First Ladies of Wine

ladies drinking wine

Although the world of wine has historically been a bit of a boys’ club — or perhaps, a mustachioed, bespectacled, older gentlemen’s club — many women are increasingly finding a way in and dramatically impacting the industry for the better. Women, who, according to recent scientific research, may actually be in general more sensitive tasters than men, have broken through the (wine) glass ceiling to succeed as winemakers, winery owners, sommeliers, wine scientists, wine writers, and more.

In honor of National Women’s History Month, we want to take a moment to acknowledge some of the amazing female pioneers in their respective fields and recognize their indispensable contributions, from the vineyard to the lab to the glass, and beyond:

The first female to…

Run a Champagne House: Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin

The oft-repeated tale of the Widow Clicquot is one of the oldest known examples of successful women in wine. When her husband passed away in 1805, 27-year-old Barbe-Nicole, a newly single mother, was left to salvage her husband’s struggling wine company on her own. With her shrewd knowledge of both business and winemaking, she managed to turn the business into the now-infamous Champagne house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. In addition to pioneering a vastly improved method for the production of sparkling wine, she also created the iconic yellow label now inextricably linked to the luxury brand.

Graduate from the enology program at UC Davis: MaryAnn Graf

These days, there is a great deal of talk about encouraging young girls to enter STEM fields, but when MaryAnn Graf was attending UC Davis in the early 1960s, it was rare that she even encountered a female classmate. Ms. Graf has always believed in working hard and paying your dues, regardless of gender, and her philosophy has clearly paid off. After graduating in 1965, she went on to become the first female winemaker of the modern era in California, as well as the first woman to join the board of directors of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.

Be hired as a faculty member in the UC Davis Viticulture Department: Ann C. Noble

Anyone who wants to become a more skilled taster should immediately familiarize themselves with Ms. Noble’s body of work. Her research as a sensory scientist on aroma and flavor led to the development of the Aroma Wheel, which is a great tool for writing tasting notes when you want to be a little bit more specific than “notes of red fruit.”

Pass the Master Sommelier Exam in America: Madeline Triffon

If you have seen the movie SOMM, then you’re familiar with the incredibly intense preparation that goes into this prestigious exam. Only 147 people have succeeded in America since the program’s inception, and of the 23 of those who have been women, Madeline Triffon was the very first, in 1987. Since then, she has been putting her discerning palate to great use creating wine lists and guiding guests’ selections at top restaurants.

Pass the Master of Wine Exam:  Sarah Morphew Stephen

Although no one has made a movie yet about the Master of Wine exam, it is every bit as challenging as the Master Somm curriculum. The major difference is a focus on academic aspects of wine rather than restaurant service. Sarah Morphew Stephen, a Brit, became the first female to successfully complete the rigorous examination in 1970, despite having been told by a prestigious producer in Portugal that the wine industry was not “a place for women” after inquiring about employment.


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