ST. HELENA, Calif. — In 1978, the first vintage that Cathy Corison made wine, she could count on one hand the number of women she knew of doing the same kind of work in the cellars of the Napa Valley. Without using all her fingers.
Nearly 35 years later, Ms. Corison needs a lot more fingers. Winemaking remains primarily a man’s world, but research by Santa Clara University professors Lucia Albino Gilbert and John Gilbert has found that nearly 10 percent of California wineries now have women as the main or lead winemaker.
Their second finding: Women winemakers tend to be more highly acclaimed.
Why? It’s hard to say — and that’s not a question the Gilberts attempt to answer in this study — but it may have something to do with persistence.
“I think women winemakers had to be really determined and really passionate and still do,” says Ms. Corison, named 2011 Winemaker of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle.
An academic psychologist who has studied women’s career paths, Mrs. Gilbert , with little information available on the subject, put together a comprehensive list of the 3,200-plus winemakers in California, identifying the women and developing the website womenwinemakers.com.
The number of women winemakers came to 9.8 percent, below the 15 percent to 20 percent the Gilberts expected.
After all, some of the most famous winemakers are women, such as Heidi Barrett, who worked for the “cult” winery Screaming Eagle. Among other kudos, the winery is known as home of a 6-liter ‘92 vintage bottle that sold for $500,000 at the 2000 Napa Valley Wine Auction.
So, the researchers came up with a new question — are women winemakers achieving disproportionate levels of success?
Quantifying winery acclaim is a slippery business, but the Gilberts went at it by using the listing of wineries from the 2010 reference work Opus Vino, which includes about 4,000 wineries in the world identified as noteworthy by wine critics and writers who worked with the book’s editor-in-chief, Jim Gordon.
The results: 23 percent of California wineries with women winemakers made it into Opus Vino compared to 14 percent of wineries with male winemakers.
But Mr. Gordon’s not convinced that women winemakers are disproportionately successful compared to men given the 10 percent baseline. “There is still a long way to go there,” he points out.
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