Women have played a role throughout wine history, but many gained status through husbands or fathers. Since the 1960s, the number of women making their way into the industry on their own merit has greatly increased. Even without prominent family ties, women have become winemakers, winery owners, grape growers, researchers, writers, managers, sommeliers, educators . . . in fact, experts in all areas of the business.
However, those women given initial opportunity for entry to the wine world through their male connections are also included here, provided they made distinctive contributions of their own.
Our five Queens of Wine are all alive! Only one is in California, while the remaining reside in Michigan, Texas, England and South Africa. Featured women comprise one trailblazer, one winemaker, one Master Sommelier, one wine writer and uniquely, a wine artist.
I asked these pioneers in their fields not only to discuss their careers, but to assess women’s palates—or declare that they disdain such generalities. Although research has shown that 25% of humans, mostly women, have an extremely high density of taste buds, the research does not take into consideration the role of the nose; therefore, the suggestion that women have more sensitive palates for wine is increasing in popular thought, but still controversial.
1. QUEEN OF WINE TRAILBLAZERS: MARGRIT MONDAVI
On women’s taste in wine, Margrit Mondavi comments, “Women have an exceptional palate discovering details cemented in wine, and since we most all the time prepare the meals, we combine wine and food very well.”
Who should know better than this Swiss-born legend, Margrit Mondavi? The goal of this article is to showcase individuals whose own innovations started with a vision, which eventually materialized to the benefit of the wine world. Margrit Mondavi is a prime example of such a woman.
Hers was not just an eye for the aesthetic, but a full-blown passion borne of her own talent. Mondavi was and is now, a working artist. Born and raised in Appenzell, Switzerland, by parents who greatly encouraged their children’s artistic bents, young Margrit Biever feasted on her mother’s fine cooking, listened to operatic arias and studied art at Minusio. She learned to appreciate a broad range of wines through her father’s stories of wine regions and vintages, not to mention his abundant wine cellar. Margrit easily fell into a life of sensory pursuits.
Mondavi’s dream was to marry wine with art, music and food. Upon joining Robert Mondavi Winery in 1967, she planted the seed of her vision early, by organizing modest art shows incorporating wine and food, to the delight of visitors. Because management appreciated her efforts, this tradition gradually evolved into permanent cultural programs to encourage and support painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, chefs and winemakers, bringing pleasure to all who visited. Mondavi was given free reign to conceive new art series and exhibits.
Mondavi’s accomplishments include establishing the Summer Music Festival, the Great Chefs of France and Great Chefs of America programs at the winery. These ground-breaking ideas attracted musical artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte and Tony Bennett; and celebrity chefs such as Julia Child, Paul Bocuse, Alice Waters and Joel Robuchon to Mondavi.
In 1980, Margrit married Robert Mondavi, and together they contributed substantially to several educational and artistic projects. “I'm very happy about the opening of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at University of California, Davis. As you know, we have supported UC Davis in that direction very much. I am always excited about the progress of the Oxbow School and I am very excited and concerned about the future of COPIA.” The Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis was established with their funds in 2002.
With her daughter, Annie Roberts, former Executive Chef for Robert Mondavi Winery, and renowned cookbook author Victoria Wise, Mondavi cowrote Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen, (Ten Speed Press, 2003) which earned the 2003 Gourmand World Cookbook Award “Best Easy Recipes Book in the World”.
The legendary Robert Mondavi passed away in 2008 at the age of 94, but Margrit Mondavi, as Vice President of Culture at Robert Mondavi Winery, is always busy. Her current focus is “projecting and thinking about the poster for our 40th anniversary of Robert Mondavi Summer Festival.”
Mondavi continues to create art, working in watercolor, crayons and acrylics. For the winery, she designed a line of table and kitchen linens and wine sleeves, and her art graces bottles containing olive oil and wine vinegar.
Favorite wine? “Depending on the menu, the season, the occasion, on the light side I love sauvignon blanc because it is a crisp wine with fruity balance, and so versatile. On the red side, depending again on the season, the menu and the occasion, sometimes an elegant pinot noir or a complex, rich cabernet sauvignon.”
