Women Winemakers in California

Merry Edwards

Merry Edwards wines, from one of California’s first female winemakers

You may recognize the names Cathy Corison, Merry Edwards, Akiko Freeman, Kathleen Inman, Carol Shelton, Pam Starr, Delia Viader, and Diane Wilson from their reputations or from their excellent namesake wineries.  But, what percentage of the lead winemakers in California do you think are women?    50%?   20%?

A study released in 2011 concludes that only about 10% of California wineries have a woman as the lead or primary winemaker, although the percentage is higher in the two largest regions.

Lucia Albino Gilbert, Ph.D. and Jack Gilbert, Ph.D. at Santa Clara University developed a database of women winemakers in California, starting from a list of 3200+ wineries in the state.  Then, they were able to gather information from winery websites and calls and visits to wineries to determine for 97% of the wineries if the main or lead winemaker was female, male, or a female/male co-winemaking team.  After eliminating the female/male co-winemaker wineries from calculations, Drs. Gilbert determined that only about 10% of the wineries had women as the lead or primary winemaker.  (The researchers were unable to determine the sex of the lead winemaker for about 3% of the wineries, but even if 100% of those wineries had female solo winemakers as the lead, that would have increased the total percentage of female winemakers in California to only about 13%). 

California Wineries and Women Winemakers by Region

According to the study, the proportion of California Wineries by Region and the percentage of Women Winemakers by Region are as follows:

Napa Valley – 29% of the wineries in California, 12% lead or primary winemakers are female

Sonoma/Marin – 21% of the wineries, 12% female winemakers

South Central Coast – 15% of the wineries, 8% female winemakers

North Central Coast – 11% of the wineries, 5% female winemakers

Central Valley – 7% of the wineries, 9% female winemakers

Sierra Foothills – 6% of the wineries, 7% female winemakers

Southern California – 5% of the wineries, 4% female winemakers

Medoc/Lake – 5% of the wineries, 9% female winemakers

According to the study, “Women today have more opportunities to gain the experiences and knowledge they need to become a winemaker than in past years.  At the same time, guidance and understanding of what it takes to be successful are crucial.  Certain factors appear to slow the progress to gender equity…Women entering gender-incongruent occupations, such as winemaking, need to have some awareness of these factors and how they can handle them effectively as needed.”  You can go here to see the study and/or learn more about the methodology and conclusions from “California Women Winemakers, Their Accomplishments, and Their Progress in a Male-Dominated Field.” 

The Women Winemakers of California website also contains a comprehensive directory of California women winemakers and their accomplishments, and the information is available sorted by winemaker as well as by winery.

To learn more about female winemakers and wine enthusiasts, both within and outside of California, Women for WineSense is a wine education and networking organization for wine industry professionals and wine enthusiasts.


(Study © 2011 Lucia Albino Gilbert, Ph.D..  All Rights Reserved.  Study cited and quoted with permission from Dr. Gilbert.)


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Women Winemakers in California — 2 Comments

  1. I can’t imagine the amount of time and effort that went into this study. With the industry in constant flux, my hat goes off to the Gilberts for their tenacity and perseverance and to “Two Guys from Napa” for covering the study!

  2. Thanks, Sean. We received a note from Dr. Lucia Gilbert that they were working on two more data-based articles for their website, so it will be interesting to see what else they do with their data.

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