Hey, Wine Ladies! Take The Power Back!

Vinted on June 22, 2016 binned in commentary, wine news

How many of you caught the recent diatribes by both Guy Woodward (of Harpers) and Monika Elling (of Foundations Marketing Group in New York City) regarding the under-representation of women in the wine biz?

This quote from Elling summarizes the view pretty succinctly:

“I’ve been in the business some time and experienced it from several angles, and in the US specifically, where women buy over 70% of the total wine sold, the people that are gatekeepers are 99.9% men, so there in itself lies a massive disconnect… The wine industry by and large globally is stuck in another century, and despite a tremendous amount of change on the production side to bring that up to speed, the other elements show an entire sector woefully lacking is communication and marketing side.”

Now, before I go ahead and agree with this – which I will – and offer my own thoughts on what could be done to help even the playing field, I feel compelled to first point out that, to me, the articles linked above are misleading.

I say this not because we all simply like to bitch and moan about stuff in the wine biz (which we do, male and female alike).

We drink and we complain about thingsI say this because we can’t ignore the fact that three of the most influential consumer-facing wine publications – JancisRobinson.com, The Wine Advocate, and Wine Enthusiast – are all essentially helmed by women. Think about that for a minute, because it’s important.

While women certainly are not, at the time of this writing, represented proportionally to their consumer buying influence in positions of power throughout the wine trade, one could certainly argue that the are already achieving dominance within certain sectors of the wine biz. At least, they are as measured by holding positions of power in media that have considerable influence with both consumers and professional wine purchasers.

Ok, having said that… yeah, I agree that the wine biz, by most other counts, is still a club for white dudes. Usually older ones, at that.

There is, however, one simple way in which women winemakers, women farmers, women importers, and women PR reps can start to take the power back, and thus hopefully begin to tilt the tide of representation more fairly in line with their consumer buying majority…

The short version: have an agenda.

The longer version:

Relying on the most influential and powerful buyers and media to talk about your wines is only going to continue to make those same people influential and powerful.

So… how about you ladies stop sending so many of your products to dudes to review/talk about/promote/etc.? How about forgoing the dudes and getting this stuff into the hands and mouths of influential and potentially-influential women?

Like, now?

You want more women to have power in the wine biz? Then start giving women in the wine biz more power.

Simple? Yeah.

Easy? No.

Fast? No.

Worth it? Probably.

Stop handing over your power – the power to define your brand, the power to tell your story, the power to recommend your wines to like minds – and start taking the time to do it yourself. Or, at the very least, working at getting your wares and stories in front of the people who more represent the demographics that you want to empower.

At this point, there’s really no excuse for continuing to do things the “old” way, and then complaining about the result being the same as it was in the past (in this case, having stodgy white guys dominate when it comes to wine buying). We don’t need any more evidence that you have the power to influence wine consumers and savvy wine buyers (but just in case you do, here’s some more).

Notice that I, myself, benefit in many ways from you not taking this advice; but I’m financially independent, so I don’t really give a fuck, because I love the wine biz and I’d rather see more equitable distribution of capable women in powerful wine roles (and I’m single, and in the wine biz, and I like strong, confident women… just sayin’…).

Ladies, please, stop giving power to the people who don’t represent you, and start giving that power to those who do.

Or, better yet, start using your power yourselves.






  • Monika Elling

    Good thoughts and thanks for sharing; if you read the article in full, in my case I was specifically referring to the power of distribution, (billions in value) and never mentioned publications/journalism for the same reasons you pointed out. In distribution I am also not focused on regional manager positions, where the basic ceiling lies for the few women that land there. I am absolutely referring to senior management in leadership, where the gap is undeniable. There is work to be done, and the industry needs an update.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Monika, and thanks for chiming in on this. I should add that more than one person has since pointed out to me that on the media side, there’s also Mel Mannion, who is President and COO M. Shanken Communications. From my view, women in wine media have a potentially enormous influence on the purchasing decisions of the roles that you rightly cite are still male-dominated.

      “There is work to be done, and the industry needs an update.” – Totally agree, and the question is, what are we doing about it? The status quo isn’t going to change itself.

  • Monika Elling

    As we all know, awareness is key, and really the first step. I would add that within distribution it should involve recruiting, advancement and mentor programs. This is not rocket science and other industries have managed the process successfully. Attention and action within distribution for women is critical if the industry is truly reach the modern era.

