Today is the 100th International Women’s Day–the perfect opportunity, we felt, to highlight the achievements of some of the wine world’s most important women.
From winery owners to winemakers to critics to journalists, a significant portion of the wine industry’s leaders are, in fact, women. So to figure out who stands above the rest, we assembled a panel of winemakers, journalists, sommeliers and other successful wine professionals, and asked each of them to name the five most important women in wine of all time (See the panel below). Dozens of women were named, but three in particular received the greatest number of votes from our panel for their contributions to the wine world:
• Jancis Robinson: The runaway winner, she’s a Master of Wine, author of several books and writer of a weekly Financial Times column that’s considered to be the pinnacle of wine journalism. She’s one of the most respected, level-headed wine critics in the world.
• Zelma Long: She’s perhaps the greatest consultant winemaker you’ve never heard of–a winemaker’s winemaker who got more votes from our panel than Helen Turley, Heidi Barrett or Philippine de Rothschild. Long was Robert Mondavi’s head enologist through the ’70s, then turned around the Simi winery and became its CEO. She’s consulted for wineries in Washington, Oregon, Israel, France, Argentina and Italy, and she’s also the winemaking partner of Vilafonté in South Africa–as well as owner and winemaker of her own company, Long Vineyards, in Napa.
• Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, aka, Le Veuve (“widow”) Clicquot: Widowed at age 27 in 1805, Ponsardin took the reins of her husband’s Champagne business–and changed the entire industry. Under her leadership the technique of riddling was instituted and perfected, which transformed Champagne from a sweet drink to the fine, dry, fizzy wine we know and love today. Next time you open a great bubbly, know there was an even greater woman who inspired it. And that was just for starters in her long, brilliant career.
Among our nine panelists, more than 25 different women were named at least once for their contributions to the wine world–which goes to show just how many important and influential women there are in this industry. There are winery owners, winemakers, writers, Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, you name it–each of whom has moved the wine industry forward in one way or another.
Read on to learn a little more about each of these women, and get a sense of how much they’ve influenced what wines the world sips each and every day.
Leading Women in Wine
We asked each of our panelists to name the five most important women in the wine world, of all time. The following women all received at least one mention from our panel. Some received two or three mentions, but no one earned as many votes as Jancis Robinson, Zelma Long and Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin (Le Veuve Clicquot), above.
• Alessia Antinori is a 26th-generation winemaker in the famed Antinori family of Italy, though she spends much of her time–at the moment–marketing the family’s ranges of wine in new and established markets around the world for months at a time. Still in her early 30s, it’s this young, fresh face that’s bringing new attention to one of Italy’s most established families and traditions.
• Fiona Beckett is one of the leading food and wine writers in the U.K. She’s written more than 20 books, with pairing food and wine as her main focus; she’s a regular columnist for The Guardian.
• Heidi Peterson Barrett is one of America’s–if not the world’s–most respected winemakers. She’s known for making some of California’s most successful cult wines, Screaming Eagle chief among them. Today she consults for several different producers, and also has her own label, La Sirena.
• Lalou Bize-Leroy is the owner of Domaine d’Auvenay and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, and for nearly two decades she helped run Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the Burgundy producer that makes some of the most sought-after and expensive wines in the world (she left in ’92). Leroy, in particular, produces several grand cru, premier cru and village-level wines, and all the wines are made according to biodynamic principles.
• Lilly Bollinger has a story that somewhat mirrors that of the Veuve Clicquot. Lilly’s husband died in 1941, and she ran the Champagne estate for the next three decades. She expanded and improved production, and traveled the world to sell the Bollinger Champagnes. She’s perhaps best remembered for what she once said of Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it–unless I’m thirsty.”
• Laura Catena is a true renaissance woman. She’s a physician, a mother of three, the author of a wine book and the president of her family’s winery, Bodega Catena Zapata, in Argentina.
• Sylvie Cazes is perhaps the most powerful person in Bordeaux. She’s credited with the successful running of Chateau Lynch Bages (and several other holdings in the family business over the past 20 years), and she was elected president of the Union des Grand Cru Classes de Bordeaux in 2008. She’s also served on the Bordeaux City Council, and just last month she was named managing director of Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. Only in her mid-50s, expect Cazes to be a guiding force in Bordeaux wine for a long time to come.
• Jeannie Cho Lee is the first person from Asia to become a Master of Wine. Born in Seoul and educated at Smith College and at Harvard, Cho Lee currently lives in Hong Kong. She’s a widely published wine journalist and critic, and also works as a consultant for Singapore Airlines. She has her own site, Asian Palate.
• Diana Cullen and her husband Kevin are considered pioneers of the Western Australia wine industry. They planted their vineyard in 1971, and gained quick acclaim for their high-quality wines. In 2000, Diana was inducted as a Member of the Order of Australia for her service and contribution to the development of the wine industry. She died a few years later, but her daughter Vanya Cullen, also named to our list, is carrying her mother’s legacy forward. She’s been head winemaker at Cullen since 1989, and she’s earned many accolades and awards; she was named Woman of the Year by U.K. magazine The Drinks Business in 2008. She was the first Australian to receive the honor.
• Veronique Drouhin Boss is a pioneer in Oregon Pinot Noir. She and her father, Robert Drouhin, were among the first to see Oregon as a serious spot for Pinot on par with their home of Burgundy. She’s made the highly acclaimed Domaine Drouhin wines since 1988.
