Women in Winemaking

The international wine scene is by no means a new development. It has been a buzzing industry for centuries under the influence of countless men who helped give it its shape. 

But, as the modern wine industry grows, we are seeing a surge of women taking the reins and steering the winemaking world into new directions. From wine pioneers to up-and-coming stars on the scene, there certainly isn’t a lack of women to applaud.

On March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day, and in honour, we’re shining the spotlight on a few of the many influential women in the winemaking world. 

HANNAH WEINBERGER: THE FIRST FEMALE VINTNER OF THE NOTORIOUS NAPA VALLEY.

Before settling in California, Hannah Weinberger had grown up in Ohio.

Once rooted in the Napa Valley, her husband, John Christian Weinberger, started his own winery and over time, this property grew to be 35 acres. 

Tragically, John was shot dead in 1882, and all of his property was left in Hannah’s care. She worked hard to ensure that the winery would succeed, and her efforts are why she’s known as Napa Valley’s first female winemaker.

Despite being the only woman in her region who was as involved in the industry as her, she pushed forward and ignored the whispers of those who disagreed with her determination. 

Weinberger’s hard work was recognized on a larger scale in 1889 when she travelled overseas to compete in wine competitions at the World’s Fair in Paris, where she earned herself a silver medal.

Her dedication to the winery paid off, and the winery ran under her controlled hand until the prohibition forced her to shut down in the 1920s. 

Sarah Morphew Stephen: The first woman to
earn the esteemed title of Master of Wine.

Sarah Morphew Stephen had a fascination with wine and the winemaking world since she was 11, and it wasn’t long after that she committed to pursuing a career down the same path.

When she was 17, she wrote to the famed Symington Port family in the hopes of training under their wing and was less than pleased with the response she received, which stated that in their opinion, women had no place in the winemaking world. 

Stephen didn’t let these words discourage her and she went on to earn a scholarship to Bordeaux University to study enology (the study of wine).

After her education, she tried her hand in almost all corners of the winemaking industry, even getting to work alongside the renowned Émile Peynaud (a.k.a the forefather of modern enology). 

Soon, she returned to England and discovered the world’s only prestigious program to become a Master of Wine.

In 1970, after much preparation, she took the exam and gained the oh-so-coveted title, consequently making her the world’s very first female Master of Wine. Nowadays, women make up about half of the world’s Masters of Wine, so it’s safe to say a lot of progress has been made!

Jennifer Huether: Canada’s first Master Sommelier.

Jennifer Huether had a passion for wine starting in her early 20’s when she was introduced to the world of wine pairing by a chef and following a career down the same path was simply a reasonable course of action for her.

Jennifer was acting as the head sommelier at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment when she took the exam to see if she had what it took to become a Master Sommelier.

All of her gruelling years of studying paid off, because in 2011 she became one of 226 Master Sommeliers, of which only 26 were women.

Not only was she the first female Canadian to earn the title, but she was also the only Canadian to be on the list, securing a spot in Canadian history!

Jennifer is now a spokesperson for many international wines, promoting them throughout Canada. She is, of course, still very involved with the modern winemaking scene and enjoys teaching masterclasses, adjudicates other sommelier exams and works to disseminate her vast knowledge on the topic. 

Melissa Smits: a woman pushing the Okanagan Valley wine scene forward.

Melissa Smits grew up in Ontario, where she went on to attend school at Niagara College. She then spent time working on harvests all over in Australia, New Zealand and of course, Canada.

She decided to settle down in Oliver, B.C, where she soon became the leader of an all-male team in the vineyards down at Burrowing Owl. 

Smits soon moved on to the role she now has at Intersection Estate Winery as head winemaker and vineyard manager.

Here she’s been making creative advances in what Okanagan wine is, offering to the valley wines it had hardly seen before. 

In 2018, Smits created one of the Okanagan’s first orange wines made entirely of Riesling. Okanagan wine lovers were smitten with Smits’ new take on wine, and the orange wine was sold out by the end of the summer.

She has shown a unique desire to push the boundaries of redefining what the Okanagan wine scene looks like, and wine-enthusiasts look forward to seeing her next creative advances in the industry. 

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