It seems to be an ongoing battle and certainly a hot topic…

…nd no, we don’t aim to reignite existing tensions; rather, we seek to shine a light on the rising stars of the wine industry — who happen to be female. For a long time, this sector, like many others, was predominantly influenced by men until fairly recently.

Not as if it would mean a thing. But the number of female leaders of wine businesses and female enologists is just slowly growing.

(Photo: ivanko80/

The Changing Landscape of Women Winemakers in California

The winemaking industry is undergoing a significant evolution, and California stands as a noteworthy example of this change. Over the years, the state’s viticultural landscape has transformed, particularly through the increasing leadership of women in the field. The rise of women winemakers in California presents a captivating narrative, interwoven with historical context, ongoing advancements, and notable achievements. We aim to explore this intricate tapestry in detail.

The Rise of Women Winemakers

To gauge the progress made by women in California’s wine industry, we need to start with the numbers. According to a 2020 study by Santa Clara University, there were over 4,200 wineries in California, and approximately 14% of them had a woman as their lead winemaker. Not too many, right? However, when we look back, this still marks an improvement from the 10% reported in a 2011 study.

It’s essential to recognize that progress was slower in the past. Contrary to the often-cited claim that 10% of Californian winemakers were women in 1890, historical records reveal a different story. The role of women in winemaking primarily involved becoming winery owners following the death of their spouses. Significant strides didn’t begin to be made until the 1960s.

A case study that focused on recognized California wineries with open positions between 1999 and 2014 suggested that the best-case scenario for the next decade would be a 21% representation of women winemakers. So far, we have not found current numbers that would support this forecast.

(Photo: peshkova/

Pioneering Women in the 1960s Until Today

The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of leading-edge women winemakers in California. Mary Ann Graf, the first woman to earn an enology degree from UC Davis, led the way. Subsequently, women like Zelma Long, Barbara Lindblom, Merry Edwards, and others made significant contributions to the industry.

The modern era witnessed the ascent of remarkable women winemakers. These include Cathy Corison, Carol Shelton, and Jill Davis, who made their mark in the late 1970s.

The percentage of women lead winemakers varies significantly across California’s wine regions. The Sonoma/Marin and South Central Coast regions currently boast the highest representation at approximately 17%.

Recognizing Women’s Skills

Many accomplished winemakers, both women and men, craft wine for more than one winery. Interestingly, the production ranges of wineries with female and male lead winemakers are quite similar.

Evidence also suggests that women winemakers are receiving increased acclaim. They are making their presence known on respected wine lists, including those published by Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Top 100 Wineries, Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Cellar Selections Globally, and Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List.

African-American Women Winemakers

California is further home to several African-American women winemakers, including Theodora Lee of Theopolis Vineyards and the McBride Sisters. Somebody to certainly watch out for…

While the journey has been long and the progress slow, women winemakers in California have made significant strides in recent decades. Their contributions to the industry are increasingly recognized and celebrated, and their influence continues to grow. The future of winemaking, not just in California but globally, is undeniably becoming more diverse and inclusive thanks to these talented women.

But the landscape expands even further when we look beyond California. Jancis Robinson MW, Dr. Laura Catena, Maria José De Heredia, Karen MacNeil, and others are just a few among the many who have left a significant imprint on the world of wine, in one way or another.

by Lotte Gabrovits

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