Writing About Women In Wine

Arianna Occhipinti, who I shared some pizza and Cerasuolo with in Sicily this fall
Arianna Occhipinti, whom I shared some pizza and Cerasuolo with in Sicily this fall

Recently, PUNCH (one of my fave websites about booze) published a really thoughtful essay on how female winemakers are portrayed differently than their male counterparts. Specifically, the author is talking about so-called “rebel” winemakers, who are working independently (no corporate funding), and often making low-intervention, natural wines.

The author is pointing out that, when it comes to female winemakers of this ilk, instead of calling them rebels, the focus is on their community-building efforts, or “an intense focus on their own projects rather than an attempt to fit themselves into a larger, more epic narrative — a sense of being not so much anti-establishment as not-of-the-establishment.”

Two of my articles are linked in this piece; one, a round-up of natural wine restaurants across the country, which included bottle recommendations from their wine directors, is called out as an example of how rarely female winemakers are acknowledged — because only one of the wine directors chose a wine made by a woman. This, of course, has nothing to do with my writing, but I will just say that I don’t really think wine directors focus very much on the gender of the winemaker, as much as how the wine actually tastes, its price point, and so on. When you see an amazing film, you’re not more impressed by it if it was made by a woman, right? 

That said, female winemakers are certainly a minority, although there are many, many examples of respected female winemakers (some mentioned in the PUNCH piece). The other article of mine referenced here is my profile of Brianne Day, for Eater. When I ventured to write about Brianne (we became friends since I wrote the profile, so I can’t really refer to her in the journalistic way, by last name, any more), I had the sense that she was breathing fresh life into the Oregon wine scene. I wanted to profile her because I thought her wines were very promising, and because she was doing amazing business development (why call it “community building” as the PUNCH author does, instead of focusing on its economic nature?), and she just has incredible positive energy that you don’t see too often in our ironic culture. I think the PUNCH piece is correct to point out that my article focused on things other than just her wine, but I don’t actually think that’s a bad thing. In fact, when I compare my profile of Brianne to my profile of Andrea Calek — which basically just focused on his wines — I think my Brianne profile is way more interesting. Do you agree?

So, these dynamics are present, and they are difficult to navigate. It’s rare to be a female wine writer, too (on every press trip I go on, it’s basically me, three older white dudes, and the female PR representative), and female wine importers are also rare. I think it’s OK for female winemakers to want to be recognized for their gender — see Vogue’s profile of Jordan Salcito, who has her own wine label, with her pregnancy at center — but also, for them not to desire that to be the focus. Whenever this issue comes up, I think of chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton, who has said in public discussions that she doesn’t feel like “female chef” is the main aspect of her identity — it’s just chef, and it’s the food she makes that counts. But the point of the PUNCH piece is to show that we all, including female writers like me, could have some hidden biases. True? Hm. Let’s say the PUNCH piece has given me something to consider, moving forward, as I continue to write about wine and food.

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