OTHER NOTABLE WOMEN IN WINE HISTORY
Unfortunately, not all female innovators in the wine industry can be listed, but several deserve mention.
Madame Clicquot (Nicole-Barbe Ponsardin)
Proprietor of champagne house created in 1772 by father-in-law, Philippe Clicquot-Muiron. Ambassador for her product among royalty throughout Europe, transforming the estate into the time-honored, respected winery it is today: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Collaborator with cellar master Antoine de Müller on invention of riddling rack for efficient disgorgement, making mass production of champagne possible.
First female winemaker in California at the age of 31. Founder of her own winery in 1886 on property north of St. Helena, now known as Freemark Abbey.
Famed actress and beauty purchased 4200 acres in Lake County in 1888 for purpose of creating claret to rival that made in Bordeaux. Resulting winery, Langtry Estate & Vineyards, became Guenoc when acquired years later, and was recently renamed Langtry Estate & Vineyards.
Creator of the Aroma Wheel in 1990, device for identifying wines by their taste components. Innovation led to standard terminology used in flavor profiles among industry professionals and general public. First female member of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.
Plant geneticist and professor of viticulture and enology, UC Davis. Discoveries in 1990s: origin of cabernet sauvignon as hybrid of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc; identical genetic profile of zinfandel and primitivo; identical genetic profile of charbono and corbeau. Originator of grape fingerprinting to identify percentages of varietals within. Partner with husband, Stephen Legier, in creation of distinctive syrahs under the name of Legier-Meredith on Mount Veeder.
2. QUEEN OF WINEMAKERS: ZELMA LONG
“I agree that women's palates are more sensitive in general, and have often joked that if it had been Roberta Parker instead of Robert Parker, the ‘top’ wines would have been a very different set – more finesse, more subtle, more attention to flavor concentration and less focus on sheer power.”
Winemaking veteran since the early 1970s, Zelma Long currently oversees a winemaking venture in South Africa. “I am exceptionally proud of our Vilafonte project in South Africa. In 1997, Phil [her husband] and I bought 100 acres of land and, with a South African partner, that we felt had exceptional potential for red Bordeaux varieties . . . because the soils were not rich, and very old.”
Long partnered with viticulturist husband, Phillip Freese, and sales, marketing and managing wizard Mike Ratcliffe. She and Freese moved into their own winery, Vilafonte (www.vilafonte.com), in 2007. Long focuses on winemaking and Freese handles the viticultural techniques. “Our two wines, Vilafonte Series C and Series M, were first released with the 2003 vintage and received strongly favorable reviews in many countries. This year Wine Enthusiast chose us as one of their five top ‘New World Wineries’ along with Catena, and Casa La Postelle - very great company for our young project.”
Long describes some of her numerous innovations:
- At Long Vineyards: “Our Long Vineyards 1977 Chardonnay was one of the first to work with estate-based chardonnay and classic barrel fermentation, lees contact, winemaking techniques”.
- At Robert Mondavi Winery: “I pioneered a lower alcohol sweet Riesling, and ran their winemaking research program.”
- At Simi Winery: “I started the North Coast Viticulture Research Group that focused on ‘winegrowing’ . . . and led many viticultural changes such as canopy management, rootstock selection, clonal selection, etc.” The group’s accomplishments even changed some curricula at UC Davis.
- At Vilafonte Winery in South Africa: “I have developed a set of Bordeaux blend winemaking and blending techniques including bunch and berry sorting, measuring vineyard variation; using phenolic analysis to consider fermentation management; use of wood tank and barrel fermentations . . . many techniques that were not in use in the Cape previously.”
After studying enology and viticulture in the Master’s Degree program at UC Davis, Zelma Long spent ten years as Chief Enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery. Next, she moved on to Simi Winery, and spent almost two decades as Vice President of Winemaking, and after virtually revitalizing the 100-year-old winery, became President and CEO. Just before retiring in 1999, she was Executive Vice President of Chandon Estates.
