March 2022 - Women in Wine

March 2022

Women in Wine   


Florence Bouchard

Château Rougeon, ‘Cuvée Gryphées’ Chardonnay

Côte Chalonnaise, Bourgogne 2018

Mary Taylor

Mary Taylor Wines, Valençay, Loire Valley 2019

Produced by Sophie Siadou of Château Jourdain

It’s no secret that the wine industry is overwhelmingly male-dominated. Some estimates say that female winemakers make up only 14% of the 4,000+ head winemakers in California. And California is relatively progressive on this front. Those numbers are lower in both Washington (7%) and New York (4%). I’m sure many parts of Europe fare far worse for wear than that. It’s not just the production side of wine that women are underrepresented. In the world of hospitality, there are 5x as many male Master Sommeliers than females, and with multiple recent allegations of sexual-harassment at the highest level of the Court of Master Sommeliers, that number is not likely to increase. (Master of Wine on the other hand, is a slightly better 2:1 ratio). While not many official counts of the wholesale or retail side of the wine industry exist, I can confidently state that women make up less than a quarter of the employee base in both of these fields.

But what women may make up for quantity in the industry, they undoubtedly make up for in quality and prominence. If you own a book on wine, there’s a good chance it was written by Jancis Robinson (World Atlas of Wine), Karen Macneil (The Wine Bible), or Madeline Puckette (Wine Folly). If you drink top-tier Burgundy, there’s a good chance it was either made, imported, or from a winery/vineyard owned by women. If you look at the promising wines being exported out of the up & coming Eastern European wine regions, a surprising amount are from female-ran wineries. And the future is bright here at home too - for the last 15 years, a healthy 42% of the graduates at the prestigious Viticulture and Enology Program at UC Davis were female. More and more, the winds of change are starting to blow over the wine industry, but it will take a long time before real equity is achieved.

So, why do I care? Just another dude who owns a wine shop… a part of the problem, if you will? Well, for one, it’s because I’d rather be a part of the solution than the problem. Two, it’s simply because women have had a profound impact on my own personal wine career. Four of the five restaurants/import companies I’ve worked with have been female owned (and coincidentally four of the five bosses I’ve actually liked have all been female).

Eight years ago I started my wine journey at a pioneering restaurant and wine bar in San Francisco called A16. Here, Sommelier and Owner Shelley Lindgren brought the unsung wines of Southern Italy to the forefront of California culture. Many of the vintners she chose to work with were women, which in these almost-backwater regions of Italy can be a rarity. Vintners like Clelia Romana (Avellino), Marisa Cuomo (Costa d’Amalfi), Arianna Occhipinti (Sicilia) became household names to my fledgling wine mind. I began to earnestly appreciate the elegance and attention to detail that these women imparted on the wines they crafted.

Every March 7th, for as long as the restaurant had been open, the Sommelier team at A16 would rotate out the entire 40-wine by-the-glass program to highlight wines made by Female Winemakers or Proprietors.  That celebration and effort to - albeit temporarily - equalize the industry stuck with me. So this month and every March club in the future, we will dedicate our club to honor women of the industry. 

This month we have two awesome French wines from women winemakers, brought to us by female importers, and sold to me by female sales reps. So to the women winemakers, viticulturists, proprietors, vineyard workers, winery interns, importers, sales reps and sales managers, sommeliers, bartenders, wine shop workers, delivery drivers, and all else who bring authentic wines to our table, we say “Thank you. Don’t ever stop doing what you’re doing.”

Château Rougeon, ‘Cuvée Gryphées’ Chardonnay

Côte Chalonnaise, Bourgogne 2018

Florence Bouchard is currently the 6th generation at the helm of this estate in Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise. She recently took over to help her mother, the elderly Isabelle Bouchard, who was tasked with running the estate when her husband (Elizabeth’s father) Dominique Bouchard passed away unexpectedly. Florence is a young and inspired winemaker, having grown up in the vineyards and learning from her winemaker parents.

The estate of Rougeon itself, is uniquely located in the town of Bissey sous Cruchaud, south of Givry. They’re a 100+ acre contiguous estate that farms poly culturally with wheat, animals, bees, vegetables and forests intermixed with 30 acres of organic vineyards. When Isabelle talks, she always focuses on the granite soils of the estate, which are incredibly rare in the region (Burgundy is famous for limestone). This granite is specifically good for Aligote, which is one of the favorite grape varieties of the estate. Rougeon is a member of ​​Mi-Filles Mi-Raisins, a group of female winemakers in Burgundy.