• Merry Edwards has been a fixture of the Sonoma wine industry since the 1970s, working as a consultant for several different high-profile producers. But her relentless pursuit of perfection with her own wines, Pinot Noir in particular, is what’s drawn the most admiration from her peers near and far.
• May-Eliane de Lencquesaing ran and made the wines at Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande for three decades. She’s also widely known and respected for her work promoting and marketing Bordeaux wines around the world.
• Mary Ewing-Mulligan is the first American woman to become a Master of Wine, and she’s co-author of the books Wine for Dummies and Wine Style, along with her husband Ed McCarthy.
• Laura Maniec is one of the youngest American women ever to be inducted into the Court of Master Sommeliers. She was wine director at the BR Guest Restaurant Group for 10 years, and is soon to open her own wine bar, Corkbuzz, in New York. She plans for Corkbuzz to offer wine tastings and classes.
• Corinne Mentzelopoulos is the owner of legendary Chateau Margaux. She’s credited with completing and advancing the work of her father, who took over the estate and began restoring it in the ’70s after it had fallen on hard times. Much like de Lencquesaing, above, Mentzelopoulos is lauded for her work marketing the wines of Bordeaux around the world, but she’s also known for her keen business sense that led her to the right time to buy the estate outright in 2003.
• Hazel Murphy is largely responsible for the exploding popularity of Australian wine through the ’90s and 2000s. She spent approximately 20 years as head of the Australian Wine Bureau in England, and on her watch Australia’s wine exports rose from the thousands of cases per year to the tens of millions. Most importantly, she did what so few had been able to accomplish to that point: She exposed people to wine who’d never before thought about buying it. The rest is history.
• Ann Noble is a professor emeritus at the University of California Davis, best known for inventing the wine Aroma Wheel. It’s considered to be one of the best tools for helping those new to wine — as well as seasoned wine professionals — better understand how to taste and assess wine. She has a PhD in food science from the University of Massachusetts, and she was the first female faculty member of U.C. Davis’ viticulture department.
• Mary Penfold was the wife of Christopher Rawson Penfold; they emigrated to Australia from England in the mid-1800s. Together they established what is today Australia’s — and one of the world’s — most famous and successful wine companies. Mary ran the winery and vineyard for about 40 years, her viticultural and winemaking expertise unmatched in Australia during that time. Her ability to experiment in the vineyard and winery, too, led to many grape-growing and winemaking techniques adopted and developed by others after her death in 1896.
• Norma Ratcliffe is one of the most important trailblazers in the South African wine industry. She and her husband began growing grapes and vegetables in the 1970s, and Ratcliffe became so enraptured with winemaking that she went to train in Bordeaux in the mid ’80s. Many of South Africa’s successful winemakers, in turn, trained under Ratcliffe. She’s still the director of Warwick Estate in Stellenbosch.
• Andrea Robinson is a Master Sommelier, the author of several wine books and has hosted wine-related shows on Food Network and Fine Living.
• Louisa Rose is chief winemaker at Australian producer Yalumba, where she’s worked for nearly 20 years. In particular, she’s known for thinking outside the Shiraz, and has made some of Australia’s most prized Viogniers. She’s also the first female winemaker to be the head judge of the Perth Royal Wine Show.
• Baroness Philippine de Rothschild is the owner of legendary Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and has led the family business from strength to strength since she took over in 1988. Back then, a bottle of Mouton released for somewhere between $50 and $100; the 2008 was released at more than $1,100 per bottle.
• Martine Saunier is the first woman to establish a wine-importing company in the United States, and is currently president of Martine’s Wines. Throughout her career she’s taken regular trips to France to find new and interesting wines which, early on, she sold through a mailing list. More than a salesperson, she’s credited with being an ambassador for French wines in America.
• Serena Sutcliffe is a Master of Wine–the second woman to earn the distinction, and one of the very few people to pass the exam on the first attempt–and the head of Sotheby’s wine department. She’s earned several awards for her service to wine education and written several wine books; she also shares much of the credit for popularizing wine auctions beyond a few, small circles of private collectors.
• Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is only the fifth American woman to become a Master of Wine, and she helps train wine- and spirits-industry professionals. She’s a regular fixture on American television and radio, offering straight, easy-to-understand wine guidance.
• Madeline Triffon is only the second woman to pass the Master Sommelier exam, and has been exposing Detroit-area diners to the great wines of the world since the late ’70s. Today she heads the wine department for the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group in Michigan.
• Helen Turley stands alongside–and perhaps above, some would argue–the greatest California winemakers ever. She trained some of California’s other cult winemakers, such as Heidi Peterson Barrett (above) and Mark Aubert, and has consulted for wineries such as Pahlmeyer, Bryant Family and Colgin. Her own, small-production wines, Marcassin Vineyard, are some of the most sought-after in the world; the mailing list is a years-long wait.
• Gary Vaynerchuk, host of Wine Library TV
• Mary Ewing-Mulligan, Master of Wine, educator and co-author of Wine for Dummies
• Randall Grahm, winemaker
• Elin McCoy, Bloomberg wine writer and author of The Emperor of Wine
• Stephen Brook, writer for Decanter magazine
• Natalie MacLean, author of Red, White and Drunk All Over
• Michael Olivier, South African wine critic and author
• Alpana Singh, Master Sommelier
• Ben Edwards, Australian wine critic and author
• Richard Betts, Master Sommelier