Women are awesome and so is wine. Since its Women’s History month let’s take a look at some of the awesome women that helped to shape the world of wine as we know it today. While there are more women than ever in the industry, the industry is not new to strong and innovative women who knew how to grab life by the vine and make the most delicious wines they could dare to imagine.
Here a few of the rockstars that are headliners in the world of wine:
The Widow Cliquot (1777-1866) You may more easily recognize her title as Veuve Cliquot, since it adorns one of the most famous Champagne houses in the world. Madame Cliquot took over at the young age of 27 when her husband passed suddenly. She quickly worked to bring her Champagne house into a modern era. Because she didn’t like the sediment that had traditionally clouded a finished Champagne, she figured out how to expel the leftover gunk after the second fermentation that happened in the bottle. She realized that by slowly turning the bottles as they aged (turning the bottle by hand a quarter turn at a time for 4-6 weeks), she could gently coax the unwanted dead yeast into the neck of the bottle without being suspended into the wine and then easily remove it at disgorgement. Today that process is known as riddling and every Champagne as well as quality sparkling wine producing house in the world today now uses this technique. Merci madame!
Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira (1811-1896) Nicknamed The Ferreirinha, Antónia persisted in believing that her native country of Portugal could produce great wines, despite the popularity at the time of importing wine from Spain to beef up poorly produced Portuguese wines. She traveled to England to learn about the most modern techniques used to fight Phylloxera, a catastrophic louse that was devastating vineyards throughout Europe, as well as new skills for producing quality-minded wine. She brought all of this back to her native Douro Valley and changed the trajectory of Port wine in the modern era. She is celebrated throughout the Portuguese wine trade for the belief and passion she carried through everything she fought to change and improve.
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) No Queen Victoria wasn’t a secret winemaker, as deliciously fun as that would be, she was still greatly influential in the global trade of wine. While the consumption of sparkling was still in its infancy of popularity, royalty the world over began to pay attention to the wines of Champagne. None more so than her majesty. In the 1860’s she had her travel director write to a famous Champagne house to request that 100 bottles be sent to the British embassy in Paris. It was served at the Queen’s table everyday. During her reign, which lasted from 1837 to 1901 the English began issuing royal warrants to Champagne houses. This tradition continues even today with Queen Elizabeth, who to this day enjoys wine with lunch and always a glass of champagne after dinner. The rest was history for these famed wines we associate with grandeur and luxury.
Isabelle Simi (1886-1981) Legendary business woman as well as the first female wine maker in the United States, Isabelle’s incredible story started at the daunting young age of 18 in 1904. She found herself suddenly in charge of the family’s business in Sonoma, California when her father and uncle both died tragically from a flu outbreak. She guided her family through saving their vineyards in the Great Earthquake of 1906, managed to keep her winery afloat during prohibition (which put almost every winery in the country out of business) and the winery still exists today thanks to her. She was as determined and courageous as they come.
Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy (1932-Present) Even though Lalou is still alive, she joins our roster of women in the history of wine because of the great impact she has already had on the industry. Known affectionally as The Grand Dame of Burgundy, Madame Bize is admired the world of wine making over. She was once a partner and guiding force at the now uber famous Domaine de la Romanée Conti. In the early 1990’s she left to focus on her family’s namesake domaine. Believing in the practice of biodynamic farming while most of Burgundy was still using pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, she pushed ahead with maintaining her viticulture practices even in disastrous years like the mildew-ridden 1993 vintage. Those around her (including her chief winemaker) told her she was mad. It’s a good thing she stuck to her ploughs because the 1993 vintage put her on the map and today Domaine Leroy’s wines are some of the most coveted and rare bottlings in the world.