To celebrate Women's History Month, I wanted to share a few of the lessons we can learn from California's inspiring female winemakers who entered the field from 1965 to 1984. This includes many trailblazing women who have all distinguished themselves in their specializations in the wine industry, including Ann Noble, Milla Handley, Merry Edwards, Carole Meredith, and Cathy Corison.
Even as late as 1978, Cathy Corison observed that there were still very few women in the cellars. The traditional role for female winemakers was in a lab as enologists, analyzing and managing the chemical and biological components of each wine. Many of the the most iconic female winemakers started their careers as enologists, but defied expectations and escaped the fate "of getting stuck in the laboratory" to establish themselves as California's wine making trailblazers.
Christina Benz noted that she experienced some of the same resistance that many other trailblazing female winemakers encountered. "Women weren't allowed to work in the cellar. We weren't considered strong enough, but I think many of us proved this conception to be dead wrong: by hauling hoses, pushing around pumps, shoveling out a tank full of grapes–and yes it's hard physical labor, but women can do it." And anyone who saw Merry Edwards work in the cellar would happily testify that women can do cellar work!
The first female in the Vintners Hall of Fame, Carol Meredith, wasn’t inducted until 2009. Cathy Corison remarked in a casual conversation a few years ago, "Back in 1978, when I did my first harvest, I never thought that women would be recognized as winemakers." These women were quality-oriented, self-starters, and passionate about their work, but they had to work harder for the same level of success as their male colleagues. Though female winemakers were not always given the same respect or opportunities, history continues to reflect the important impact that women have had in the industry.
Though it can be difficult for women to make their mark in such a predominantly male-dominated industry, many great female winemakers have taken their roles as pathfinders seriously by encouraging, opening doors for, and mentoring other women who are passionate about winemaking.
We can take inspiration from women who have established themselves as notable winemakers and have brought significant knowledge, vision, and innovation to the field using their drive, verve, and ability. As we celebrate women's history month, there is so much gratitude for the women who have enriched the field with an important and inspiring legacy.
I could go on and on about these women and the impact they have made (like the 5 female winemakers in California who changed wine everywhere), so let’s keep the conversation going! If you want to know more about California's Wine making trailblazers, connect with me on social media and reach out to let me know what questions you have! Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with our favorite travel tips, upcoming events, info about our wine, and our work with other women-owned businesses.