Long and her ex-husband, Bob Long, co-own Long Vineyards, located between Stags Leap and Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley. The joint venture dates back 30 years, and they ran the winery together until a few years ago. She remains involved in Long Vineyards as a consultant.
Long’s vast accomplishments and esteemed reputation earn her national and international honors. She was named The James Beard “Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year”, awarded the MASI award for international wine contribution and included in The James Beard Hall of Fame.
Domaine Carneros founding winemaker and president Eileen Crane says that according to historian William Heintz, ten percent of California’s winemakers were women in 1890. The number stopped growing with the advent of Prohibition in the 1920s. Crane adds, “In 1990, my personal research indicated that the figure for the number of women winemakers was again about ten percent. Today, I estimate that women constitute about 15-20 percent of the winemakers in California.”
Long comments, “My greatest thrill is that young women are loving wine, curious about it, studying it, considering how it finds its best place with food; buying it, talking about it . . . in other words; wine has become part of our US culture, and young women are becoming leaders in its enjoyment.”
Long’s own favorite wine is riesling. “I fell in love with riesling, working with Long Vineyards Riesling for 30 years. While this variety has not been fashionable, nor always well adapted to the Napa Valley, planted at 300 feet on a north-facing slope, it produced, year after year, delicious wines. Then Phil and I spent three years making riesling in Germany . . . what an experience. The German rieslings are in a class by themselves and, if from great sites, they age forever. Our 1998 Sibyl Riesling is now over 10 years old, and continues to be delicious as it evolves and ages. I fully expect another 10 years from it, easily.” But she also can’t deny the pleasures of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, grenache and her own two new blends: Vilafonte Series M and C! “. . . the best Bordeaux blends I have ever made, in balance, concentration, complexity, and style. I am in love with them!!!”
Ms. Long gave me so much information, that her section practically wrote itself. What a joyful, enthusiastic woman who, after all these years, still loves what she does!
OTHER NOTABLE WOMEN WINEMAKERS
Granddaughter of Julio Gallo, wine pioneer. Graduate of UC Davis Viticulture and Enology program after years of working summers at E&J Gallo Winery. Award-winning winemaker at Gallo Family Vineyards Sonoma Reserve. Winery won Premio Gran VinItaly Award under her reign in 1998, 2001, and 2002. Other honors: Winery of the Century (1999, Los Angeles County Fair), Best American Wine Producer (2000, International Wine Challenge, London), Winery of the Year San Francisco International Wine Competition three times. Past president of International Wine & Spirit Competition.
Winemaker for 34 years. Graduate with BS in Physiology from UC Berkeley and MA in Food Science with emphasis on Enology from UC Davis. Made wine for Mount Eden Vineyards, Matanzas Creek (founding winemaker), Merry Vintners Winery (co-founded with family), Laurier Winery, Meredith Vineyard Estate (her own label) and Merry Edwards Winery (her own label). Carried Matanzas Creek Winery to national prominence with seven winning vintages. Experimented with clones in the 1970s and 80s, leading to first-ever clonal seminar at UC Davis. This clonal work revolutionized viticulture in California. Among other awards, named Pioneer Woman Winemaker, National Women’s History Project (2005). Merry Edwards 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ranked 40th in Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2007.
30 plus years veteran in wine industry, winemaker for 28 years. Made wine for Colcord Winery, Stonegate, startups B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Vineyard and Peter Michael Winery, Turley Wine Cellars (owned by brother, Larry) and Marcassin Vineyard (her own label). Known for cabernets made at Cohn and Peter Michael and for helping to define emerging style of California chardonnays. Among the first to plant vineyards in the Sonoma Coast region. Built white wine cellar at Peter Michael Winery, cooled and humidity-controlled to mimic a cave. Developed cabernet sauvignon-based blend, Les Pavots, at Peter Michael. Consulted for numerous wineries. Currently works with Marcassin, Martinelli, and Blankiet Paradise Hills. Marcassin Vineyard is highly respected for its pinot noir and chardonnay.
