Wine: Women's growing impact
March is International Women's Month, and female winemakers will be celebrated at several events in town next week. A State Department reception on Wednesday hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – with First Lady Michelle Obama as special guest – will feature a merlot from Women of the Vine Cellars, the first U.S. winery that gathers award-winning female winemakers under a single label. The merlot and the winery's chardonnay will be served that evening at a Kennedy Center gala benefiting Clinton's Vital Voices Global Partnership non-profit organization.
Although women are slightly more than half the population and make 57 percent of the wine purchases in the United States, only about 15 to 20 percent of winemaking jobs are held by women, according to the Wine Institute, a San Francisco-based trade association of the California wine industry. That percentage has been growing, and it includes some notable names, such as Eileen Crane, Helen Turley and Cathy Corison, to name just a few.
That proportion holds true in Virginia, where the Virginia Wine Board last spring counted 27 women working as winemaker or assistant winemaker at Virginia’s wineries. (There are now about 160 wineries in the Old Dominion.) One of those winemakers is Emily Hodson Pelton, of Veritas winery in Afton, just west of Charlottesville, who produces what I consider Virginia’s best viognier over the past few vintages. Her 2009 – which this week won a tasting of 23 viogniers sponsored by Tarara winery – is terrific.
Some people argue that women are superior palates, so it comes as no surprise that there is a wine competition that uses only women as judges. The National Women’s Wine Competition will be held later this month in Santa Rosa, Calif., with a special judging of wines made by women. South Africa’s wine industry has held a similar competition since 2004.
Women of the Vine Cellars was the inspiration of Deborah Brenner, author of a 2007 book titled "Women of the Vine" about prominent women winemakers. The winery features six winemakers who produce a variety of wines. The State Department reception is invitation-only, and the Kennedy Center gala is sold out, but Brenner will be presenting some of the wines on Thursday, March 11, at a dinner at Eatonville restaurant on 14th Street NW. The dinner, part of the restaurant's Food and Folklore series, will feature winemaker Lori Corcoran of Loudoun County's Corcoran Vineyards and Mary Watson-DeLauder, an award-winning sommelier and the wine spokeswoman for the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The four-course dinner costs just $45 plus tax and tip.
On Friday, March 12, Brenner will be at a wine dinner at the new Ris restaurant in the West End, sponsored by Paul's wine store of Chevy Chase. And on Saturday, she will be pouring some of the wines at the Alexandria Whole Foods Market.
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