This article was written exclusively for port2port.wine – if you are interested in purchasing wines or learning more about the producers mentioned – be sure to visit Port2Port to shop this story!
The number of women in the wine industry is steadily on the rise and given the lengthy lifeline of wine’s existence, it’s certainly been a long time coming. Times are exciting and encouraging for women involved in the industry – not just on a global scale, but here in South Africa too. There are so many poignant examples of kickass ladies getting their ‘wine on’ in South Africa; but before we recognize some of them, let’s first put into context a woman’s role in wine since the beginning of its known existence.
Two weeks ago, thedrinksbusiness.com reported that evidence of the oldest wine in human history dates back to around 8000 years ago. This is as much as 500-1,000 years older than what was previously believed. Large clay jars were discovered with carbon dating that indicated an age from 5,980 BC. The jars were discovered in Georgia and when tested, showed signs of tartaric, malic, succinc and citric acids. Presence of these acids proves that the grapes had been fermented and were not just kept as grape juice.
As we are all aware, women have been around just as long as men; however, in the long history and evolution of wine, women have for the most part remained absent.
History tells us that over time and across the many cultures of the world, wine was essentially reserved for men, drunk by men and produced by men.
In ancient Egypt wine was considered “the gift of the gods” and was also used as a medicinal drug to assist with pain management and physical ailments. Jars of wine were placed alongside famous Egyptian men in their tombs, to make life after death ‘more comfortable’.
In Greece, wine drinking was a social event and Greeks are known to have established the first great male drinking clubs called symposia. This is where upper class, wealthy men would come together to philosophise and discuss current events. Greek women would participate in these events but only if they were filling roles as musicians, prostitutes or servers.
The Romans replaced the word symposia with male-only gatherings known as convivial, which was based around male camaraderie and the enjoyment of wine. In the Roman times, women were not even allowed to serve wine and would be sentenced to death or divorce if they were caught in the act of consumption.
Prejudice against women and wine carried on in Europe throughout the 17th and 18th century. Married women were not permitted to enter Cabarets or Taverns, so wine consumption and service was restricted to female prostitutes or servers working in these establishments.
After wine production and consumption took off in the New World, private male clubs and dinner parties would also restrict the participation of women. “Until up to about 200 years ago, the nuances of wine enjoyment continued to be restricted to men only.
It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the oldest and most well-known of the Bordeaux confrères (brotherhoods), the Jurade of Saint Emillion, finally admitted its first two women, after eight hundred years of men only.” (https://content.iucpress.edu/chapters/10134.ch01.pdf)
Wine has played a vital role in the history of religion in Judaism, Catholicism and Christianity. While women were able to partake in religious ceremonies that involved wine, it wasn’t until more modern times that women were able to actually conduct services or ceremonies and handle the wine.
So when did we see individual women and their names appear in the history books of wine? The emergence of what is now deemed the group of ‘wine widows’ was a notable time period, and it is these particular women who were recorded and recognized for their powerful roles in the history of sparkling wine. Women like Madame Clicquot, Ana Cordoníu and Lilly Bollinger all took over their husband’s estates after their deaths. These estates not only continued to thrive but also advanced under the direction of these women. This time period even saw the invention of riddling come about (thanks to the Great Dame herself, Madame Clicquot)!
Fast forward to today, many would argue that there still exists a powerful and inhibiting exclusion of women in the wine world. Women are still dealing with obstacles that arise from engrained stereotypes and role conflicts. However, there has been a boom of women stepping into the wine industry and numbers are sure to increase. Women struggle, in any profession to balance their roles as wives and mothers alongside the motivation of a career.
The struggle to achieve this balance has been known to be a major obstacle in women’s development in society. However, against the odds there are some notable women in the South African wine industry that have and are blazing a trail for a future generation of women with a passion for wine.
Today, you can’t talk about South African women in wine without mentioning Ntsiki Biyela. She is a pioneer for South Africa’s wine industry and the countries’ first black female winemaker. Ntsiki has created her own brand of wines called Aslina and has been globally recognized for her achievements and determination. Ntsiki thrived even when the odds were stacked against her, studying Oenology and Viticulture on a scholarship at the University of Stellenbosch in 1999 – a short 5 years after the end of apartheid.
Womeninwine.co.za was formed in in 2006. It is a black owned wine producing company that is controlled and managed entirely by women. The organization was founded by 20 women who all work in the South African wine industry and share a common dream. “They strive to give women, especially farm workers and their families, a share in the industry. Women in wine only source wine from farms that comply with socio-economic legislation with specific reference to ethical and environment practices, employment conditions, skills development and training, as well as that address aspects of black economic empowerment.” (womeninwine.co.za)
Up next, the lovely Andrea Mullineaux. Andrea won the coveted title Winemaker of the Year in 2016 – a prestigious title awarded by Wine Enthusiast, a US publication that has a worldwide readership of 800,000. She is the co-owner (alongside her husband Chris) and winemaker at Mullineaux & Leeu Family Wines in Swartland. In 2013, she was the 5th woman to be inducted into the Cape Winemakers Guild since its inception in 1982. She is currently one of two women in the 46 member strong Guild. Membership into the Guild is extended to winemakers who have produced outstanding wines for a minimum of five years, and who are currently still involved in the trade. The membership is by invitation only.
It’s near impossible to go into a wine shop, or any shop these days without coming across a bottle of wine from Warwick Wine Estate. Have you ever wondered why so many of their wines are named after a Lady? The First lady, Blue Lady and White Lady are names of some of the wines from the Warwick range. They are named after the ‘Matriarch’ of the Ratcliffe family, Norma Ratcliffe. She is also known as ‘The First Lady’ as she was one of the first women to make wine in South Africa. Her and her husband Stan founded Warwick Wine Estate in Stellenbosch in 1964. Norma, completely self-taught, became head winemaker at Warwick in the late 1970’s and was the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and the only woman to serve as chairperson. She was also the first person to launch a Cabernet Franc in South Africa. Norma is considered a great pioneer of the South African wine industry and her impact on the industry has left it forever changed.
The Vilafonté range is one of my personal favourites on the market right now. There are only two wines produced and they are of two very distinct styles. One is soft and rounded while the other is fruit driven; both are absolutely delicious and I have yet to try a vintage from Vilafonté that I haven’t adored. At the helm of this brand is Zelma Long, a winemaking partner at the winery. She is one of America’s best known winemakers and is internationally recognized for her work. “She was one of the first women to study oenology and viticulture at U.C Davis. Zelma oversees the winemaking and style development of the Vilafonté wines and has been described as ‘fanatical’ in her pursuit of quality”. (www.vilafonte.com/people)
Some other notable, inspiring women in the wine industry include: Lady May from Glenelly, Wendy Applebaum from Demorgenzon and Ginny Poval of Botanica.
There are also some young, talented winemakers that have burst onto the South African wine scene this year creating their own boutique ranges. Steph Wiid from Thistle and Weed achieved her first 5 star rating from Platters this year alongside her partner Etienne Terblanche for their 2016 Chenin Blanc, Duwweltjie.
It’s so important that women in the South African wine industry are recognized as SA wines continue to shine on an international scale. South African wine is ‘so hot right now’, so let’s utilize this popularity to our advantage by continuing to break outdated stereotypes and boundaries. Wine is for wine lovers, it doesn’t know race, religion or gender. So today, I lift my glass to powerful women in wine all around the world – may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.
Cheers for now,