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.