3. QUEEN OF MASTER SOMMELIERS: MADELINE TRIFFON
With regards to opposing palates between the genders, Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon comments, “I haven’t perceived generalities that I can voice. Growing up in the business, in the early years of my career, most of my mentors and colleagues were men. I was consumed with the intention of becoming a good taster and becoming a credible wine professional. I was grateful for their example and direction and can’t remember any difference in the way we approached wine . . . the same applies to the guests we serve. Perhaps there are differences that I’ve chosen to ignore because I find all people charming in the individuality as opposed to their gender!”
Currently Director of Wine for the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group, Madeline Triffon is the first American female Master Sommelier!
Sommelier (sŭm'əl-yā') is a waiter, as in a club or restaurant, who is in charge of wines. Sounds simple, but to attain the title, Master Sommelier, applicants must go through rigorous exams over a three-day period that include tests on restaurant services, salesmanship, wine knowledge and a practical tasting. Specifically, candidates must be able to discuss, recommend and serve wine, spirits, liqueurs and cigars, select appropriate glassware and recommend wines to accompany food. Knowledge must encompass wine regions of the world, principle grape varieties, fortified wines, wine laws, methods of production for all alcoholic beverages and their proper storage. The tasting exam involves blind tasting for the identification of grape varieties, country of origin, district of origin and vintages.
And how many applicants pass? Well, since 1969, only 167 professionals worldwide earned the title of Master Sommelier, 17 of whom are women – 14 hailing from the United States. The Court of Master Sommeliers was launched in the UK with the purpose of advancing beverage knowledge and service in restaurants. It administered the first successful examination in 1969, and has continued annually, thereafter.
Triffon’s road to the exam included serving as wine steward and buyer at respected establishments, while educating herself as a sommelier through such devices as Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine. A perceptive food and beverage director entered her in a national sommelier competition, and she finished among the top contenders. In 1987, she was invited to sit for the Master Sommelier exam. When she passed, she was one of only eight Americans and two women ever to conquer the exam.
Subsequently, Triffon worked as Wine Director for several Jimmy Schmidt restaurants, then as Director of Wine and Beverages at Unique Restaurant Corporation, winning various awards during these stints. One unique innovation was her design of two wine cellars, one for whites and one for reds, cooling wines to the perfect temperature for each.
As Wine Director with the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group in Michigan since 1995, Triffon creates wine lists for four fine dining venues, Coach Insignia, No. VI Chophouse, Northern Lakes and Shiraz, as well as the list for their casual Tavern on 13. The tavern’s menu boasts, “The only Tavern in the USA With Wines chosen by a Master Sommelier”.
Triffon, happy after all these years, comments, “I enjoy giving my loyalty to a company that is committed to service and the community. Our restaurants, ranging from delis to white-tablecloth, fine dining, are all neighborhood driven. We have a strong frequent diner base. It’s a pleasure to welcome and serve familiar faces.”
Restaurants in the group are regularly awarded with honors, and although pleased, Triffon is even more proud of her wine team, all sommeliers. During a recent, exciting event called “Rare”, benefitting cardiovascular research, her team really came through. “We presented over 300 elite wines in a walk-around style of tasting dinner, with accompanying lavish food stations. The level of wine made even the most seasoned collectors giggle! . . . Our wine team worked hard to organize the donations for several weeks . . . Beyond the level of wine and food, what was most notable, even touching, was the level of team service. Ambitious events are all about planning your brains out and then letting an event unfurl with a life of its own. To make this breadth and depth of wine accessible to anyone who wanted to participate was a high. The feeling in the room was positively giddy.”
Though many other female Master Sommeliers divide their time among several areas of interest, Madeline Triffon remains dedicated to her role as sommelier. “I can’t imagine not touching the consumer directly. To be honest, for me the joy is in service first and then wine. Wine service is a lovely way to touch a dining room guest. It’s an easy entry into the world of a patron’s table. I enjoy the physicality of service; moving in a dining room or at a special event is both energizing and relaxing.
