Profiles in Courage—Reactions

Our Spotlight last week on vintner Ashley Trout’s fiery decision to submit her wines exclusively to female wine critics for review (WineSpeed 3/17/2023) elicited lots of comments from WineSpeed readers. If you missed it, Trout—the winemaker/owner of Brook & Bull winery in Walla Walla, Washington—cites the fact that women buy more than half the wine in the U.S. ($78.4 billion), yet just 14% of winemakers are women, just 6% of women winemakers own their own winery, only 15 % of Master Sommeliers are women, and there are just a small handful of women wine critics. What did readers think about Trout’s decision? Here’s what some of you said, plus some of my own thoughts at the end.

“I fully appreciate Ashley Trout’s stand. If no one calls it out, no one hears. The inequities have stood for too long.
—Diana K., Leawood, KS

“I am unsure how only submitting her wines to women critics will help create more women critics…In my mind, it would be much more effective to identify and mentor women to become critics, rather than excluding half of the population based on sex.”
—Cathie S., Atlanta, GA

“We should do all we can to place women in positions of authority. Men have made a mess of the planet.”
—Bob B., Thousand Oaks, CA

“I would say the stats are disappointing and education is needed to help people understand the issue…That said, I don’t know that submitting only to women is the best response. Fix discrimination by discriminating? Maybe submitting to those firms that are known to treat all people fairly is a more appropriate response.”
—Greg K., Chicago, IL

“Brava for winemaker Trout’s decision to only present her wines to female wine critics!”
—Colette O., Star, Idaho

“Ashley Trout is a disruptor, in the best possible way. We need more Ashleys to step up and be courageous. She will undoubtedly get strong pushback, but that’s what disruptors do!”
—Diane D., Chicago, IL

“I hope that these numbers regarding the role of women in the wine industry only greatly increase, but excluding male wine critics is unfair and may very well have an adverse effect…I sincerely hope she reverses this policy, but I wish her the best of luck…”
—Michael M., Staten Island, NY

We also heard from Master of Wine Peter M. from Napa, California. Peter wrote, “Regarding your ‘Profiles in Courage’ piece, I’d like to add that women [now] make up 36% of the Masters of Wine in the world (149 out of 416 MWs globally). I would have to bet (and hope!) that given the number of women in the study program these days, that percentage will increase in the coming years.”

We are with you, Peter. But—and this remains a mystery to me—I’d like to add that in 2023, 61% of the people graduating with a degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California at Davis are women. And that high percentage has been true for a number of years. Yet, as Trout points out, estimates suggest that only 14% of winemakers are women in Washington and California. (The percentage might be slightly higher in Oregon. See my blog on Women Winemakers and Pinot Noir).

So what’s happening here? How does one account for all these women studying winemaking and yet not becoming winemakers? It may be true that some women with degrees may be working as enologists in a winery and may not consider themselves winemakers per se. It may be true that after graduating with a winemaking degree, some women drop out to start a family. But I don’t think these two scenarios sufficiently explain the discrepancy. For women, it seems the chasm between studying and becoming is awfully big.

So I’d be curious: what percentage of women with Master of Wine degrees actively work full time in the industry? And what percentage of those are in the top ten income bracket for MWs?


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