Chicago Pinot meets three Women of the Vine, from left to right: Kristin Belair of Honig Vineyard and Winery, author Deborah Brenner and Marian Jansen op de Haar of Fleming's Steakhouse and Wine Bar
A casual lunch with winemaker Karen Cakebread changed Deborah Brenner’s life. Deborah had left a secure technology job after sixteen years in an attempt to connect more with nature and community. Karen and Deborah dished for several hours about the obstacles they faced in their respective careers. In 2005, Deborah formed a wine negotiant company, negotiating deals with some of this country’s great female winemakers. She wrote Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine as a tribute to the pioneers you don’t always read about in wine magazines or on the back of your favorite bottle.
While in town for a book signing, Ms. Brenner sat down with me to discuss her book and her wine portfolio, which has just entered the Chicago market.
Chicago Pinot: Tell me about some of the pioneers you profile in the book, and why wine lovers should know more about them.
Deborah: I profiled twenty women in the book. Some of the pioneers in the industry really paved the way for women today being able to break the glass ceiling and break through the gender stereotypes. Merry Edwards was instrumental at changing policy at UC Davis and Dr. Ann Noble, creator of the Wine Aroma Wheel, was the first woman on the faculty in the enology department at UC Davis. Also, Heidi Barrett is the only person, male or female, to receive five 100 point perfect scores from Robert Parker!
Chicago Pinot: What are some of the barriers that needed to be broken down in the wine community?
Deborah: Two big stereotypes tend to be mostly about the physical demands of a wine producer. Also, there is the expectation, that once a woman becomes pregnant, she can no longer taste wine in the same manner or handle the day to day activities and strenuous work.
Chicago Pinot: Do those concerns exist in the old world as well?
Deborah: Yes, and also, another challenge is that European women often enter the wine trade through an inheritance of the winery from family which means taking on extra executive responsibilities they may not initially be prepared for.
Chicago Pinot: Is there, and should there be, such a thing as marketing “to women?”
Deborah: Wine will appeal to different people for different reasons; we shouldn't try to "genderize" the wine. It has turned off customers when we try to turn "women's wine" into a category.
Chicago Pinot: Is it true that women are better tasters than men? Does that help them out when making wine?
Deborah: It's not so much that taste better, but women generally have more taste buds then men, meaning they can detect sweet and sour flavors more than most men can.
Chicago Pinot: Please introduce me to your company, Women of the Vine Cellars.
Deborah: While writing the book, I formed Women of the Vine Cellars. It is the first wine company to unite award winning women winemakers under one brand. I like to say it is the first "Art Gallery" to showcase the wonderful talents of these artists. I currently have six women winemakers making wine for Women of the Vine Cellars. Signe Zoller,Marketta Fourmeaux, Carol Shelton, Dorothy Schuler, Heidi Barrett and Alison Crowe. They are from Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles. My goal is to continue introducing great women of wine to the consumer. It is a celebration to women's great accomplishments. I hope Women of the Vine will encourage and empower young women to pursue their passions and dreams.