Mark Aselstine
August 20, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Female Winemakers in Short Supply

Maybe it’s our entrepreneurial spirit, but both Matt and I are intensely interested in the business of wine. We both came into the wine industry without any formal experience outside of loving wine and collecting it ourselves, which I think still gives us a sort of outsiders perspective.

One thing we’ve noted is that we find very few female winemakers. In fact, there aren’t a ton of female assistant winemakers or cellar masters either. It didn’t surprise me when Reuters released an article about the state of female winemakers, especially in California.

While I don’t want to speculate at length on the reasons behind there being relatively few female winemakers, I do have a few ideas on the subject. I don’t think there is anything structurally wrong with the wine industry which is preventing women from gaining the top job at many standout wineries throughout the west coast. Additionally, I don’t believe that winery or vineyard owners think women are any less capable of being their head winemaker, but the culture of many wineries is to promote from within and women aren’t as well established in those feeder jobs as of yet.

I do know that one of the main ways to become a winemaker is to begin as an intern (yes, an unpaid one) and then slowly move from cellar master to assistant winemaker and finally to head winemaker. It’s a progression which can be broken with education and the lower number of female winemakers in Southern California can likely be attributed to not having a top flight wine education program within 300+ miles and the simple fact that cellar master jobs often require knowledge of driving a forklift and the ability to lift 50+ pounds at a time. That isn’t to say women aren’t qualified for cellar master jobs, far from it, just that if I think of my wife or any of my female friends as an example, that wouldn’t be the path they'd choose if they wanted to make wine. Anyone who has worked in a human resources department can likely tell you that it is important to promote from within when you have qualified candidates and the lack of educational opportunities when it comes to wine in southern California (and frankly the lesser opinion many hold of the wineries operating in the area) certainly isn’t helping bring in strong qualified candidates from outside these wineries.

As many would expect, the premiere United States wine regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma are incredibly competitive when it comes to winemaking jobs and are having UC Davis give the region a continual supply of qualified candidates keeps the pool of available candidates as diverse as anywhere in the world, even if there is still plenty of room for improvement in access to those coveted head winemaking jobs.


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