Key 2018 Wine Trends — Gender and the Wine Industry

How did the American wine industry evolve in 2018? It’s a “meta question” that directs us to examine those issues that coursed through all elements of the industry and in the long run have the potential to significantly impact how industry professionals work, how the industry is perceived and how consumers respond to the industry’s offerings.

Three issues drove the evolution of the American wine industry in 2018. This is the first of three posts examining those issues.

Women and Wine
At the top of the list is the momentum driving all sectors of the industry to examine the role of women in wine, both currently and historically. Certainly, this momentum is being driven by the larger #MeToo cultural moment. The most recent examination of women in wine came from best-selling author Karen MacNeil, who recently released her second annual report on the status of women in the wine industry: “Being a Woman in Wine in the Time of Reckoning.” MacNeil’s report is an indictment of the industry and many of the men inside the industry, outlines the ways in which women are under-represented in the industry and shows the ways by which sexual harassment and advancement in a field are linked.

MacNeil’s report put an exclamation point on a year’s worth of discussion of the issue that really began in late December 2017 with Wine Enthusiast Magazine editor Susan Kostrzewa’s call to “Talk About Sexism in the Wine Industry”. LIke MacNeil, Kostrzewa describes an industry in which women have long had to navigate a minefield of misogyny and how not enough is being done about it by women or, especially, by men. In Susan’s mind, the response must be to put more emphasis on women in the industry, supporting efforts and organizations that support women.

This, in turn, led to the Napa Valley Conference entitled, Batonnage. The one-day event explored issues of “sexual harassment, implicit bias, the wage gap between genders, work/life balance, mentorship, and the challenges women face as authority figures.”

The issue of women’s experiences in the wine industry got further and significant exposure with the publishing of the New York Times story in July by Valeriya Safronova about a women-only wine tasting group in New York that allowed women to “show off and hone their strongest sense, without being undermined by male colleagues.” While the article again explored how women are taking it upon themselves to address barriers faced in the industry, the article also gave voice to an indictment of men in wine.

Meanwhile, across the globe in Australia, changes to industry standards were put in place in response to a prominent wine industry personality who placed what many believed was an inappropriate post on his Facebook page. It led to a new code of conduct.

In my own world, the issue came home to roost with a letter I received from an anonymous emailer who explained that I was guilty of spreading “toxic masculinity” with one of my posts on this blog about an industry organization’s new head: “Throughout the article you engage in “mansplaining”, as though Ms. Korsmo needs you to tell her about her industry. You are dismissive of her accomplishments and you are bullying. These are all classic symptoms of the kind of toxic masculinity that has been a constant part of our culture and society.”

The point is this: 2018 saw the issue of women in the industry and the challenges they face and how to deal with them become fully exposed. It’s doubtful there will be any retreat from this examination of gender in the wine industry and it’s highly likely that there will be changes in the coming years that address the issue. Additionally, there are likely people in the wine industry who will be caught up in the #MeToo movement, be exposed and pay a price, further highlighting the issue of the challenges women face (many of us know who these people are).

But it’s all not dire news. As I reported in Wark Communications’ 2018 Wine Writer Survey, the gender divide among wine writers is nearly gone and it is unquestionable that women will dominate wine writing in the years to come. How or if this will impact wine writing is yet to be determined.

It’s doubtful that 2018 will be known as “The Year of Women in Wine”. However, it’s likely that this year will be recognized as the moment when the issue of gender and wine came to the fore and started the conversation that will eventually have a fairly large impact.

The Meta Question Next Up: Wine and Cannabis

Posted In: Culture and Wine


3 Responses

  1. Suzanne Becker Bronk - December 19, 2018

    Thanks for this article Tom and for the links discussing women in the wine industry. At the vineyard end of the spectrum, I’m seeing more and more women in vineyard crews. I’m guessing that some of uptick in women crew members is intentional hiring practices and some may be a result of labor shortages caused by the current administration’s immigration policies.

    Happy holidays!

  2. Marcia Macomber - December 19, 2018

    Thanks for highhlighting the articles and events this year, Tom. With release of Karen MacNeil’s report, the all-female team hosting the Wine Women Radio Hour discussed her findings on yesterday’s afternoon show. All concurred with her report that the biggest issue facing women in wine industry is the predominant perception from men in the industry that there’s no perceived issue. This lack of understanding is just the first obstacle for us to overcome. Most women are dumbfounded that men could even begin to state this belief since the pay gap between men and women remains so great (with women earning on avg. $0.80/$1 to men). To poorly paraphrase the famous Apollo 13 quote, “Wine Industry, we’ve got a problem.”

  3. Ramona Sandoval - December 21, 2018

    There are a lot of hard working women in the wine business. I learn about them at Batonnage.

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