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Women and Wine

Women are not just buying wine, they're becoming educated about it as well, and for that, there's no better teacher than Karen MacNeil.



"Where the boys are"--for decades has been the theme of the wine industry in California. But the tide is starting to turn. And it's no wonder when you consider women make up half of the population and purchase more than 60% of the wine consumed in the U.S. They represent a huge market with great purchasing power that until know has been largely ignored. They're not just buying wine, they're becoming educated about it as well, and for that, there's no better teacher than Karen MacNeil. Working in the prestigious wine department of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, which is often called the Harvard of wine education, Karen has reached the pinnacle of success unattained by many women or men, but don't let her success fool you--it came only after a lifetime full of hard work.

"You know when I started out 30 years ago, as a writer in New York City, I was on food stamps and collected 321 rejection letters from magazines and newspapers," she said. "It's interesting today--chairman of the wine dept. of the CIA, author of the wine bible, co-host of a TV show, it's funny--it's been a long, long march. But it's true."

One of Karen's colleagues is Susannah Harris of Chateau Sovereign in the Alexander Valley. An assistant winemaker at the winery, she's part of an emerging trend of female winemakers in the state. In fact, nearly 20% of winemakers in California are female. Just like Karen, breaking into the business for Susannah took many years, but the effort paid off and now she sees women as having a distinct advantage in wine, thanks to some help from their female peers.

"They know how to teach us. And that's something that I don't know happens on the male side--is how we have this wonderful group of females who want to share their experiences and want to share who they are," Susannah said.

Over at Beringer Blass, three women are hedging their bets on a little white lie--that's the name of their new lower calorie, lower alcohol chardonnay. Hitting stores earlier this year, it was billed as the first wine made by women, specifically for women."

"You know, the thing that always bothered me was that you saw wines out there occasionally being marketed to women where it was just something about the label and what I really wanted to do was really work with the ladies here and what we were able to do was to think of what was inside the bottle as well as outside on the label. And that was how the whole idea came about--the three of us just brainstorming," winemaker Jane Robichaud said.

So from teaching, to winemaking, to marketing, women are leaving their imprint on the wine industry--and gradually, the wine country is starting to see that a woman's place isn't in the kitchen, but in the vineyards! So if there's a new motto for wine country, it might be--"where the boys aren't!"

 


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