Relatively speaking, it’s more common to find female proprietors and winemakers in Burgundy than in some other regions of France and Europe. This is due to centuries of French inheritance laws and the effect of the Napoleonic Code. Prior to the French Revolution, feudal law dictated that the land was passed to the eldest son. Younger sons went to the military and the clergy, and women couldn’t even own land. However, after the revolution, Napoleon decreed that the land must be split evenly amongst heirs, including women. Over the course of several hundred years, this has resulted in the continuous fractionating of vineyards and Cru’s to the point that some growers only own single rows in certain vineyards. While these laws were in effect in other regions, like Bordeaux, the landowners there were far more successful and commercialized when these laws took effect. They were quick to incorporate their holdings into corporate entities, which were excluded from being broken up by Napoleonic code. The farmers of Burgundy, which at the time was a relatively poor and agrarian society, were not able to skirt the law in the same way. A few properties, like Rougeon, were able to avoid these laws and stay connected as one contiguous plot. (So now you know why a 100+ acre property being held as so for 190 years is such a rare occurrence there)

While the estate is planted on a choice piece of granite, they also have plenty of limestone. On the limestone sections, they’ve planted a number of vineyards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This wine, ‘Cuvée Gryphées’ is named after the Gryphaea (fossilized species of Jurassic-era oysters) that can be found in the vineyards. It is the top white of the estate - aged in stainless steel vats on the lees. It is powerful and rich, but with a pleasing texture and perfume. You might taste lemon curd, tropical fruits like star fruit, and asian pear. Medium acid and a medium body make this a great wine for seafood or lighter protein dishes like chicken and pork belly.

One other note about this wine, the importer is the well-regarded Becky Wasserman & Co. The late Rebecca Waserman-Hone founded her import company in 1979, after living in Beaune for 10 years and developing a deep passion for Burgundy wines and intense personal connection with many of the producers there. For decades, Becky Wasserman & Co has remained one of the de-facto importers of French wines, with a penchant for finding undiscovered vintners who go on to become international stars. Becky, who passed away August 20, 2021 at age 85, was known for her unpretentiousness about wine. Our favorite quote of hers (she has many) is the tagline of her company, ‘We do not sell what we do not drink.’ Amen to that, Becky.

Mary Taylor Wines, Valençay, Loire Valley 2019

Produced by Sophie Siadou of Château Jourdain

While the last wine was all about the producer, with the importer as a footnote, this wine may be the inverse. Mary Taylor started her career selling wine in New York City and eventually moved to Burgundy (is this a rite of passage for great importers?). In France, Mary fell in love not with the grandiose, $100+ bottles, but rather with the simplicity of French table wines. As you know by now, in Europe as a whole and France specifically, wines aren’t labeled by Variety (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay), but rather by appellation (Bordeaux, Bourgogne Rouge, Chablis). It can be intimidating for the uninitiated to try and decipher an unknown region to understand what’s in the glass. But once you begin to understand how the region translates to both style and grape, the world of European wine seems to open up entirely. 

Not particularly thrilled how the American market uses things like small handheld desserts and mysterious convicts to market their wines, Mary brought these ideals back stateside and started her import company with the goal to demystify European wine labeling. Today, Mary works with 21 vintners to make 28 appellation branded wines. About half of these winemakers are females, and a majority of the wines are organically or biodynamically grown, even though they’re not marketed as such.

This particular wine comes from the oft-overlooked village of Valençay (the ç is an S sound) in France’s Loire Valley, Southeast of Touraine. The area is most known for its pyramid-shaped goat cheese production, however there is a fair amount of wine produced on the flinty soils hillsides of this small region. In line with other Loire-valley regions growing red grapes, the resulting wine can be somewhat vegetal, herbaceous, and light due to the cooler weather and poor soil conditions. 

The Jourdain family biodynamically farms 70 acres of grapes in the area, crafting a range of wines that offer tremendous value. While most of the wines are produced by proprietor Francis Jourdain and hardly exported outside of France, this wine is dreamt up by Sophie Siadou, the matriarch of the estate. This expression of Valençay is composed of 35% Gamay Noir 35% Côt (Malbec), and 30% Pinot Noir, grown biodynamically and fermented/aged in Neutral Oak. It’s a red table wine in the truest sense - not meant to be fussed over but rather casually enjoyed. It is light and earthy, with raspberries, cherries, blackcurrants and baking spice clustered around a bell-pepper/tomato leaf savory center. Pair with light savory dishes, roasted vegetables, and cheese.


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