How French Women Collaborate to be Adequately Represented in the Wine Industry

Women are under-represented in the wine industry – collaboration groups offer remedies.
women in wine, female winemakers, French winemakers
Elles & Beaujolais members from Château Moulin Favre, Château des Pertonnières, Château de Lacarelle, Terres de la Folie, Baron de L’Ecluse. Courtesy: Elles & Beaujolais

There is a movement in the French wine industry, one in which winemakers and associated pros are considered keepers of the culture. Women across the country – from Champagne to Provence and Bordeaux to Burgundy – have formalized all-female collaboration groups based on regional alliances.

These groups present unified tastings and marketing programs. They provide education and training for the next generation and ensure that their traditions and environments are preserved through dedicated networking as they address legislative, economic, and climate concerns.

Karen MacNeil, one of America’s foremost wine writers and educators, started 2018 with the publication of a poignant piece entitled Beyond the Wine Glass – A New Glass Ceiling? (The SOMM Journal). In this widely-shared piece, MacNeil reveals concern about the relatively low number of women in the wine industry and the challenges of operating in what has historically been a male profession. Her approach to equalization? Interaction and support among women in wine.

winetasting, wine salon, French wine, women in wine
Elles & Beaujolais gathering in June 2017. Courtesty: Elles & Beaujolais

Take for example ViniFilles, a group of women winemakers in the Occitanie region of southern France. Their mission states that they will “transmit the culture of wine, conviviality, and gastronomy by bringing men and women from all walks of life into our movement”. This approach celebrates a positive divergence from MacNeil’s memory of starting her career in 1970’s New York City when “there was, in effect, no way into the wine industry.”

In the Loire Valley, The Dames de Coeur de Loire, demonstrate that wine jobs are “professions of the future, accessible to all”. This is a stark contrast to MacNeil’s recollections of being invited to tastings during which she was expected to remain silent because she was female.

Elles & Beaujolais was established to “allow women to assemble their talents and act for their vineyards” as they fluidly impart institutional knowledge to the next generation, with a refreshing consideration for young mothers.

“Members of different ages create real solidarity when female winemakers often face their commercial and administrative problems at the same time as their family problems,” said Elles & Beaujolais founder and Secretary Chantal Pegaz-Gajowka of Domaine Baron de l’Ecluse. “The group makes young women feel supported.”

“Women make up 62% of undergraduates in the Viticulture & Enology program at UC Davis, yet women represent just 10% of all the winemakers in California. And only 4% of those women own their own wineries, while 48% of men own theirs,” MacNeil writes. “What is happening? Where are all the talented, educated women in wine going?”

Mentors for young graduates from diverse backgrounds are an important component of the French collaborative groups. Femmes Vignes Rhône is comprised of female wine professionals in France’s Rhône Valley. They are based on “a combination of energy, mutual help, and positivity to bring together women from different backgrounds, nationalities, and ages”. Inclusivity promises a place for all those with a desire to work in wine.

Loire wine, Languedoc Wine, Rhône Wine, Women in Wine
A group tasting with Dames de Coeur de Loire. Courtesy: Dames de Coeur de Loire

MacNeil asked 50 professionals to share “three traits they possessed that helped them become a leading woman in the wine industry”, revealing value in the attributes reflected in the French collaborative groups. Included in the list were:

Solicit the Advice of Much Smarter and More Successful People

In any given group, there will be people from which to learn, those who have gained more experience or have expertise in multiple facets. ViniFilles members pool their knowledge to fully comprehend the “benefits [of wine] in terms of physical and moral health and the social, ecological and economic role” of their product.

Develop Networking Skills

Collaborative groups allow breathing room to work with others and evaluate partnership opportunities. The French groups often include a range of professionals, including tourism experts, merchants, and sommeliers.

Find Great Mentors

The tone of these groups is helpful, an inviting setting to watch other pros in action and feel comfortable asking for advice. Elles & Beaujolais members are “concerned about educating the new, young generations about viticulture and working wine knowledge,” said Pegaz-Gajowka.

Advocate for Yourself

It can be difficult to appeal to legislators or the public as a single voice. Collaborative groups emphasize common goals and foster similar efforts. The Dames de Coeur de Loire offers members “mutual assistance and moral solidarity on technical, legal, and commercial” matters.

Perhaps most important is the atmosphere of joy and celebration, a constant revitalization of why work matters and teamwork is fortifying. “Our meetings are based on friendliness and happiness, which strengthens our friendship and openness to others,” said Pegaz-Gajowka.

 

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Lynn says:

    Karen MacNeil’s article was indeed thought provoking- I shared it with friends in and outside of the wine industry. It’s powerful to see women coming together in different areas to support, collaborate and mentor. A great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mavenclark says:

    Very interested by what this article reveals, and wonder why if women pursuing opportunities in the U.S. are facing the proverbial glass ceiling there have not been any any female collaboration groups developed in America along the same lines of the several that exist in France (only three are mentioned here) to aid them?

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    1. Jill Barth says:

      Hi Jerry – There are more groups in France similar to these. In fact, upon publishing someone from DiVINes d’Alsace reached out indicating their group embodied a similar stance. There’s probably much more to write, this wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, and I might pick up the pen on the topic again to achieve more depth.

      There are women in wine groups in the US, but in my reading I didn’t find them to be as deeply cohesive as the French groups. Some do indeed provide networking, via memberships, but they seem to lack the tight regional focus these groups maintain. They also don’t seem to have the extensive tasting events and collaborative push in the marketplace. I’m not knocking them, because I am impressed for sure, but these French groups seem to be significantly more evolved – a pattern for Americans interested in a similar effort. I do know of stateside projects in the works (a directory of women-owned wineries in Sonoma, for example) and there seems to be a thirst for more.

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  3. keithvs says:

    I once had the good fortune of meeting Françoise Roumieux of Femmes Vignes Rhone (and, I believe, a women’s winemaking group just for Chateauneuf-du-Pape.) We met through a mutual friend and she spent several hours with my wife and me, showing us her domaine, tasting wine and talking business. We both walked away thinking, “what an amazing talented winemaker and business person!” She was also super nice. If other women winemakers can tap into all that talent, they are lucky indeed.

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  4. wow. Interesting statistic! Women make up 62% of undergraduates in the Viticulture & Enology program at UC Davis, yet women represent just 10% of all the winemakers in California.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mavenclark says:

      Though certainly attention getting, I believe the stats as laid out are not nearly as definitive as could be. Winemakers are classed as enologists, and viticulturists are not by definition, or job description, winemakers. So what is the mix of the two among UC Davis grads?
      California has about 50% of the wineries in the US. How far have women progressed in the other half?
      My sense is that women have made significant strides since the beginning of this century, otherwise why are they flocking to UC Davis (and four other schools which offer degrees)?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agree- I have always said stats can be used to prove whatever point you are trying to make- just have to find the right stat.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jill Barth says:

          Indeed – I garnered this stat from MacNeil’s original article so it supported her concern for the women that aren’t achieving the same level as men in the field.

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  5. Amber says:

    Nice post Jill! Its so nice to see women coming up in the French wine world and putting their own mark on it. I see diversity in wine as a really good thing, and a blend of both male and female sensibilities and tastes can only make it stronger. Cheers ladies!

    Like

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