Women and Wine—From Then to Now

GuildSomm has published a rather wonderful article exploring the historical place of women in the wine industry that deserves to be read by…well, everyone. Written by Tanya Colleen Morning Star Darling (who clearly has the best name in the wine industry with perhaps the exception of Emily Wine), “Women in Wine: Systematic Exclusion & the Success of Tenacious Women” explores the long exclusion of women from the wine industry, while delving into the various ways women have or must have had important contributions to the development of the social use of wine and the industry itself. While the article fails, in the end, to deliver up substantive explanations for what more ought to be done to advance women up and into the rooms where the levers of power reside, it does take us on a fascinating historical journey.

Most of Darling’s essay looks at the ways in which patriarchal society, being 8,000 years ago, worked to exclude women from the wine trade just as women were excluded from many trades. While this should be no surprise to anyone who has studied history, it’s a good reminder for the wine trade that overall social systems and accepted gender roles in the ancient, near ancient and not so ancient worlds impacted how the wine trade operated.

Further on, Darling treats us to a retelling of the roles that Eleanor of Aquitaine and Catherine di Medici played in the early development of the French wine trade and its cuisine.

Darling’s historical arch eventually brings us to modern times. Here she explains how via key changes in the laws of property inheritance, expanded educational opportunities and a general change in social attitudes, important women broke into the wine industry beginning in the 1960s. Darling notes that today there remain few if any legal barriers to women entering into and taking leadership roles in the industry

The only disappointing aspect of Darling’s otherwise fascinating work is the very end, where a more expansive explanation of what is left to do would have been appreciated:

“Today, many of the legal barriers to women’s inclusion in the wine trade have been removed, but the damaging systemic obstacles remain. Although it is more widely possible and acceptable for any person to study wine, viticulture, and enology, to work as a winemaker, or to own a wine business, it is essential to remember that this relative freedom is a direct result of the vigilance, collaboration, and partnership of people of all genders who have been committed to greater equity and inclusion over the last 100 years. There is still much to be done to achieve a truly inclusive world of wine, and the urgency to push for this goal has never been greater, precisely because that goal is in sight for the first time since the Greeks—or maybe for the first time in the history of the world.”

By all accounts, women are graduating at similar if not higher rates than men at places like the U.C Davis, where prospective winemakers go to get their early education. More and more women winemakers, somms, vineyard managers and marketers find themselves in high-profile roles that include management. Darling’s admonition that “there is still much to be done to achieve a truly inclusive world of wine” falls somewhat flat for its lack of concrete suggestions. Without such concrete suggestions for what initiatives need to be undertaken, there is a sense that her article, as good as it is, really ought to be cast as more of a celebration of the arch of history bending appropriately toward equality than as a reminder of the absence of women in wine. 

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2 Responses

  1. acv - September 15, 2021

    Tanya Colleen Morning Star article on Guildsomm is a very naïve and simplistic piece of work and in my opinion borders on immoral in its aim to push a destructive political agenda. She writes in nice prose and has strung together some interesting history but beyond that, I would categorize the piece as grievance politics disguised as some profound intellectual exploration.

    For one… there is an utter lack of understanding of the historical role of men and women in past societies. Child mortality was a real thing that significantly affected how families in the past could divide labor. How do you, or Tanya for that matter, think that didn’t factor into how we set up a division of work in the family or how many would be better at pushing a plow. Jesus.

    Evolutionary Biology let alone Evolutionary Psychology (see Jung) would dismantle her argument in a second. But I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole just yet.

    Tanya’s biggest deficit in her writing is to chalk up her idea of subjugation to this one factorial hypothesis – the Patriarchy is such a straw man argument that I’m hesitant to invest the time in showing her all the holes in her piece. What’s the expression people would rather deny obvious truths than let go of a cherished belief.

    What work is left to be done? What Tonya is seeking is equity of outcomes. Not equality for all. She doesn’t see inequality and wants to end it. No, of course not. That’s not the way of Tanya. Tanya sees inequality and wants to REVERSE it. It’s OUR time to be on top. It’s binary thinking. It’s the left side of the brain thinking. It’s the authoritarian reflex of the left.

