Women Winemakers Go Online

New website details career paths for women in the wine industry

by Kerry Kirkham
women winemakers
Winemakers Shannon Gustafson, Amanda Cramer and Dorothy Schuler (from left) attend a summer gathering in Paso Robles, Calif., where they heard from Dr. Lucia Albino Gilbert of Santa Clara University.
Santa Clara, Calif.—According to Dr. Lucia Albino Gilbert, a professor of psychology and counseling at Santa Clara University, women are the lead or primary winemaker at only 9.8% of California wineries. Her  new website, womenwinemakers.com, intends to illuminate career pathways of California’s female winemakers and their contributions to the wine industry.

The searchable web-based resource claims to represent comprehensive and accurate information about the number of female winemakers in California, their locations, their accomplishments, the wineries they work at and the evolution of their careers.

Material on the nonprofit educational site is continuously updated. Its goal is to assist women interested in winemaking and help those already in the industry to progress in their careers.

Look through the glass
women winemakers
Dr. Lucia Albino Gilbert
As an academic psychologist, Gilbert studied women's career paths with emphasis on dual-career families and the balance between work and family life. “I have also studied women's careers in male-dominated fields. I became interested in exploring the careers of female winemakers because it is viewed as a historically male-dominated field in which gender parity has allegedly been achieved. Winemaking, in many ways, is an applied science, as is engineering, where many of the sub-disciplines remain male-dominated,” she explained.

Early in her research, Gilbert was surprised when she asked colleagues who were knowledgeable about wine or tasting room personnel if they knew of any women winemakers. “Time and again the response was, ‘Hmmm, women winemakers. I am sure there are some, but I just don't know of any.’”

This was Gilbert’s call to action. “I finally had to resort to checking every book I could find that listed the names of winemakers, talking with faculty at UC Davis and using the Wines & Vines list of wineries to search winery websites and create my own list.”

Words from women in wine
Christine Mueller, Napa/Sonoma chapter president of Women for WineSense, said, “Although there has been a smattering of articles about women winemakers in the past 10-plus years, there was no definitive database designed to search for these talented winemakers.” She called the new website “a tremendous resource for locating these talented women.”

Lynae Anderson, sales and marketing assistant at Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage, crafts small lots of wine with Chris Turkovich of 1,500-case Turkovich Family Wines in Winters, Calif. Anderson, currently enrolled in a Court of Master Sommeliers course, said, “As a woman who’s several years into her career in the wine industry, all I can say is—where was this site when I was hoping to break in? I see it as a valuable resource, not only for women who aspire to enter into winemaking, but also for women entering the wine business in general.”

Susan A. Mahler “SAM”, former airline pilot and owner of 10,000-case Cypher Winery in Paso Robles, Calif., recently hosted a gathering of women winemakers, where Gilbert shared the goals of the web project.

“It could be a good networking and mentoring tool to promote women in fields that are traditionally male-dominated. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the industry, but it’s nice to bring women together,” Mahler said.

Walk a tightrope in a skirt
This past spring, Gilbert visited to 500-case VML, Healdsburg, Calif., a month after the winery opened. There she met with Virginia “Ginny” Lambrix, winemaker of her namesake VML and neighboring 4,000-case Truett Hurst.

Lambrix said she found it comforting that other women in the industry share the same challenges. “It’s fantastic to know that there are more of us out there. Sometimes when you go to the trade events you feel like you’re only one of a few people in a skirt.”

Lambrix theorized that striking a balance between work and family caused fewer women to achieve the position of winemaker. “It’s hard to have a family and hold an intense job such as this. It’s a tough balance, especially during harvest. You have to love what you do, otherwise you’d never sign up for it.”

Lambrix credited her success to a strong support group. “My mom helps out at harvest and my husband is a stay-at-home dad. You love them to pieces. When you make wine, you love that too. You feel a constant tug.”

Regardless of gender, winemaking is a challenging and demanding career path. Gilbert noted, “The women winemakers I have had the privilege of meeting are inspirational in their love for their work and their willingness to do what it takes to achieve their goals.”

The first woman Gilbert contacted when starting the project was Ramona Nicholson, co-owner and vineyard manager of 5,000-case Nicholson Ranch. Nicholson was featured in Women of the Vines, a book that highlighted women in various wine industry careers.

“It gives a lot of hope for new women entering the business to see that there are so many of us who are successful in so many areas. I hope in the long run it becomes a non-issue.”

Nicholson cares for three children and her 85-year-old father while working on her property. “Women are very good at juggling,” she said.

Looking to the future
Gilbert envisioned the road ahead for women winemakers: “Although women have made significant inroads into winegrowing and winemaking during the past 20 to 30 years, winemaking and viticulture continue to be a male-dominated field. The names of influential women winemakers remain relatively unknown to people within the industry, as do the names of women winemakers in general. Progress has clearly been made, but the proverbial glass ceiling has not yet been shattered.”

In the future, the project may expand its geographical focus to include women winemakers in Oregon and Washington. Gilbert also plans to turn the project into a book.

Women winemakers who wish to be added to the womenwinemakers.com database must currently hold the title of winemaker or its equivalent within the state of California.

Posted on 08.05.2011 - 10:59:50 PST
It might have been true 20 years ago but the male domination of winemaking ended a long time ago. I was at Linda Bisson's Fermentation Issues class at Davis yesterday and not only were there a lot of women participants, four of the five speakers were women. Look at the rising stars in the industry- there are as many women as men.
St. Helena, CA USA

Posted on 08.05.2011 - 09:17:04 PST
womenwinemakers is a tremendous resource. My hat goes off to Professor Gilbert!
Austin, TX USA