First Generation of Women in Wine Talk About Their Challenges, Experiences

Last week’s annual Women in Wine event put on by the Women for Winesense Napa/Sonoma chapter was held on Thursday evening, March 5th at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. The event included a raffle and silent auction through which $1600 toward the scholarship fund was raised. The highlight of the evening, however, was an informative and lively panel discussion featuring eight women wine professionals.

The first hour and a half was devoted to wine tastings including the wines of the featured winemaker panel guests. Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio Wines was pouring her unoaked Chardonnay, a pure, fresh expression of fruit with enough balance to round off the finish. Jillian Johnson DeLeon of Onesta Wines offered a Cinsault rosé made from grapes from 130 year old vines. The wine had tart cranberry and strawberry aromas with a sloe gin finish. Penny Gadd-Coster of Rack and Riddle was pouring a North Coast sparkling wine that had tropical fruit aromas, fine bubbles and a smooth finish. Two other winemakers, also on the panel, Sara Fowler of Peju and Rebecca Jenkins of Clarbec Wines were available during the social hour as were Karen MacNeil, wine writer and author of The Wine Bible and Theresa Dorr, CMO of Active Consulting.

The panel discussion portion of the event was held in the auditorium. Moderated by Jeff Davis, host of ‘On the Wine Road,’ the panel touched on how the wine industry has changed in the past 30 years. “A lot has changed since we were all getting into the business,” stated Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director of A16 and SPQR in San Francisco. Karen MacNeil described the wine world of the 1970’s as “owned by five men in New York. Everyone who produced wine in the world would come and do tastings for just these five men. There were no women in the wine business in New York City.” Sara Fowler said of becoming a winemaker in the 1980’s, “One of the challenges was being female and being taken seriously.” Though all on the panel agreed with Shelley Lindgren that, “The wine industry has changed so much. It’s constantly evolving just like wine evolves.” A big part of the change is the number of women professionals in the wine industry today.

The panelists talked about their personal wine journeys, both the hard work and the rewards. Karen MacNeil noted “It takes a really long time to learn how to write well. It takes a long time to learn to teach well, and , of course, as we all know, it takes a long time to learn wine at least moderately well.” When talking about her job, Cynthia Cosco said, “I don’t think people really realize how much work is involved in making wine. It really never stops.” But, when it comes to the people in the wine industry, Jillian Johnson DeLeon said, “You meet some amazing people along the way.” It is people who have guided and continue to guide these wine professionals. As Penny Gadd-Coster noted, “I keep learning from all my customers.”

When it came to giving advice to women who are just getting into the wine industry, the theme was courage. Karen MacNeil advised, “Don’t start out with a question. Start out with a declarative statement, ‘I can do this.’” Theresa Dorr advised, “Don’t be afraid to knock on doors. Don’t be afraid to ask.” Rebecca Jenkins, CEO of Clarbec Wines and CFO of Madrone Vineyard Management said, “You have to stand up for yourself.”

The panelists shared their experiences and advice generously. As their individual stories unfolded during the panel discussion, it became very clear that, as Cynthia Cosco noted, “Women in this industry are very gracious.”

5 comments on “First Generation of Women in Wine Talk About Their Challenges, Experiences

  1. What a great event! I’m so glad YOU were there!

  2. What a great event. Nice to live it through your experience. Thank you!

  3. foxress says:

    Julie and Michelle, thank you both for your comments! Before the event I got to meet Karen MacNeil, shake her hand and tell her that her book was the book that made me fall in love with wine. I’m sure she’s heard that a million times, but she was so gracious and acted genuinely touched. It was an awesome night! Thank you both so much for reading. I cannot tell you how much I value our virtual friendships!

  4. Lucky you! Thanks for sharing.

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