When considering international innovators in the winemaking industry, a list of male names quickly comes to mind. Oregon pioneer David Lett, California wine magnate Robert Mondavi (with sons Tim and Michael), Buena Vista visionary Augustin Harazthy, and “suitcase winemaker” David Phinney are visionaries whose achievements are easily rattled off by those savvy to wine culture. Still, not noted are the great women behind these men. David Lett started Eyrie vineyards with wife Diana in 1966. Robert Mondavi found greater love in second wife Margrit. David Phinney would not have created the name for Orin Swift Cellars without benefit of his mother’s maiden name. Women are not just present in viticulture, but have played prominent roles for centuries.
One enormously influential woman was Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin. Married in her early twenties to François Cliquot, she found herself a single mother by the age of twenty-six due to her husband’s death. Still, she needed to provide for her children. And thinking resourcefully, she chose to further her deceased husband’s Champagne production business rather than focusing on the wool trade or banking. In time, she started a revolution by inventing the pupître and rèmuage (the production method discussed in a previous class), and, later, even entertained Russian business partners at a time when relations between Europe and Russia were bitter. Because of her, the face of Champagne changed forever, and, today, the House of Cliquot stands solidly among the most notable of Champagne houses.
The biscuit-like qualities of her – or any – sparkler would not be easily identified, if not for Dr. Ann Noble’s work on the Aroma Wheel in 1984. A Ph. D. of Food Science, she applied her know-how to describe the various flavors in wine after joining a research group at UC Davis in 1974. Back then, there was little to no language to identify the many tastes present in wine. Thus, she intently researched natural aromas, odors, scents, flavors, etc., to create a wheel of identifiers that begin with a broadest category near the wheel’s center that broke down into more specific words near the circumference. The wheel is comprised of twelve categories:
Family plays a large role in women’s involvement in wine culture. The Allegrini family business has existed in Italy’s Veneto region since the 16th century. Marilisa Allegrini – current head of sales for Allegrini wines – was not originally intended to take her position, as roles within the company went to male members and she had other interests. Her father believed in her, though, and asked her to represent the company when she was just twenty-three years old. Honored, she altered her course of study and joined the family business, instead. Today, she is the face of Allegrini wines.
Back in America, Gina Gallo is another success story. A granddaughter of the great Julio Gallo of Gallo Wines, she opted to help in the family vineyards during high school and then joined the sales team once she graduated college. Fatefully, she was bitten by the winemaking bug then, returned to school to study viticulture at UC Davis, and finally apprenticed under Marcello Monticelli. She is now the creator of Gallo’s Signature Series, using grapes grown by brother Matt Gallo.
Virginia winemaker Jenny McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards maintains her important role as advocate for the cause of a particular varietal, the Norton grape. A final result of cross-breeding experiments by Dr. Daniel Norton, the wine produced by the vine’s fruit is the American alternative to Old World wine, and a dream come true for founding father Thomas Jefferson. Dedicated to legitimizing Norton since breaking ground for her Virginia winery in ‘99, McCloud remains in the role as its lead promoter and was awarded a prize in 2014 for her video “Norton, the Most American Grape that You’ve Almost Never Heard Of.”
Cambria is another company created and run primarily by women. Envisioned by Barbara Banke in 1987, the winery grew among the cool rolling hills of Santa Maria, where she worked with others to cultivate Pinot Noir. In time, she was joined by two of Jess Jackson’s daughters, and now this “family” enjoys great success as creators of many lines of Pinot Noir. One such offering is Clone 4, a near perfect illustration of California wine. Its delicate color suggests red fruit like raspberry and cherry, and its flavor reflects this. Alone, it is immensely enjoyable. But when paired with items like roasted chicken, simply procured whitefish, and pepper-crusted salmon, its other facets begin to shine with further clarity.