Wine and Women….A Change is Gunna Come

Wine and Women….A Change is Gunna Come

Your glass of wine….there’s a lot going on in there. Things we’ve talked about before….where the grapes come from, the artistry of the winemaker, and the evolution of the wine with time. But that’s just one part of the story that’s happening in your glass. There’s a lot more going on beneath the surface.
Ponder this. Wine drinkers, on the whole, are predominantly women. But winemakers and winery owners are overwhelmingly male. Hhhmmmm. OK, let’s break this down a bit. If we look at Gallup data addressing gender and wine, the stats are quite striking. In a 2021 poll, participants were asked, “do you most often drink liquor, wine, or beer?” Forty-nine percent of women stated that wine was their preferred drink, compared with 15% of men (men still really like beer; go figure). Yikes, that’s over a 3-fold difference.

It’s a bit harder to find stats addressing women winemakers. Last year’s article in Seattle Met (by Allecia Vermillion) sliced and diced the information on gender and winemaking a couple of ways. She reported (via the Washington State Wine Commission) that just 80 women in Washington held the title of ‘winemaker’ or ‘assistant winemaker’… among the state’s 1,000+ wineries. That’s another yikes.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into nuance. Writing in Forbes, Jillian Dara reflected on trends affecting women who aspire to leadership positions in wine. Interviewing six winemakers, the author asked each woman to reflect on their passions as well as challenges experienced. In regard to barriers, the winemakers talked about stereotypes, often being mistaken for supporting players rather than the ones ‘in charge’ of winemaking. They talked about misconceptions about cellar work and whether they were perceived as being unable to hold up to the physical demands of wine production work (e.g., moving barrels and giant hoses). The winemakers talked about money as a barrier to career advancement, noting how capital intensive it is to start a winery. As a result, fewer women are able to get in on the ground floor of new winery projects. But… on the positive side the women talked in rich detail about what they loved about winemaking. From the exhausted exhilaration of grape harvest to the joy of building a wine, the women’s narratives reflected the intrinsic rewards of winemaking. They were in it for many reasons….but mostly because they loved the circuitous art and science of winemaking.

So, we’ve just peeked behind the curtain into wine world. What does this mean for you as a wine consumer….especially when you’re considering which bottle of Syrah or Grenache to pick off the shelf at your favorite wine shop?  Well, the first thing is that trends addressing women leadership are moving in the right direction, albeit slower than many would like.  That’s good news.  Most large wineries are being intentional about gender inclusion in their hiring practices. Many have instituted formal DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) programs with the goal of achieving a more balanced workforce.  So, if you’re scrolling around some evening, it’s worth looking up a few Washington winery sites to see what they are doing in regard (e.g., any women winemakers in their lineup?). Then buy wines from places you know are doing the right thing. Second, you can applaud the work of advocacy groups.  In Washington, that group is the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine ( and they are shining a light on women leaders in all facets of the wine industry.  They’d be happy to receive a donation, if you’re so inclined.  And….last but not least….this is not the time to throw men in the wine industry under the bus.  That’s counterproductive. The men I know are among the strongest advocates for change.

Back to your glass…of wine that is.  Just like any glass of fine wine, it’s got many layers to it.  Toni Morrison wrote that ‘the best art is political,’ and I’d argue the same for wine.  The best wine is political. Wine is at its best when we know many threads to its origin story; its soil and sun, its dance with time, and its finale (in your glass). Gender, power, and proximity to change are important dimensions to your wine’s story as well. Those layers are just as rich. In the wine world, a change is gunna come.  And none too soon.

Author Patricia Butterfield, PhD, RN is a public health advocate, recovering academic leader, and co-owner of Winescape, an award-winning production winery and tasting room on Spokane’s South Hill.