hiring women for top positions at J.

  2. Adam - April 17, 2012

    Tom, the folks at Augusta grew up in the South. That’s another difference between you, me, and them and helps explain their discriminatory policy.

  3. Wine Harlots - April 17, 2012

    Nice work on a sensitive subject.
    All the best,
    Nannette Eaton

  4. James McCann - April 17, 2012

    The membership at Augusta comes from all over the country, and includes such leading liberals as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
    When did it become OK for there to be women’s clubs but not men’s clubs?
    IBM sponsors the Masters because it is good business. They should cease advertising if it does not give them their money’s worth, not because their CEO can or cannot play golf there.
    And, since many will be noting women in wine, let’s not forget Emma Swain, Michaela’s successor.

  5. Hilda - April 17, 2012

    AS a woman who has lived in various parts of the country, I unfortunately can say that the discriminatory attitude is not only in the south. Great article.

  6. Dana SV - April 17, 2012

    I have been involved with Women for WineSense for a few years, and have met many amazing ladies through it. My male colleagues (who make more money than me, by the way) have complained that there aren’t similar clubs for men in the wine business. But, like James mentioned, a Men for WineSense group would be considered discriminatory (especially if it got cool.) It’s a double standard … but I’m not sure we can say: “poor” men!

  7. MIchaela Rodeno - April 17, 2012

    Women for WineSense has always welcomed men to its membership and events, for the record.

  8. Emily Goodell - April 17, 2012

    Recently, I’ve worked in a very discriminatory environment within the wine industry. I felt marginalized and was not given the same opportunities as the men I worked with, and I know the other female employees felt the same way, regardless of race. This was not what I was expecting, as overall I have found that most winery environments are relatively easy to work in as a woman. Lower physical strength can be a problem but it is easily overcome with work arounds. In addition, hard work is usually enough to silence men who doubt whether a woman brings value to the work place. I hope employers like this stay in the minority, and firmly believe they will suffer due to their inability to retain skilled female employees.

  9. Tom Wark - April 17, 2012

    It’s true that nothing prevents Augusta from preserving their men’s club status. However, it will be interesting to see if IBM trades its integrity for the opportunity to promote its brand.
    As for Ms. Swain, excellent call!!

  10. Tom Wark - April 17, 2012

    It tends to be the case, I think, that a discriminatory environment is most often a result of the attitudes at the very tippy top of the organization.

  11. Adam - April 17, 2012

    I work in the south 100 days a year. I grew up in New York City. I live in Boston now. The air of discrimination, and not just to women, feels thicker in Georgia than Brooklyn. I have no doubt there is discrimination all over the darn place. My wife is a physician that taught at Harvard. When she introduces herself to men and mentions she is in medicine, anywhere, they ask her where she practices nursing! But, It feels different to me in the south. But maybe it’s just golf. I used to spend a lot of time in Tulsa Oklahoma and the Southern Hills country club membership felt it was best if women were not permitted to play at certain hours. Anyway, enough of this, let’s talk wine.

  12. Jo Diaz - April 17, 2012

    Nice… Great job.
    Once, I had a head hunter call me, asking for “Joe Diaz.” I said, “This is she.” The phone went dead for a few seconds and I thought to myself, “He’s thinking, ‘Jooooo? You just can’t tell these days… Pat, Chris, Joe!'”
    Then, he came back to his senses, and told me that he was looking for a PR pro for one of his clients. I don’t know why he even bothered to go forward, but it’s like stepping into a pond with alligators and they’re closing in behind you, so you go forward.
    About a couple of months later (I can’t exactly remember), I got a “Thanks, but we’ve now filled the position” addressed to Pat Diaz. What a great laugh, and what a funny stooge he was; however, the facts remain part of my tapestry.

  13. Jo Diaz - April 17, 2012

    “There are too many men who sit on the board of IBM to have anything change in that regard,” said she who’s sat on so many board, many times the only woman in the room. My life in broadcasting had me on the boards of Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross… etc., where very few women were allowed. I just didn’t care and got myself in. To do that, I had to be so alpha female that it was exhausting, but gratifying. The wine industry… nothing’s changed but the players.

  14. Marcia M - April 17, 2012

    Thanks for the mention, Tom. And for anyone interested in the (rather depressing) stats on how women are doing monetarily against those with (as you put it, Tom) ‘the right genitals,’ check out this Pinterest board:

  15. Jennifer R Thomson - April 17, 2012

    This is a very nice write up and list of women making their way in the male-dominated wine industry Tom. But where is the up-and coming under 40 representation on the list?
    I eavesdropped on the Silicon Valley State of the Industry webinar this morning and was struck by a comment to the effect that Gen Xers own some great wineries, but the Boomers are lingering and that in general there is a blockage going on within the industry (as is the case in every other industry).
    I hope the industry not only sits up and takes notice of women in general making their way in the industry but the YOUNG women in the industry who are producing some of the most killer wines on the market right now. Those same women who have begun showing up to the “Women In Wine Production” networking group I’ve begun hosting quarterly, most in their 20s and 30s: Frederique Perrin – Domaine Chandon and Newton Vineyard, Stacy Vogel – Miner, Kelly Woods – Sequoia Grove, Brigid Naughton – Treasury / Beringer, Kristy Melton – Clos Du Val the list goes on and there are no C-level titles necessary.
    In my own case, I identify with neighbor Amelia Ceja’s comment and those who ask what she does at Ceja winery; except for in my case when they ask, “what do you do?” no one ever believes that I run and own a Carneros vineyard because I’m a Millennial woman.
    That said, mostly I face discrimination from the family’s longstanding insurance agent who only wants to talk to my father, wineries who write the checks to my father rather than the formal business entity, and the labor contractors who cross the line with me in the field because I’m a woman.
    It is difficult for any woman to make their way in this industry, but I’d say it’s certainly magnified in the production sector of the wine industry – over the corporate offices.