“I like educating at a simple level, addressing both the public and the trade. Being a midwife for what can be an esoteric subject, distilling the information without ‘dumbing it down’, is a practice I’ve never tired of. Speaking with enthusiasm, making it easy for people to grasp the subject, giving them your terminology to use until they can develop their own – all of this is both fun and fulfilling.”
I try to coax a favorite wine from Triffon, but like many professionals, she struggles to choose. “I’ve been tasting professionally for so long with the question in mind, ‘Is this good wine?’ as opposed to ‘Do I like this?’ that I don’t have that many personal favorites . . . But if pushed, I’ll admit an affinity for blanc de blancs Champagne (laser-like focus), northern Rhône syrah (intriguing, complex aromatics), great pinot noir (simply seductive) and older riesling (hard to define!).”
Chief Executive for the Court of Master Sommeliers Worldwide, Brian Julyan admires Triffon. “She has remained very much at the sharp end and still finds time to fit in some work on the floor in between her duties as Wine Director for the Prentice group in Detroit. She is probably the most respected female Master Sommelier.”
OTHER FEMALE MASTER SOMMELIERS – ALL 17, AS OF 2008
There are only 17 female Master Sommeliers in the world as of 2008 (14 in the U.S.), listed below, in the order of award year. These are impressive, accomplished women!
Claudia Harris (1984), UK.
First woman in the world to receive Master Sommelier title.
Madeline Triffon (1987), Southgate, MI.
America’s first female Master Sommelier. Wine Director, award-winning wine lists.
Vera Wessel (1992), The Hague, Netherlands.
Wine writer, wine educator, consultant.
Sally Mohr (1995), Boulder, CO.
Owner, Boulder Wine Merchant, columnist, regular contributor to two publications, public speaker.
Andrea Immer Robinson (1996), Napa Valley, CA.
First woman chosen Best Sommelier in the United States by the Sommelier Society of America; host, two television shows; author; first Dean of Wine Studies for COPIA (The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts) in Napa, 2008.
Catherine Fallis (1997), San Francisco, CA.
Founder/President, Planet Grape® LLC, a wine consulting firm, creator of Grape Goddess® Guides to Good Living, featured television expert on multiple shows, writer/contributor to numerous magazine/newspaper articles, restaurant wine consultant, personal sommelier to high-profile clients.
Claudia Tyagi (1997), Detroit, MI.
Wine consultant, instructor, conductor of tastings, participant in wine-centered charities. Collaborator on new look/feel of The Whitney (old restaurant mansion in Detroit).
Barbara Werley (1997), Dallas, TX.
Elizabeth Schweitzer (1999), Los Angeles County.
Wine instructor, newsletter writer, owner of company, Wine, Wisdom & Wit™, hosting wine tastings, classes and dinners.
Virginia Philip (2002), Palm Beach, FL.
Chef and Sommelier with award-winning wine lists.
Sara Floyd (2003), San Francisco, CA.
Sommelier and wine broker.
Alpana Singh (2003), Chicago, IL.
Director of Wine and Spirits, author, host/guest expert on two television shows.
Laura DePasquale (2004), Palm Bay, FL.
National Director, Fine Wines for the state of Florida, artist, founder of of art programs for at-risk teens.
Laura Williamson (2005), Tuscon, AZ.
Restaurant owner, national lecturer regarding wine regions of the world, advocate for artisan wine producers.
Claire Thevenot (2006), Winchester, Hampshire, Britain.
Sommelier, coach and trainer for Hotel du Vin et Bistro, winner of Britain’s coveted title Most Talented Wine Waiter, 2006.
Randa Warren (2007), Tulsa, OK.
Writer, wine educator and consultant.
Emily Wines (2008), San Francisco, CA.
Restaurant Wine Director, winner of Remi Krug Cup, awarded to participants with highest scores in all three segments of Masters Exam in first attempt.
