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A Winemaker's Journal

What Women Want (When it Comes to Wine)

By Elias Fernandez

A few years ago I watched with interest the much-heralded unveiling of a new wine (produced by a big California winery) that was made for women. This was a light-style white wine with lower alcohol and lots of fruit flavor.

As a winemaker this one really had me scratching my head. Over the course of twenty years making rich, bold, intense red wines for Shafer Vineyards, numerous women had expressed how much they’d enjoyed our wines. I’d say I’d heard the same kinds of comments from men and women in equal proportion.

If this new “wine for women” idea took off, then perhaps I’d been misreading the situation all these years.

Turns out the wine didn’t do well in the marketplace and is no longer being produced.

I think it’s a mistake to pretend to “invite” women to the world of wine. They’ve been there from the start. And they know it.

While the old wine god Bacchus is well known, many don’t realize that he was pre-dated by a Babylonian goddess of wine named Geshtinanna. Throughout history women have been associated with grapes and wine.

In my own life, the first person I ever worked with in a vineyard was my mother. She picked grapes and lugged buckets with amazing speed.

Today I hire vineyard crews of women because, in my opinion, we get better results with detailed work such as leafing and berry selection. Leafing is when we go through the vineyard thinning the leaves to give the fruit the right balance of shade and sunlight. In berry selection we’re removing just those grapes that are underdeveloped or damaged. This takes a great deal of skill and attention to detail.

Same goes for our bottling line. I hire women exclusively because they’re keener at spotting flaws in labels, caps or bottle glass.

At the facility where we test the quality of our corks, all the people who work in the sensory lab are women. I have read that women are better tasters, perhaps based on the fact that Nature has given them more taste buds than men. Perhaps the same goes for sense of smell.

Women are also my winemaking peers. I graduated from U.C. Davis with a number of women who are talented winemakers and longtime friends such as Mia Kleine and Pam Starr. Other world-class winemakers include Heidi Barrett Peterson, Helen Turley and Merry Edwards.

Women are top wine consumers. Seventy-two percent of all wine sold at U.S. supermarkets is purchased by women.

Women hold a key role as wine writers and critics. In addition to widely read wine writers such as Jancis Robinson and Karen MacNeil, women are on the forefront of writing  wine blogs such as “The Wine Chicks” (, Alice Feiring ( and Bonnie Graves at “Girl Meets Grape” (

What women want, when it comes to wine, is no great mystery; they want a wide selection of wines that taste great. And fortunately for all of us, we live in an era where you can easily find delicious wines made in every conceivable style from all over the globe. For this reason, we can all raise a glass to the democracy of wine.