  16. Tom Wark - April 17, 2012

    There really isn’t a list in this post. The women who were singled out were those who have been very prominent in the wine industry over the past decades. I was not attempting anything like a list of women in any part of the industry.
    Now, if you want a list of women winemakers, here you go:
    Thanks so much for your comment. Change your insurance agent!!

  17. Joanne Saliby - April 17, 2012

    Couldn’t someone have checked on spelling of names in the links on pictures? Micheala? Janics?
    Excellent article, however.

  18. Taylor - April 17, 2012

    Nicely played. And I second the comment brought up by Josh that Judy Jordan has done a whole lot to advance women wine executives. Melissa Stackhouse (their winemaker) makes some stellar juice.
    Taylor Eason

  19. ak - April 17, 2012

    This is great. I think the discussion is very important. I personally am in winemaking production, and having worked both overseas and domestic, I can say that being a female in winemaking is not really that uncommon anymore
    Being an Asian-American male who aspires to be a winemaker is a completely different subject that never gets brought up. For me personally, I look up to, and admire Vanessa Wong, who is not only a female, but Asian-American just like me. She is known for her talents rather than any cultural or gender related matters.
    I submit that in this day and age in the wine industry, being a female is no longer the minority-driven issue it once was. All the women profiled here are white, as are the majority of people in the industry. I would be lying if I said that I was not acutely aware of my cultural background when I meet other industry professionals. I also admit that perhaps it is in my head more than anything else. It is my personal hope that like the women profiled here, that talent and hard work will trump everything else.

  20. Careers for Women - April 18, 2012

    Women’s web talks each and every part of health related and other issues of women’s. You can easily get health and wellness news along with relationship advice by just being in touch.

  21. paula latham - April 18, 2012

    Is there a web site for women winesense?
    Paula latham
    wine consultant

  22. Amy Gardner - April 18, 2012

    Great article, and I feel late to the party. Must have been due to my womb, my home or some man who got between me and my computer. Michaela and many of the other women you mention have done great work, and a lot to help those of us who want to do great wine industry work too. I do have to say that many of these woman profiled probably had to make tough decisions, grin and bear it when an inappropriate comment was made, and do their best to get ahead. I think many people, in most professions have had to do this, and often are stronger for it. Having read many interviews from several of these female wine pioneers, I know they have figured out ways to handle it–and I think that is something we all need to do.
    With that said, I do think that the CEO of IBM is dealing with a sensitive issue. She’s a golfer I understand, and IBM–the company she runs–has a long standing relationship with Augusta. The club has changed their policies in the past–although they are often way behind the rest of the country in this–but let’s hope there may be a policy change on the horizon. Maybe Kathy didn’t want to join. If only it was a women only club–maybe then she’d be happy to join.
    And yes, Women for Winesense is a great organization, and I think one of the founding members was a man–if my memory serves me correctly. Or maybe he was just on the board in the early days. Happy to fact check that if you want Tom!
    Cheers, and viva la difference!
    Amy Gardner

  23. Amy Gardner - April 18, 2012

    This got me blogging. For my thoughts:

  24. Tamara Belgard - April 20, 2012

    Well done Tom and thanks for drawing attention to this important topic. While you bring to light the fact that women are certainly making their mark in the North American wine scene, but I wonder if things might be a bit different in Europe. I’ve heard stories from female American winemakers studying in France (years ago) and being assigned to cook meals instead of make wine, like their fellow male students. Perhaps this is changing in the Old World now too, with prominent winemakers like Alexandrine Roy, I’d be interested to know.

  25. wheelchairs - April 22, 2012

    The wine industry has a long history that dates back to early human history, when fruit juices accidentally fermented, leaving behind a pleasant drink for people to enjoy to the present.

  26. MIchaela Rodeno - April 23, 2012

    For Paula Latham, here’s the website for Women for WineSense:
    As for the up-and-coming generations (vs old white women), I have been invited to moderate a panel of influential Millenials in the wine business “Making Wine a Woman’s World” at the WWW Grand Event on May 6. Plenty of other fascinating topics being presented, too. Check it out on the website!

  27. Rebecca Moore - April 23, 2012

    Absolutely and we have even had male board members! For the record.

  28. Women in Wine « Napa Sonoma WineSense - September 12, 2012

    […] April, Tom Wark looked at the Status of Women in Wine, and recounted this from WWS’ co-founder and winery owner Michaela Rodeno, “I was lucky and got […]

Leave a Reply