4. QUEEN OF WINE WRITERS: JANCIS ROBINSON
“I’m afraid I am not convinced that women have different tastes in wine from men. I think we differ more in social context for our wine choices. Society expects men to know about wine. Men feel, when faced with a wine list, that their choice is a test of their status – a bit like which car they drive. Women are lucky enough to be much freer. Society expects nothing from them, so they are free to choose the wine they feel like drinking rather than trying to find a 95-pointer or whatever.
“So women’s relationship with wine is much more relaxed and based on actual taste rather than ‘status’ of a wine.” Jancis Robinson clearly differs from other Wine Queens on this point, but uses unique reasoning that still draws a line between men and women and what they drink.
On her new website, www.jancisrobinson.com, prolific wine writer and Master of Wine, Robinson, lists 17 books that she can remember writing, after wryly stating that she never really knows the number of books she’s written. Three of these are so successful that Robinson has continued with multiple editions: The World Atlas of Wine, The Oxford Companion to Wine, and Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course.
The World Atlas of Wine, first written in 1971 by Hugh Johnson, was a treasure to the wine world when it appeared, as no such reference was available with wine-specific cartography on such a broad level. Jancis Robinson joined Hugh for the fifth edition in 2001 and again in 2007. Amazon reviewer Robin Davidson characterizes the two as the “Dream Team”, noting that either author alone is enough to recommend any book. The sixth edition Atlas offers double-page spreads and full-page photos for the first time.
The Oxford Companion to Wine, first written by Robinson in 1994, is now in its third edition, as of 2007. Virtually an encyclopedia, this substantial volume has over 3000 entries ranging from wine-producing regions to tasting terminology. History ranges from the 6th century BC, when the Greek god of wine, Dionysus, appears on the scene, to modern day. Individual wines and wine appellations from around the world are thoroughly explained, as well as wine terms defined. Both neophytes and enthusiasts will benefit from this award-winning, beefy tome.
Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course, first written by Robinson in 1995, is now in its second edition, as of 2003. Based on her own James Beard Award-winning BBC television series, this printed companion is loaded with facts, advice and trivia, divided into four sections representing different aspects of wine knowledge: 1) opening, serving and storing; 2) winemaking; 3) wine varieties; 4) world’s vineyards. Publishers Weekly says the book is “as elegant and meticulously laid out as a posh wine shop . . .” and “will likely enthrall aspiring oenophiles but may overwhelm dilettantes”.
Hailing from northern Cumbria in England, Robinson was not introduced to wine until she was exposed to fine food and wine while studying at Oxford. A glass of Chambolle Musigny, Les Amoureuses in 1959 followed by a year in Provence surrounded by vineyards and immersed in rich cuisine tipped her over the edge, and she switched her career aspirations from math and philosophy to a focus on either food or wine.
Robinson’s first wine writing post was as Editor for the British wine trade magazine, Wine & Spirit, in 1975. Then from 1976-1978, she pursued and completed the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) studies and subsequent exams. Spurred by her success, Robinson next tackled the Master of Wine exam, and became the first non-wine trade person to earn the title in 1984.
Robinson tells this story of how she first became published: “A book packager read an article about me in The Guardian and asked me to do a synopsis of an introduction to wine for him. Once I’d done it, he said his bosses disapproved of alcohol. Unwilling to waste the effort, I showed it to a friend in publishing who introduced me to the literary agent Caradoc King of AP Watt (of whom I am one of his oldest authors) who promptly sold it back to my friend.”
Subsequent years have been spent creating literary masterpieces, appearing and starring in numerous wine television series, and collecting honorary degrees and copious awards, all while traveling the world in quest of new wine regions. Most interestingly, Asia joins the ranks of wine-producing continents, a compelling fact for Robinson.
Her television work comprises almost 20 wine shows and series over the years, notably: writing and presenting The Wine Programme, the world’s first TV series on wine in 1983 (UK); writing, presenting and producing Matters of Taste in 1989 (UK); co-hosting Grape Expectations in 1994 (US); writing, presenting and producing Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course in 1995 (UK); writing, presenting and producing the Vintners’ Tales in 1998 (UK) and presenting Uncorked in 2003 (Italy).