    The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” George Orwell

  2. acv - September 23, 2021

    “Systematically excluded from power.” If the patriarchy is a core element or fixed plan and despite that fact, women have been “making their mark” then it’s not systemic. Systemic means focused and consistent. So, right from the start, I would take issue with your idea of systemic. Equitable. The new buzzword. Not equality. Rather, that the outcomes must be balanced. As they say “Some see inequality and want to end it. Some see inequality and want to reverse it.” That seems to be your ethos in the matter.

    The Patriarchy you speak of might be better understood as a gender paradox. To begin with since “early wine history,” as you put it, families have had to deal with lots of problems one of the primary ones was child mortality. To understand the division of labor without taking this fact into account is intellectually dishonest. Before there was a baker, a butcher, and a candle-stick-maker there was a division of labor in societies. To start, in every society that has ever existed men hunted, and women gathered. I know right? Every society has excluded women from the hunting parties… it’s like the Patriarchy on steroids. Competency is the reason. Women have a better peripheral vision which makes them natural gathers and men are physically stronger and faster which makes them better hunters.

    Social collaboration based on competency, not the patriarchy has been the emergent morality that has developed between men and women, and it is perverse to claim otherwise. Across the entire animal kingdoms, let alone the human species, you see animals organize and divide up labor in a hierarchal structure. If, as most animals do, consider the survival of their offspring as of grave importance when dividing labor your one factorial hypothesis that men must be oppressing women as a foundational practice falls apart. Why is investing and acting in the best interest of the couple’s children’s future considered anything but an instinctive morality that men and women possess? Morality for couples has always been a shadow cast on the future for their lives, and the lives of their family, not simply as a power dynamic of one gender over the other.

    Why do you think our social landscape has developed a human conscience? It’s a consequence of our ability to perceive a future for someone other than ourselves. That’s enlightened self-interest. Not short-term self-interest. When a man traded his success in the hunt, meat or protein, and women traded her gathered food which was a more reliable source of food across time guess what that collaboration lead to? Beyond a balanced diet…. it led to long-term pair bonds. Better known as a marriage. I might add evidence of this dynamic is that today far more women are vegetarians than men.

    Since you point out this obvious fact that gathering was typically done by a woman and that they are more than likely to have been the gender of the two that discovered its transformative powers of fermented grapes, then by your own words the foundation of wine was the result of a woman’s initiative. So, as they say in The Princess Bride,” You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”.

    Following the discovery of wine by women you then point to the fact that women were tavern keepers in ancient Sumer (the first civilization. Hello, systemic line-one) …. not to be confused with the owners of these said Taverns, regardless of this finer point it was this job that was “a very important job.” So, women occupied a key role in the very 1st Society….one that had a women ruler for 100 years (not too shabby), and they managed the key wine drinking establishments… I think you are running into that systemic definition problem again. This is only compounded by the fact that you then say in ancient Egypt women played a role in the wine trade.

    Yes, you state from the beginning of the Essay that women have excelled despite the systemic nature of the patriarchal system. Well, it’s not a very good socially constructed patriarchy that oppresses women if women are excelling throughout its recorded history. According to you, women affected global trade, single-handedly launched the cuisine culture in France….were botanist carrying plants throughout the ancient world. Did you google the definition of systemic?

    How about pushing a plow? Who do you think was more talented at pushing a plow? You think some labor is commonly thought of as feminine with your “gender-bender” comment. However, you seem hyper-focused on some jobs in the past and present but only on the ones, you think women should personally covet in your estimation.

    Women as property in marriage. Why do you think any of these women would have thought marrying an officer arranged by her family wouldn’t have been her best option for herself and her children as well as a happy life? Do you think…. she was going to head down to the local pub to find a romantic local boy who is A.) WAS Educated at all B.) Was even LESS neanderthal than perhaps her officer man and C.) NOT disease-ridden to marry? What do you think the eligible bachelor pool looked like in the 1700s?

    The Ideological possession of the essay as a hit grievance piece on gender preferences that men and women manifest is the opposite of scholarly. Today more women are in publishing, medicine, and teaching, psychology……do you know why men don’t complain? Because they want to work in fields that excite them not become part of a fringe culture war for the unhappy. If more women wanted to be winemakers or run wine companies, or whatever excited them there is absolutely nothing stopping them. Enforcing outcomes is the very definition of social construction and the fact that you can’t see that….is the least of the problems with your essay.


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