On behalf of Wine Geographic and MarioLunaSomm.com, we are proud to recognize Women’s Equality Day on August 26th. This edition of Wine Craft is a celebration of female winemakers, their incredible wines, and their continuing contribution to winemaking as a whole. To a sommelier, great winemakers are the rock stars of the wine industry and it’s our role is to learn each winemaker’s technique and use that knowledge to help you pick a wine you’re going to love.
Wine in Perfect Harmony
There are hundreds of female winemakers currently breaking ground all around the world (even in unexpected places like Africa). Part of being a great sommelier is knowing all about the people behind the wine – sometimes those stories are even more important than the wine itself. I could talk about winemakers – male and female – and their unique journeys and impressive achievements until the cows come home, but today I’m going to focus on four female winemakers who all have one big thing in common: harmony.
In winespeak, “harmony” means that one flavor or note doesn’t overwhelm any other characteristic in the wine. There is the right balance between fruit, non-fruit, acidity, and warmth that makes me scream for more (what can I say – good wine makes me crazy!). I tend to only find wines like these created by female winemakers. I am not trying knock their male counterparts at all, but I am a firm believer that women by nature are more intuitive when it comes to tasting wine, creating recipes, and understanding ingredients. (Let the controversy begin! The comment section is now open…)
Female Winemakers: Best In Class
Penner-Ash Winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon, creates firm and fruity Pinot Noirs which achieve a remarkable balance of raspberry, anise, smoke, and acidity – one taste and it makes me very selfish to share my bottle of wine with anyone else. In 1988, Penner-Ash became the very first female winemaker in Oregon. In 1998, her and her husband Ron created Penner-Ash Winery, which is the home of what is currently my favorite Pinot Noir from Oregon.
- Wine: Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013 $40: BUY ME
Check out Wine Geographic’s article of Lynn Penner-Ash
Susana Balbo is the queen of winemaking in Argentina. She entered the wine world back in 1981 after receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Enology, starting her career by cultivating the Torrontes varietal at Michael Torino Winery. In 1999, Susana Balbo Wines was established to achieve Malbec with the perfect balance of blueberry, blackberry, and cherry. Add in full, rich mouthfeel and a touch of warmth and Balbo Malbecs stand head and shoulders above the competition.
- Wine: Susana Balbo Signature Malbec 2013: BUY ME
Read more about Susana Balbo and her story on her website.
Merry Edwards Winery in Russian River Valley, California is currently in the middle of the 20th harvest. Under the watchful eye of Edwards, her Pinots turn into supple offerings full of ripe cherries, a kiss of minerality, dry herbs, and a finish that’s somehow both elegant and rugged. While most people would say Merry Edwards’ 40+ years in the California wine industry is her crowning achievement, it’s actually the fact that she has her clone of the Pinot Noir grape (UCD-37) named after her that makes me say, “WHOA!”
- Wine: Merry Edwards Olivet Pinot Noir 2014: BUY ME
Check out Wine Geographic’s in-depth profile of Merry Edwards.
While Merry Edwards is known for her Pinot Noirs in California, Heidi Barrett receives just as much acclaim for her Cabernet Sauvignons. Barrett has been viewed for decades as one of the greatest winemakers in the world thanks to her accomplishments with Diamond Creek, Screaming Eagle (which can cost as much as a car payment if not a small house), David Arthur, and Paradigm. What makes her Cabernets so great is the control she has taming the ferocious dry tannins while maintaining the essence of the luscious fruit bomb that Californians love. She currently owns her own winery called La Sirena (The Mermaid) and if you have the chance to try this wine, you most definitely should.
- Wine: 2012 Las Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon: $175: BUY ME
Check out our look at “the Wine Diva of Napa” Heidi Barrett.
There are so many incredible female winemakers out there. The four ladies above are a few of my favorites, but the truth is that when presented a choice between any female winemaker and a male winemaker, if all other things are equal, I’ll go for the female winemaker every time. Why? It’s all about harmony and balance, and female winemakers tend to have both of those qualities in abundance. It may not be a fair assumption but the results make me happy. And really, that’s the whole goal of this Wine Craft series: using everything I’m learning on my own wine journey to help you find the wines you’ll end up loving the most.
Clearly I’ve found a few of my favorites (listed above). How about you? Do have a favorite female winemaker? Let’s give these hardworking ladies some much-deserved shout outs in the comment section!
Mario Luna is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company that produces online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content full of information perfect for the everyday wine drinker. He lives in Las Vegas, where in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses here.