Spain's most prestigious region for red and white wine

¡Salud! Women's History Month

Women in Wine in Ribera y Rueda

Women & Wine

Article

“You need to understand agronomy, analysis, and winemaking as well as be brand ambassadors. You have to explain the project, meet people in other countries, and educate about the region. I love that it’s always different

Marta Ramas, Bodegas Valdaya

¡Salud! Women's History Month

Article by James Beard Award-winning author Laura Werlin @cheezelady

Wherever there is wine, there are women – women winemakers, that is. So too women managers, viticulturists, and more. As March is Women’s History Month, we thought it was high time to shine the light on some of the women in both regions ikmaking names for their wineries and in the process quietly making names for themselves.

A balance shift

The evidence of women winemakers is no more apparent than in Rueda in Spain’s Castilla y León, where nearly two-thirds of the region’s 74 wineries are helmed by women, whether as winemakers, technical directors, and in some cases, both.

In neighboring Ribera del Duero, the percentage of women winemakers is far fewer. But as with most wine regions, the balance is shifting. In this land of Tempranillo, where wine has largely been made the same way for hundreds of years, the faces of the people making it and the wines themselves are slowly but surely changing to reflect the times.

Carmen San Martín Gutiérrez, Bodegas de Alberto

Carmen San Martín Gutiérrez, general manager of Bodegas de Alberto in Rueda, assumed her role leading her family’s winery at the young age of 33. Even though she grew up in the wine business, she did not intend to work in it directly. Instead, she got a law degree and two master’s degrees in Business Legal Advice and Wine Business Management respectively and worked in banking, not wine. As it turns out, this background turned out to be fortuitous when the need for a general manager presented itself. 13 years later, Gutiérrez shows no signs of slowing down.

She credits the Rueda region for tacitly supporting what she does. “Women have always been part of the industry, and, in my opinion, the DO Rueda has been a pioneer, a more advanced region in that. I look around and women are not only in technical or commercial positions but also successfully assuming the general management of both wineries and large farms,” she says.

Martina Prieto Pariente, Bodegas José Pariente and Bodegas Prieto Pariente

Like Gutiérrez, Martina Prieto Pariente, winemaker and technical director at Bodegas José Pariente and Bodegas Prieto Pariente in Rueda, also hails from a winemaking family. But rather than taking a managerial role, she headed to the cellar after studying Agricultural Engineering and Oenology. She had gotten a head start because her mother, Victoria Pariente – also a winemaker – was Martina’s mentor, having instilled in her a passion for wine and giving her the knowledge to make it.

Prieto Pariente says that the wine industry is changing and that women are joining all sectors of the business. In fact, women outnumber men at her winery – something she thinks is healthy for the balance of the industry itself. But she’s quick to point out that in the end, it’s about the individual. “I think what is most important here is how each [person] contributes regardless of gender,” she says. Given that her biggest winemaking challenge now is climate change, the contribution of every individual is more important than ever.

Almudena Alberca, MW, Entrecanales Domecq 

Almudena Alberca MW is the embodiment of progress. She is the first woman in Spain to become a Master of Wine – a notoriously rigorous program that took her six years to complete. She now oversees winemaking for Entrecanales Domecq, a consortium of wineries in several areas including Viña Mayor in Ribera del Duero and Caserío de Dueñas in Rueda. In that capacity, she is involved in almost all aspects of winemaking at the company’s properties across Spain. She lives in the heart of the wine region in Valladolid and has seen the wine industry grow up around her just as she has grown up within it. Along with that growth, she has a theory about the growth of women in wine in Rueda and Ribera del Duero.

Rueda, she says, is a relatively new wine region. While it’s been around for centuries, and several existing wineries have been making wine for decades there, the relatively recent increased interest in Rueda Verdejo has resulted in a proliferation of wineries. Along with that has come the practical need for more people to work in them. That naturally includes women at all levels. Significantly, Rueda Verdejo is Spain’s number-one selling white wine, so in a way, every sip of Rueda Verdejo supports women working in wine and a region that continues to welcome women as it grows.

