It’s International Women’s Day on March 8th, and this year’s theme is ‘Choose to Challenge’ – a celebration of women the world over challenging outdated views and stereotypes. The women below – making waves in what was once a very male-dominated industry – are no exception. Why not mark the occasion with a bottle from one of these pioneering wineries?
McBride Sisters, California
The story of Robin and Andrea McBride’s rise to wine stardom is a fascinating one. The sisters were raised separately, one in California and one in New Zealand, and didn’t find themselves together until 2005. Once reunited, the pair’s bond was strengthened by their mutual love of wine and the California-based McBride Sisters Collection was born. The business has since grown into the largest Black-owned wine company in the United States and produces a wide range of wines, including California Zinfandel, Merlot, Rose, Riesling and Chardonnay.
Airlie Winery, Oregon
From winemaking to marketing, Airlie Winery is run entirely by women. Founded in 1997 by Mary Olson, the premier Oregon site – nestled in the coastal mountain range on the western edge of the Willamette Valley – works with nine varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Müller Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch, and Muscat Ottonel. It’s particularly well-known for its stunning Pinot Noirs.
Il Casato Prime Donne Winery, Montalcino
This 40-hectare property made history in the early 1990s when it became the first entirely female-run winery in all of Italy, although the land has been in owner Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s family since the 16th century. The estate produces six sumptuous reds, but is best known for its critic-pleasing Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.
Spottswoode, Napa Valley
Big Cabernet Sauvignon fans will have undoubtedly already heard of Napa Valley’s legendary Spottswoode estate, thanks to the slew of awards it’s earned for its coveted Cab Sav, which also won a very rare 100-point score from the Wine Review in 2015. Its vineyards are run by three women – Beth Novak Milliken, her mother Mary Weber Novak, and sister Lindy Novak. Certified organic in 1985 and biodynamic in 2020, the estate also produces a Sauvignon Blanc, hailed by critics as one of the most sophisticated whites in Napa Valley.
Susana Balbo Wines, Argentina
Mendoza’s wine landscape could look very different today had Susana Balbo followed her original dream of studying nuclear physics. Fortunately for oenophiles around the world she instead chose to join the family profession of viticulture, and became the first woman in Argentina to earn a degree in oenology. Described by those in the business as a ‘leader of the industry’, Susana launched her eponymous company in 1999 which today produces a wide range of wines, including the phenomenally age-worthy Brioso, which was recently awarded 95 points by Decanter.
Aslina Wines, South Africa
Trailblazing Ntsiki Biyea had never even tasted wine when she decided to study winemaking at the University of Stellenbsoch. After graduating, she became South Africa’s first Black female winemaker and in 2016 founded her own winery, Aslina, named in honour of her grandmother. Today, the property produces four award-winning wines, including a Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a red blend called ‘Umsasane’, the name given to the umbrella tree which offers shade and protection, and the nickname of Ntsiki’s beloved grandmother.
Lopez de Heredia, Rioja
Rioja’s María José López de Heredia presides over one of the most prestigious estates in the region, renowned for its traditional reds and long-aged whites made in an oxidative style. Maria has been at the helm of the family company since 2000, and is proud of the estate’s traditional winemaking methods that have remained consistent for 140 years. No modern technology is used, and not a single grape from any other region has ever been included the bodega’s wines – a fact acknowledged by the Regulating Body of the DOC Rioja in the form of a ‘Diploma de Garantía’ (Diploma of Guarantee) awarded solely to López de Heredia and proudly displayed on the label of all of its bottles.
Camins 2 Dreams, Santa Barbara
Boutique winery Camins 2 Dreams (also known as C2D) was founded in 2017 by the United States’ first Native American winemaker, Tara Gomez, and her Catalan partner Mireia Taribó (pictured above). A more experimental offshoot of Gomez’s Kitá wines (so named for her tribe), C2D produces a sought-after Gruner Veltliner and three Syrahs – all hand-crafted with minimal intervention – from grapes sourced exclusively from vineyards in the unique Santa Barbara appellation of Sta. Rita Hills.