Currently, Robinson writes daily, weekly and bi-monthly for her own website, www.jancisrobinson.com, Financial Times and a column syndicated worldwide. She is honored with the ongoing task of selecting wines for the Queen of England, which, at times, involves blind tasting up to 100 wines in a sitting.
Robinson’s husband, Nick Lander, is a food/restaurant writer for Financial Times and food service consultant to arts organizations. Together with their children, “vintage-dated 1982, 1984 and 1991”, she quips on her website, the couple lives in London most of the year.
OTHER NOTABLE WOMEN WINE WRITERS
Again, listing and selecting the top female wine writers is nearly impossible. Included below are prolific writers or those who devise truly unique ideas.
Award-winning writer of three books: The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide, Wine for Women and Real-Life Wine Guide. Regular contributor to San Francisco Chronicle, Epicurious and WineReview Online. Work published in several other high-profile magazines: O, Coastal Living, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Glamour, and Santé. Consultant, educator and wine competition judge. Expert appearing on numerous television shows and current host for Check Please! on PBS. (Side note: I love Leslie Sbrocco’s Wine Wardrobe, viewable on her website. With statements like “Chardonnay: Think of it as the ‘basic black’ of any wine wardrobe . . .” and “Merlot: Think smooth, supple, silky. Cashmere? Yes. Merlot? You bet.”, the read plus cool fashion wine layout, are irresistible.) Main site: http://lesliesbrocco.com.
Master Sommelier (nearly anointed Queen), television host and winner of Wine Literary Award for “Exceptional Contribution to the Literature of Wine” in 2005. Author of eight books. First book, Great Wine Made Simple, was James Beard Award nominee, admired for its accessibility. Other notable books: Andrea Immer's Wine Buying Guide for Everyone; Great Tastes Made Simple; and Everyday Dining With Wine. Television host of Simply Wine and Pairings with Andrea on the Fine Living Network. More about Andrea at www.andreaimmer.com.
Wine humorist with mission to eliminate wine elitism. From Publishers Weekly on her first book, Waiter, There’s a Horse in My Wine: “Witticisms crowd every page of this compilation, which is littered with column names like “Don't Blame the Grape” and “When Good Wines Go Bad”. Rosen's ‘mission’ is to snuff out wine snobbery and make understanding vino easy, even for the neophyte imbiber.” Also author of The Cork Jester’s Guide to Wine, weekly columnist for Rocky Mountain News, read worldwide due to the 45,000 plus subscribers to her Internet newsletter. Winner of 2005 James Beard Award for Internet Writing on Food, Restaurant, Beverage or Nutrition. Entertaining website: www.corkjester.com/about.html.
Prolific wine writer with articles published in over 50 American magazines and newspapers over last 25 years. Author of award-winning, best-selling book, The Wine Bible. Writer of Wine, Food & Friends and television host of 13-part PBS companion series, the first such series on wine in the United States. Creator of first internet channel committed to wine and food: WineTasteTV.com. Named “Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year” by James Beard Foundation in 2004, “Wine Educator of the Year" by European Wine Council in 2005, and winner of Wine Literary Award for her “significant contribution to the literature of wine in the English language” in 2007.
Named one of the year’s five best female wine professionals in the world in 2005 by France’s Wine Women Awards. One of 15 people in the world to earn title, Master of Gastronomy, by France’s Le Cordon Bleu. Contributor to numerous publications, including Sunset, The Wine News and Los Angeles Magazine. Creator of first comprehensive wine software programs for PDAs (handheld computers) called Pocket Vineyard and Pocket Gourmet. Aphrodisiac food authority and author of Fork Me, Spoon Me: the Sensual Cookbook. Aphrodisiac websites: www.lifeofreiley.com (described on the site as “the publishing and consulting authority dedicated to the sensual side of food, wine and natural aphrodisiacs”) and www.eatsomethingsexy.com (most aphrodisiac recommendations involve wine).