Things are a bit different in Ribera del Duero, says Alberca. While there are no actual figures, she says that women are joining the winemaking community at slower rates there in part because of the competition for the relatively sparse number of positions available. She says the wineries in this region have been around a very long time and so too the traditions associated with them. Even that is showing signs of changing, however.

Alberca reports that her company is working on a five-year sustainable program. As part of this, Entrecanales Domecq will be increasing the percentage of women working at every level of the company by 30 to 50 percent. Although most people think of sustainability in terms of land, she says that having more women is a key component of social sustainability.  

Marta Ramas, Bodegas Valdaya

Marta Ramas, co-winemaker with her husband, Miguel Fisac at Bodegas Valdaya in Burgos (Ribera del Duero), says she was welcomed by her winery from the start. Perhaps her background making wine in France, New Zealand, South Africa, and Napa helped (just as Alberca’s global and educational background certainly did as well) and also the good fortune to have an opening matching both hers and her husband’s experience.

Ramas does say that acceptance early on by the older men who were the viticulturists was difficult. They would only speak to her husband, she reports. Now if that happens, “It’s men over 70,” she says with a laugh.

It’s possible Ramas may have the last laugh. She says her presence in the cellar has changed some of the ways the men at the winery now work. Because women generally are not as physically strong as men, Ramas has had to devise new methods for performing tasks like moving barrels in a less physically taxing way. In turn, the men have observed her techniques and implemented some of them in order to preserve their strength and physical condition for the long haul. Ramas, the mother of a 2-year-old, is now pregnant with twins, so she says she continues to improvise as she goes, keeping it safe and making great wine in the process.

But the job of the winemaker extends far beyond the cellar – a welcome challenge for Ramas. “You need to understand agronomy, analysis, and winemaking as well as be brand ambassadors. You have to explain the project, meet people in other countries, and educate about the region. I love that it’s always different,” she says.  Given that Valdaya’s top wine called Mirum got a near-perfect score by wine critic Tim Atkin, Ramas and her husband are clearly doing something right.

Miriam Herrera Redondo, Mélida Wines, Ribera del Duero

The path for Miriam Herrera Redondo and her sister Sylvia has been one of intention and focus. With a population of just 57 people, their hometown of Mélida is a mere speck on the map. The town’s location in the prized Golden Mile in Ribera del Duero, however, makes it a prime place to make wine. This geographical good fortune together with the sisters’ unadulterated passion for wine inexorably led to the winery they both dreamed of having. The result is their small but mighty winery called Mélida – named for their tiny town.

Mélida is a family affair in which Miriam is the technical director overseeing harvest and vineyard decisions as well as sharing winemaking duties with her sister, Sylvia. Their father Javier also works with them.

 

For Miriam, the path to winemaking in her native country was not a straight line. Although she got her enology degree in Spain, her opportunities to make wine came by way of France, New Zealand, and Sonoma County in California. Ribera del Duero, she says, was not as welcoming to women winemakers as these other places in part because of the physical demands. Even still, she is both philosophical and hopeful about the challenges. “Each individual creates its own professional path; however, women may have had it harder. I am optimistic though that nowadays it is much better,” she says.

Laura Sanz, Bodegas Naia, Rueda

Back in Rueda, Laura Sanz, winemaker at Bodegas Naia, followed a similar international path studying and working in France and New Zealand before returning to Spain. Like Alberca from Entrecanales Domecq, Sanz credits the women winemakers who came before her in Rueda for forging a path for women winemakers including herself in the region today. In fact, she says there are women in every area of Bodegas Naia from cellar to vineyard. However, she would like to see more women vineyard managers – a field still primarily dominated by men.

In the cellar, Sanz is practical when it comes to gender and winemaking. “I don´t think that gender is a crucial factor for making different styles of wines. As human beings we all are different. Everyone provides a different version and that makes us interesting. Beyond that, it all comes down to quality grapes,” she says.

Bodegas de Alberto’s Gutiérrez agrees. “It is often said that women have greater sensitivity and a different way of leading teams – more empathetic – but I have met fantastic examples of both men and women. I think it’s more an issue depending on people and not on gender. Whoever is not willing to learn from others and keep the best of each one will [do so to] his own detriment.”

This is surely a sentiment women and men can get behind. Happy Women’s History Month to all.

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