    • 1WineDude

      Ah, ok, understood. Hopefully, putting the spotlight on it leads to screws being put to them…

  • tiffandsauce

    I am a woman, and I am in the wine business. My former position as a wine buyer that required time on the floor in fine dining was a tight fit after a difficult pregnancy and the choice to spend more time raising my son vs. paying for private day (make that night…) care. Transitioning to a position with a distributor was shot down when I was asked about my family and if I had children (YES, that is TOTALLY illegal to ask in a second interview and YES, it happened anyway). Choosing not to be a victim of circumstance and choosing not to label my incredible and wonderful son a “circumstance”, I chose to start my own business. Does it give me prestige and titles and an executive salary? No, but it does give me freedom and passion and a place to practice my trade without being judged for my personal life choices and gender. That being said, do I want my gender to define my business? Absolutely not. The wines I select for my site are selected based on their merit. Men and women both make wine and market wine and write about wine and sell wine to me – then I turn around and sell it to men and women alike. Sure, we should have awareness about what holds women back in the wine industry…but that exists in almost any profession. I am more interested in seeing women own their own accomplishments and stories without the nod to gender….as in, “first female _________, best woman _______, top scoring woman ___________, top earning female _________.” I hope that the people reached by the marketing I do for my little wine shop can see the merit in the bottles that are there. If they think it’s cool that they’re buying wine from a girl (and a mom), then I hope they only say that behind my back {wink, nod, coquettish glance}. Cheers to you wineDude and p.s. I hope nothing I said here would categorize me as a “d_bag”.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Tiff! You sound like you totally rock to me.

    • Monika Elling

      Tiff, I’ve been on supply, import and distribution sides, with many female friends both on and off premise sides. I too have launched a business a few years ago, a global wine business at that (single mother, three children so there is nothing I can’t do), and we are building and growing. However as in all industries, these issues of equal pay (???) and women in leadership ranks are serious touch-points with tremendous efforts behind them. As the wine industry and in particular U.S. distribution is privately held, the conversation on this topic is so muted, it is non existent. Women are not even a blip within top ranks and as privately held companies, these entities do not have the same level of scrutiny that a publicly traded companies would have. Time to shed some light on this problem and move it forward. It would be great to hear from the leading wholesalers as to how they plan to move women up the ranks of their multi-billion dollar companies. Meanwhile best of luck to you in your business, may you keep growing and doing well.

  • Cavalier Career

    Monika hits the nail on the head, actually. Bam.

    Women have been taking back their power for centuries or more. Most of us don’t need pointers on that. It’s certainly not “simple”. But often, when we dare to point out inequalities, we’re labeled chirpy, and our voices are drowned out by–you guessed it–men. Here’s hoping we see more perspective and testimonials on this topic from women who have been on the front lines. Thank you, Monika!

    • 1WineDude

      Cavalier – While I agree with you, for the most part, I’m hoping that you’re not commenting about my support as somehow being invalid based on my gender? Personally, I am heartened by the fact that all of those commenting here so far on this are successful women.

      • Cavalier Career

        I’m not saying that your gender invalidates your perspective. I do think there needs to be more active listening to female perspectives on this topic. Until that happens, nothing will change.

  • Bob Henry

    An observation — consistent over years of experience — that I cannot corroborate with statistics.

    Whenever I attend a Southern Wine & Spirits trade tasting here in Los Angeles, I note the sales reps in attendance chatting up the invited wine merchants and restaurateurs are predominately white males.

    At the risk of being guilty of “profiling,” they are a particular archetype of male: beefy ex-football players. (High school and college level. Not from the professional ranks.)

    We know there is a longstanding relationship between male sports participation and alcohol (principally beer) consumption.

    Some might explain it as a way to replenish depleted carbs after physical exertion. Others as a self-medicating anesthetic for the aches and pains of competition. Still others as a bonding ritual among team members. (You choose. Or posit your own theory.)

    The historical perception that SWS is an “old boys network” presents a formidable corporate culture barrier to women joining their sales ranks.

    Aside: see today’s Wall Street Journal on Facebook executives and employees taking a class on “managing” racial, age, gender and other types of bias:

    Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-will-train-employees-to-spot-their-own-political-bias-1466714677

    • Monika Elling


      What you described above can be seen at every sales meeting with the top 10 distributors (and beyond) in all markets; at best, a handful of women will be in the room. A few women may even be regional managers. Small pool to draw from for top management, which is really my point. Directors, VP’s, Presidents is where I’m going, as true decision making needs to have balance at the top of the food chain as well.

      Thanks Cavalier and everyone for the great comments.

      • Bob Henry

        Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal “Marketplace” Section
        (January 10, 2014, Page B1ff):

        “Do You Know Your Hidden Work Biases?;
        Big Businesses Teach Staffers How ‘Unconscious Bias’ Impacts Decisions”

        Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303754404579308562690896896

        By Joann S. Lublin
        Staff Reporter

        Everyone has hidden biases. . . .

        As they struggle to diversify their workforces, big businesses are teaching staffers to recognize that “unconscious bias” — or an implicit preference for certain groups — often influences important workplace decisions.

        . . .

        Everyone unwittingly favors certain types of people based on their upbringing, experience and values because human beings need bias to survive, diversity experts say. For example, you might prefer fellow graduates of your alma mater. Left unchecked on the job, though, unconscious bias can affect hiring, assignments, promotions, evaluations and dismissals.

        . . .

        Sidebar exhibit:


        Take two tests to determine your racial and gender-career biases.

        Gender-career bias test [Link: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/agg/blindspot/indexgendercareer.htm%5D

        Racial-bias test [Link: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/agg/blindspot/indexracekids.htm%5D

        Source: Project Implicit

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