- Posted by The CorkGuru
Being a woman-owned business in the wine industry, CorkGuru is always intrigued and inspired by the stories of the women who were the pioneers in the world of wine. It is hard to believe that merely 40-50 years ago, women in the United States were not even in the business. As wine importing icon Martine Saunier bluntly observes when she was first considering an import business in the 1960s: “There were no women in the wine business then,” she explains. “We were supposed to marry and shut up.”
Although it is still a male dominated industry, there are many amazing women dotting every aspect of the wine business from winemakers to vineyard owners. Check out some of the brave pioneers that paved the way.
Ancient Persian Woman Legend
Since the creation of wine was so long ago, no one is really sure who made the first discovery, BUT we’re hoping this legend of a Persian woman is true. How cool would it be if a woman was actually the first person to discover wine? No wonder, we love it so much!
As the legend states, “..wine was discovered by a girl despondent over her rejection by the king. The girl decided to commit suicide by drinking the spoiled residue left by rotting table grapes. Instead of poisoning the girl, the fermentation must’ve caused her to pass out to awaken the next morning with the realization that life was worth living. She reported back to the king her discovery of the intoxicating qualities of the spoiled grape juice and was rewarded for her find.”
Sounds like a true story to us!
The Grand Madame of Champagne – Barbe-Nicole Clicquot
Fast forward to 1805, when Barbe-Nicole Clicquot’s husband François passed away, leaving her in control of a company that produced champagne among other things. Madame Clicquot focused her efforts on the champagne business, where she invented a technique known as riddling to enhance the champagnes they produced. (Go, Madame!)
If you haven’t heard of it, riddling is a process that removes sediment from champagne. Before Madam Clicquot came around, champagne was actually a cloudy, murky drink that looked more like a heavy beer. Now, the riddling technique has been adopted by almost every champagne house. This is how it works: An upside down champagne bottle is turned on a daily basis to push the sediment to the neck of the bottle. It eventually gets pushed out with the champagne’s pressure and is frozen so the sediment can be taken out like an icecube. In modern times, this is done with machines, but during those times, every Champagne bottle had to be turned manually! That’s a lot of manual labor for some crisp delicious champagne, but we’re glad Veuve Clicquot thought of this great idea!
Madame of Champagne – Lily Bollinger
Another Madame of Champagne was one of the first well known faces of the industry: Lily Bollinger. She truly transformed the idea of champagne into what it is today: A fun, bubbly drink perfect for any and every celebration. One of her best known quotes captures the spirit of her love for bubbles, “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.”
Lily took over the wine business when her late husband Jacques Bollinger died in 1941, which is when she began to travel the world promoting their champagne. She was in the business until 1971 when her nephews succeeded her.
Port Wine Pioneer – Antonia “Ferreirinha” Ferreira
Antonia inherited many vineyards from her wealthy family. Married to her cousin, an arranged marriage, she was not able to fully take advantage of her ownership of the wine business until she was widowed in 1804. (We’re beginning to see a pattern here!) She became known for her leadership in cultivating port wine and became the largest exporter of port during her reign. She forged a profitable relationship with England, who was also the very first country to import port.
Antonia was known endearingly by her workers, employees and farmers as “Ferreirinha” because of her ability to take care of them during difficult times, including pest infestations that destroyed entire vineyards. Upon her death in 1896, she left behind a large fortune and nearly thirty vineyards! Port all around, friends!
California’s First Winemaker – Isabelle Simi
In 1904, the Simi brothers and founders of Simi Winery died suddenly due to a flu epidemic, leaving Guiseppe Simi’s daughter Isabelle to take over management. Isabelle was California’s first female winemaker at the age of 18 (some say younger!). She was able to devise a way to run one of the few wineries during the prohibition decade by producing specially licensed “sacramental” wine. By law, she was required to sell off the vineyards, but was able to keep making the wine in her cellar. When prohibition ended, she had a 25,000 gallon wine cask available for tastings and tons of inventory to sell to legal wine lovers everywhere!
Although Isabelle sold the winery to another grower Russell Green in 1970, she continued to work there and fostered the growth of several women’s wine careers at Simi. This included, Maryann Graf, the first woman to graduate from an American university with a degree in oenology, as well as Zelma Long, who was the first woman to assume senior management of a Californian winery. Long was president of the Simi Winery from 1989 to 1996. I’ll bet the Simi brothers didn’t expect their winery to be a leader in pioneering women in wine! We love the Simi family!
Queen of Burgundy – Lalou Bize-Leroy
Now we’ve talked about the Madame’s of Champagne, but we haven’t introduced the Queen of Burgundy: Lalou Bize-Leroy! Lalou took over her father Henry Leroy’s wine business in 1955.
In 1988 she founded Domaine Leroy by purchasing, the estates of Charles Noellat at Vosne-Romanée and of Philippe-Rémy at Gevrey-Chambertin. In total Domaine Leroy now owns almost 100 acres of vineyards.
Not only that, but since September 1988, Lalou has made sure that all of her vineyards use biodynamic cultivation, in a belief that all of her vines, plants and soil are “…as alive as animals and humans…”. Her vineyards use no synthetic chemicals or fertilizers even today.
In the documentary “A Year in Burgundy” you will see how Lalou even treats her vines as living beings, never trimming or pruning them, only bending the vines to avoid becoming a forest!
Watch the film trailer here: https://youtu.be/Txpj7UjvvI4
Martine Saunier – Wine Importer
This brings us to the first woman to establish a wine importing company in the United States and the producer of the movie “A Year in Burgundy”: Martine Saunier. She was born in France, brought up in Paris, but stayed at her Aunt’s winery in Prissé every summer which inspired her love for wine!
When Martine moved to the US in 1964, she was unable to find the fine wines she enjoyed in France. She started her career working for an importer, making her first trip back to Burgundy (about an hour from Prissé) in 1969 to collect the best wines to bring back to the states. She turned this career into her own company in 1979, which is still in business today: Martine’s Wines!
Today, Martine is a film star and producer of the documentary A Year in Burgundy as well as a second documentary film released earlier this year: A Year in Champagne! They are both available on Netflix and iTunes. We recommend enjoying some wine and Netflix soon!
First American Woman Sommelier – Madeline Triffon
Lastly, we have to note the first American woman to earn the prestigious Master Sommelier title in 1987: Madeline Triffon. At the time, “Detroit’s First Lady of Wine” as she became known, was 1 of only 9 other Americans that held this title. Today, Madeline is the Master Sommelier at Plum Market. See her “Mad Picks” and their awesome Wine Events here. Another spot we need to make a trip to visit!
Who are your favorite women in wine? We’re sure we’re missing some good ones out there! Comment below or tweet us @CorkGuru to give them your praise!