TheWineBuzz – September/October 2007

Chances are you’ve seen that old TV clip from the “I Love Lucy Show” where Lucille Ball stomps on grapes in a giant vat. If so, there’s a smile on your face right now. It was that funny. But women have come a long way since the ’50′s: Women are making wine – and they’re good at it.

At 31, vivacious Danielle Cyrot is one of many young women who Feminine_Touch_internalcaught the wine bug early and has gone on to become a winemaker. After earning her B.A. from the University of California, Davis, in Enology and Viticulture, Cyrot worked at wineries in France and Australia. A stint at Stag’s Leap Winery under the tutelage of Robert Brittain followed. In 2003 she joined St. Clement Vineyard, a small premium winery in the Napa Valley, as their winemaker. Danielle’s  French ancestors on her father’s side once owned a vineyard in Burgundy’s Cote de Beaune, so it’s no wonder Cyrot speaks so passionately about wine and her job.

At this time of the year, during the crush, Danielle works long days, from early morning to dusk. “It’s my favorite part of the year,” says Cyrot. “Especially Chardonnay during harvest – it’s really fun, because you just walk into the cellar and you smell those beautiful floral and citrus aromas.”

Some of her duties include physically hard tasks, such as dragging heavy hoses around, which she says she can handle as well as any man. “I’m a woman, but I do like to get down and dirty with the grapes,” she says. She spends a lot of her time in the vineyards, smelling, picking and tasting to see how the grapes are developing.

This is where women winemakers may have the edge over men, simply because women are better at discerning what they smell and taste. That can translate into better wines.

Cyrot says making wine for her is not gender related, nor is it geared towards a particular age group. She makes wine that she likes to drink, is consumer friendly and  in the style of traditional St. Clement wines, a standard she strives to maintain – though she does concede that her wine may appeal to younger women. “After all, I am woman and I am young,” she says laughing.

She thinks women bring a different sensibility in trying to make the best possible glass of wine. “I am a confident winemaker and not one to fly off the handle… It’s about making quality wine and everyone working together toward the end goal. How we get there is the difference between a great winemaker and a mediocre one.”

Janet Myers has been with Napa’s Franciscan Winery in Oakville since 2003. In 1988 she abandoned her pursuit of a doctorate in biological anthropology to move to London, where she worked in the restaurant industry and developed an interest in wine production.

Part of the credit also belongs to her paternal grandparent, who had a fruit orchard in Illinois. Myers says, “When I realized that this was an industry that combined science and agriculture – my family background – I enrolled at Davis and haven’t looked back.”

She earned her Masters in Enology at U.C., Davis, in 1995. During and after that time she also traveled abroad to Italy (where her mother’s parents emigrated from) and Australia to gain experience.

After several internships and jobs at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Louis M. Martini Winery, she joined Franciscan in 2003, becoming their director of winemaking in 2005. Two winemakers – who happen to be men – report to her. She says there are definitely more women in the wine industry now than when she was at U.C. Davis 15 years ago. “I still think women are the minority, but I notice when I go to technical meetings and winemaker conferences I see a lot more young women coming into the field. I think it’s something that’s growing – a natural progression for women to get into what was once a typically male-dominated field.”

As for the role of women in wine today, Myers says, “It’s one more avenue where women can achieve parity, where women who are really good at what they do will bring all that talent to the top level of management… it’s creating, in that sense, a different culture or work environment.”

And women aren’t just making wine – they’re now winery owners. Kathy Charlton and her husband purchased Olympic Cellars near Port Angeles, Washington, in 1992. In 2002 the winery became offically woman-owned and operated. Formerly with Texas Instruments, Charlton has used her exceptional entrepreneurial and promotional skills to find a niche in the wine industry, unabashedly catering to women wine drinkers.

Charlton runs this growing young winery with co-owners Molly Rivar and Libby Sweetser. Annual production of their “Working Girl” wines has undergone a national rollout and jumped from 450 cases to 11,000. She thinks marketing is one of the areas in which the wine industry lags behind. “It’s very important to find new ways for a small business to not only survive, but thrive,” she says.

Charlton recently won the Women for WineSense Rising Star Award for her “star power,” over-the-top marketing, and philanthropic endeavors to benefit women. Her ideas to promote wine and her winery are abundant and unusual, with events such as sky diving., “Working Girl First Jump Club,” and their annual Lucille Ball-style, “Grape Stomp and Harvest Contest.”

“When I plan the year,” Charlton says, “I’m thinking out of sight, out of mind, out of business.” Even if she’s calling to check on her dry cleaning, or making a dinner reservation she says, “This is Kathy Charlton of Olympic Cellars Winery.”

It’s fitting to leave the last word to one of the most experienced and successful women in wine, co-founder of Women for WineSense, and CEO of St. Supery Vineyards and Winery, Michaela K. Rodeno: “It’s gratifying to see so many women winemakers, sales managers, marketing masterminds, entrepreneurs even vineyard managers and a few – too few – C-level executives in America’s wine industry today. The upward trend has been steady for decades. And there’s still plenty of opportunity, with plenty available talent to take advantage of it. It’s not right that I remain one of only a small handful of femal CEO’s in the wine industry.”