Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, winemaker Cathy Corison stands surrounded by oak barrels at Corison Winery in St. Helena, Calif. In 1978, the first vintage Corison worked harvest, she could count on one hand the number of women she knew of doing the same kind of work in the cellars of the Napa Valley. A lot more women work as winemakers today, though research by Santa Clara University professors Lucia Albino Gilbert and John Gilbert found that just under 10 percent of California wineries have women as the main or lead winemaker. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Winemaking still a man’s world, but women refining it
Careers » More are taking lead roles, and they tend to be more acclaimed.
First Published Sep 29 2012 10:39 pm • Last Updated Jan 07 2013 11:32 pm

St. Helena, Calif. • In 1978, the first vintage that Cathy Corison made, she could count on one hand without using all her fingers the number of women she knew of doing the same kind of work in the cellars of the Napa Valley.

Nearly 35 years later, Corison needs a lot more fingers. Winemaking remains primarily a man’s world, but research by Santa Clara University professors Lucia Albino Gilbert and John Gilbert has found that nearly 10 percent of California wineries now have women as the main or lead winemaker.

At a glance

Study is online

Go to http://www.womenwinemakers.com

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Their second finding was that women winemakers tend to be more highly acclaimed than their male counterparts.

Why? Hard to say— and that’s not a question the Gilberts attempt to answer in this study — but it may have something to do with persistence. It takes the same effort and skills for a male or female winemaker to succeed, but women can face additional challenges achieving success in a male-dominated field.

"I think women winemakers had to be really determined and really passionate and still do," says Corison, named 2011 Winemaker of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle.

An academic psychologist who has studied women’s career paths, Lucia Gilbert became interested in women winemakers. With little information available on the subject, she put together a comprehensive list of the 3,200-plus winemakers in California, identifying the women and developing the website, Women Winemakers of California.

The total of women winemakers came to 9.8 percent, below the 15 percent to 20 percent the Gilberts expected.

It’s easy to see why she overestimated. After all, some of the most famous winemakers are women, such as Heidi Barrett, who worked for the "cult" winery Screaming Eagle. Among other kudos, the winery is known as home of a 6-liter bottle of the 1992 vintage that sold for $500,000 at the 2000 Napa Valley Wine Auction.

So, the researchers came up with a new question — are women winemakers achieving disproportionate levels of success?

Quantifying winery acclaim is a slippery business, but the Gilberts went at it by using the listing of wineries from the 2010 reference work Opus Vino, which includes about 4,000 wineries in the world identified as noteworthy by wine critics and wine writers who worked with the book’s editor-in-chief, Jim Gordon.

story continues below
story continues below

The results were that 23 percent of California wineries with women winemakers made it into Opus Vino, compared with 14 percent of wineries with male winemakers.

Gordon, former managing editor of Wine Spectator magazine and today the editor of Wines & Vines Magazine, was surprised by the Gilberts’ findings. He and the other authors picked out top wines based solely on quality and without regard to the winemakers behind them, so "seeing our selections through the perspective of Dr. Gilbert’s data was a kind of revelation."

But Gordon’s not convinced that women winemakers are disproportionately successful given the 10 percent baseline. "There is still a long way to go there," he points out.

Are there differences between women and men winemakers?

Corison used to resist that idea "with everything I had. Because differences have always been against women."

But after years of working in the field she feels that there may be two differences. "There’s pretty good evidence that women have perhaps better sensory abilities. So that’s one issue. And, I believe that winemaking is all about details. So perhaps if there’s a difference in attention to details? I don’t know. I don’t feel strongly about that."

Corison, who grew up in Southern California, took a roundabout path to winemaking.

She studied biology, but "fell in love with wine when I was a sophomore." She was smitten by "all the usual reasons, it’s delicious, you share it with friends, it makes food taste better and vice versa. On another level, I fell in love with the fact that it’s a whole series of living systems. I’m a biologist and I’m still studying biology. That’s what tunes me into winemaking, the fact that it’s alive."

"There have always been challenges, but I think there have been advantages, too. I think that we sort of stuck out like sore thumbs, so for better or worse people noticed what we did," Corison says of women in her field.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.