Women in Wine: Sisters are doing it for themselves
Change is happening for women in the wine industry and closer to home in Ontario, a growing number of the 180 grape-based wineries have women at the helm. When I first started in wine over two decades ago, I could count the number of women winemakers and owners on one hand.
From a quick glance at the industry now, along with information from the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, it is encouraging to see more women-owned or co-owned wineries, along with more women in winemaking roles. (Check out the directory at the end of this article).
Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves
I recently learned about a women-only tasting group in Niagara that consists of winemakers, assistant winemakers and cellar hands. Created to get feedback on wines they were making, it has evolved into a broader tasting group with wines from other regions and varieties. It is also a space to mentor and speak openly about what it is like to be a woman in the wine industry.
The group is the brainchild of Allison Findlay, assistant winemaker at Flatrock Cellars, who is a graduate of the Niagara College Winemaking and Viticulture programme and has been making wine for nine years. Although the group formed pre-COVID and met every six to 8 weeks, it has been on hiatus, but set to resume shortly with a virtual tasting and in-person once safe to do so.
I asked Allison why she created the group, how it is different from tasting groups with men and the challenges and changes for women in the wine industry.
Why did you form the group?
Allison Findlay (AF): It began because I wanted to connect with others in the industry, but soon realized what I was looking for was to have more female mentors and voices.
Who is in the group?
AF: I initially reached out to women I had gone to school with or worked with and the group has grown by word of mouth. There are currently 25 women with the intention to grow post-pandemic. I always wanted the group to be inclusive of all women in winemaking, regardless of position. There are head winemakers like Emma Garner from Thirty Bench; Emily Aubie at Trius; Katie Dickieson from Peller Estates Niagara; Jessica Otting, winemaker for Tawse and Redstone Wineries; and Kelly Mason, the winemaker for Domaine Queylus, The Farm and Honsberger Estates. Assistant winemakers Yvonne Irvine from Creekside and Queenston Mile, Alyssa Tharby from The Foreign Affair and Eden Garry at Cloudsley Cellars, among others, are also part of the group.
How, if at all, is this different from any mixed tasting groups of which you are part?
AF: The biggest difference is that wine is not the only thing on the table but that we can speak freely about struggles with parenting, hardships in the workplace and our experiences throughout the years. Any pretence and grandeur of wine tasting disappears and we focus on really getting to understand the wines. Ponytails, craft-beer tees and ISO glasses – winetasting unplugged.
What are your thoughts on the progress and position of women in the Niagara/Canadian wine industry?
AF: Women certainly have made progress, but there still are not many in positions of power and the industry is not as representative as the population at large. Of the 96 VQA wineries in the Niagara Peninsula, only twelve have female head winemakers. There are only twenty female assistant winemakers in Niagara and the majority of women in our group are assistants to male head winemakers.
The industry is also still quite white but as we are seeing more BIPOC students enroll to study winemaking at Niagara College and likely elsewhere, hopefully we will see more diversity in the industry and have a more representative group of women winemakers in Ontario and in this group.
Are there challenges women winemakers face and what needs to change?
AF: I think change needs to happen at a fundamental level, long before women even start thinking about what kind of job they want to do. The biggest challenge for women is not any specific barriers, but that change happens slowly. Canada’s wine industry is still young and many women may not even have realized this was a job possibility until recently. Because there have been women that have paved the way for us, I now find it easier to envision myself in a leadership role when it comes to winemaking in Niagara. I think that more representation and inclusion, not only for women but for all previously excluded groups is important and necessary to change views of what a wine professional looks like. Both women and men are capable of making great wine, but we will never see the full potential if half the population does not even have the chance to try.
A Directory of Ontario Wineries Owned/Co-owned by Women or with Women Winemakers
Women owned or co-owned wineries
Niagara Peninsula: Bachelder Wines; Back 10 Cellars; Drea’s Wine Company; The Farm; Featherstone Estate Winery; Fielding Estates; Good Earth Winery; ICellars; Magnotta; Organized Crime; Tiny Batch Wine; Two Sisters; Sue Ann Staff Winery; Westcott Vineyards
Prince Edward County: Broken Stone Winery; By Chadsey’s Cairns; Closson Chase; The Grange; Harwood Estates; Hinterland Wine Company; Karlo Estates; Lacey Estates; Rosehall Run; Sugar Bush Vineyards; Three Dog Winery; Waupoos Estates Winery
Emerging Regions: Kin Vineyards; Roost Wine Company; Vivace Estate Winery; Windrush Estate Winery
Ontario Wineries with Women winemakers or assistant winemakers
Niagara Peninsula: Angels Gate; Château des Charmes; Cloudsley Cellars; Creekside Estate; Domaine Queylus; The Farm; Flatrock Cellars; The Foreign Affair Winery; Greenlane; Hernder Estates; Honsberger; Lakeview Wine Company; Leaning Post; Malivoire Wine Company; Peller Estates Niagara; Queenston Mile; Ravine; Redstone; Rosewood; 16 Mile Cellar; Sue Ann Staff Winery; Southbrook Winery; Tawse; Thirty Bench Winemakers; Trius
Prince Edward County: By Chadsey’s Cairns; The Grange; Harwood Estates; Sandbanks Estates; Trail Estates; Waupoos
Lake Erie North Shore: Colio; Muscedere Vineyards; Sprucewood Shores
Emerging Regions: Adamo Estate; Georgian Hills; Roost Wine Company; Potters Settlement
Janet Dorozynski left life as an academic and has been tasting, judging, teaching & communicating about wine, beer and spirits from across Canada and the world for more than twenty years. She holds the WSET Diploma, a PhD from Concordia University and is a WSET Certified Educator.