Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin, who died at 88, was a formidable woman who took over her husband's champagne firm when she became a widow at the age of 27 and made it a household name. Like her, most of the other women in wine either were born into or married into the business. Only recently has wine become a nonfamily career for women.
In the trade, women are breaking through the old-boy network. In production, there've been women at the Davis campus of the University of California since Mary Ann Graf graduated from the School of Enology and Viticulture in 1965. Winemakers include Zelma Long of Simi, Alison Green of Firestone, Kay Simon of Chateau Ste. Michelle's, Janet Trefethen of Trefethen and Dawnine Sampler of Domaine Chandon. And there are women growers -- Susan Sokol Blosser in Oregon for one.
Wine, women and work. Why not? We drink slightly more wine than men. We buy more. And, when it comes to appreciating wine, we even have a built-in advantage over men. Dr. Robert Henkin, a specialist in sensory disorders at Georgetown University Medical Center, says that women can reach higher perception levels of smell and taste. And Michael Broadbent, head of Christie's, London, a traditionalist if ever there was one, says: "I trust a woman's judgment in tastings."
I'd trust Zelma Long's level-headed judgment on most matters enological. As winemaker at Simi since late 1979, her influence is in new releases: Simi's '80 Chenin Blanc, Mendocino, and '80 Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, are fruity and should be drunk young.
The '80 chardonnay is aging in small oak barrels. Like her former employer Robert Mondavi, she is experimenting with fermenting techniques and cooperage. "I'm not interested in making precocious chardonnays which are released with perfect flavor and strength, and usually die young," explains Long. From the 1980 vintage, Simi will be releasing the chardonnay in both regular and reserve bottlings.
Susan Sokol is another down-to-earth person. She and Bill Blosser met at Stanford, moved around the country for post-graduate studies and landed up in Dundee, Ore., where they planted 18 acres of vines in 1971.
They had no winery of their own, nor did they intend to build one. Susan was the grower, Bill had another career, and there were two small children, now three. "We knew we could grow the best grapes, but didn't want to inflict our winemaking on the world," said Bill. "We waited until we could afford to hire somebody who really knew what he was doing." They built the winery in 1977, found a winemaker and are developing a healthy reputation for their wines. The vineyards, Susan's responsibility, have been increased to 100 acres.
Of the new Sokol Blosser releases, the '80 White Riesling, Sagemoor (Washington), is fruity and spritzy. The '80 Gewurz-traminer, Sagemoor, is well-balanced and spicy, a wine for food. A light-bodied crisp chardonnay, the '79 Yamhill County, was fermented and aged in wood.