5. QUEEN OF WINE ARTISTS: KATHY WOMACK
With a mind inclined towards humor, Kathy Womack creates her stylized Women and Wine series of paintings with abandon, noting that the world of fine art can be too serious these days.
Her paintings are truly a joy, depicting friends enjoying wine together in various settings. In each painting, one of the women obviously just told a hilarious joke, let her friends in on a piece of juicy gossip or displayed some unexpected, razor-sharp wit.
Womack’s full life as mother of three leaves her fantasizing about a more carefree life. From her website bio, “there’s this little piece of me that screams to put on some strappy sandals and an evening frock and hit the town, see the girls, have a glass of wine . . . or two.” Thus, the inspiration for her Women and Wine series. She can play with these daydreams, creating on canvas the ultimate good time for all of us! Her audience must agree, as proven by the success of the series, which grew largely by word of mouth.
Particularly noticeable in Womack’s work are the striking clothes adorning her women. A former career in fashion illustration and graphic design is responsible for this influence. The skill is also apparent in the lanky lines of the women’s bodies and highly stylized look of the paintings, in general.
The coveted fashion profession was fulfilling for Womack until the late 1980s, when the industry made a mass move to primarily computer-generated images. Feeling a creative void, she resumed her painting with solid intent to share with the public. Attending art fairs and festivals, she developed a following with her Women and Wine series. As she states in her bio, “Women do talk”. This popularity led her to open her own gallery in Austin and, more recently, a second in Houston.
The Women and Wine series was begun 11 years ago, the first of any series for her. “Capturing the moments when you are doubled over in laughter, for whatever's been said when you are with your friends, is part of my intent. I cherish those times, as we all do, so when a woman looks at the series and is reminded of them, it makes her smile.”
Originals were done in acrylic on canvas, and while there are still a few available, most are offered in limited edition Giclée prints on stretched, cotton duck canvas. (Giclée printing is becoming the standard reproduction method, due to the elimination of a visible dot screen pattern and adherence to tonalities and hues of the original work.)
Womack tells a story of drinking wine with her friends that “left my friends and me looking much like one of my paintings (without the ball gowns)”. She and her friends typically pick their wines for the evening by process of elimination. Some might not like certain varietals and others disdain particular brands. Eventually, they settle on a group of wines they can all enjoy, which sometimes isn't easy.
“Anyhow, my friend Tina loathes Brand X (I won't mention the label), hates it, refuses to bring it to her lips, which is a really well-scored, affordable wine. Inevitably, one of the girls brings a bottle. After a couple of bottles, Brand X is left waiting to be opened. About this time, Tina takes a call in another part of the house. We are all thinking the last thing we want to hear is Tina complaining about the wine. Someone comes up with an idea to do the ol' "switch-a-roo". We transfer the Brand X to another bottle, set it in the middle of the table and wait. Tina comes back and notices we "found" another bottle! She's happy now because she doesn't have to run to the store. We share winks and snickers as Tina pours a second glass of Brand X, completely unaware of the swap.
“When the bottle was about empty and we could handle it no more, we all fell out in hysterics as we let Tina in on it. She was a good sport, embarrassed, but okay. No longer could she rant about Brand X either!”
Womack loves a good bottle of cabernet sauvignon, after recently having gone through pinot noir and merlot phases. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her manager/husband, Scott, and their three children, Olivia, Max and Weller. See Kathy Womack’s work at www.kwomack.com or at the Kathy Womack Gallery at 411 Brazos Street in downtown Austin or 2015A West Gray Street in Houston.
Despite the differences among the Queens’ backgrounds and perspectives, they share an attitude. None is self-conscious about being a women in a so-called “man’s world”. Even 20 to 30 years ago, each went about her business, doing what she wanted to do with neither complaints nor apologies. The thought did not occur for any to stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute – nobody’s going to let me in” – each just walked through the door. As Master Sommelier, Madeline Triffon notes, “I’ve probably never given a juicy interview about being a woman sommelier, as opposed to just a sommelier. Oh well, it’s probably of more interest to others looking in as opposed to me, looking out!”