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Women rise to lead roles in a male-dominated wine industry

By   /   Sunday, January 18th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Women rise to lead roles in a male-dominated wine industry

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Trivia question: How many of the Tri-Counties’ 25 largest wineries are headed by women winemakers?

Answer: Two.

Of all wine consumed in the United States, 57 percent is purchased by women, according to Adams Wine Handbook; but a scan of wineries across the Tri-Counties revealed that few women actually hold dominant positions within those wineries. The reasons why vary.

Some leading women in wine say it’s a dirty agricultural job. Other say it takes a lot of financial backing. Whatever the reason, they all said to expect more women in the wine industry over the next couple of decades.

And those women are about to change the way things are done.

“There’s a younger generation of viticulturists and grape-growers,” said Kelley Clark, viticulturist at Brophy Clark Cellars in Nipomo. “It isn’t the good old boys network doing the same old thing.”

The increase in interest among women is already evident at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where the wine and viticulture program is split 50-50 men to women.

Clark and her husband founded their winery but instead of watching the men toil the fields, Clark entered their venture with the idea of being very hands-on. She and her husband earned master’s degrees in viticulture and enology, respectively, after initial careers in the medical field. Degrees in hand, they founded Brophy Clark Cellars in 1996.

When the couple decided to have kids, Clark wanted to remain in the business, but in a more flexible respect: as a viticultural consultant.
Education was a key link among several leading women in wine in the Tri-Counties. Megan McGrath Gates, head winemaker at Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards in Solvang, said her education at Cal Poly made all the difference in avoiding gender barriers to a career in wine.

“I got a lot of resistance from the community at large,” she said. But with the help of some of the region’s most knowledgeable winemarkers, McGrath pulled herself up to leading three wineries that collectively produce 45,000 cases of wine per year.

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