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These Women in Wine are Trailblazers to Watch

Updated: May 19, 2020

infographic of female achievements in the California wine industry

Women in wine are making great strides with more female winemakers than ever before. However, of the nearly 4,000 wineries in California, about 10% of them have a woman as their lead winemaker.*

Making strides into this male-dominated industry has to start somewhere. Here are a few ambitious women in wine who broke the mold to become the “Firsts” in the industry.

First Female Winemaker and Winery Owner

In 1882, Hannah Weinberger took over the winery after her husband died. She ran it successfully until prohibition in 1920.*

First Female Winemaker After Prohibition

In 1965 Mary Ann Graf was the first woman to earn an enology degree from UC Davis. She went on to become a lead winemaker in 1973 at the Simi Winery in Sonoma.*

First Female Faculty Member in the Department of Viticulture & Enology at UC Davis

Ann Noble was hired in 1974 as a faculty member of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. She developed the Wine Aroma Wheel which was designed to help novices and experts identify flavors and aromas in wine.*

First Female to Enter Top Management at a Winery

Zelma Long became a VP at Simi Winery in California in 1979. She then moved into the President/CEO role in 1989 until 1996. Zelma is considered a pioneer in the wine industry and has helped mentor many women along the way.*

These and many other ambitious women helped to lay the foundation for all of the women in the wine industry that followed.

Todays Female Winemakers Producing Top-Notch Wine

These women have earned coveted winemaker positions with well-known wine brands in Oregon and California. Keep on keeping on, Ladies!!

Oregon: Women in Wine

Ponzi Vineyards– Anna Maria Ponzi and Luisa Ponzi

Ponzi Vineyard located in Willamette Valley in Oregon was established in 1970 by Dick and Nancy Ponzi. Nancy was very involved in the industry, founding organizations that had a great impact on the local wineries and seasonal workers.

Today their 2 daughters run the winery. Anna Maria is the President and Director of Sales & Marketing. Luisa is the winemaker for Ponzi. Luisa studied winemaking in Beauna, France where she learned all about Burgundian winemaking (ie. Pinot Noir the way the French make it). Luisa can be added to the list of “firsts” as she is the first American Woman to receive a Certificate of Enology and Viticulture in Beaune, France.**

Ponzi Vineyard Pinot Noir Rose Wine Bottle

My husband and I have actually visited Ponzi Vineyards tasting room. It is truly a gorgeous inviting space. Comfy couches and chairs all around the tasting room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the vineyards make it a relaxing space to enjoy some really fantastic wine! And I truly mean…fantastic wine!

California: Women in Wine

These female winemakers in California are knocking it out of the park vineyard with these top-notch wine brands.

Duckhorn Vineyards: Renee Ary

Renee is the 4th winemaker in the 40-year history of Duckhorn Vineyards. In 2003, Renee joined the team at Duckhorn and spend the next 11 years working in a variety of roles mastering her craft. She was promoted to winemaker for the Duckhorn Vineyards brand in 2014.

I find the intersection between science and art in winemaking fascinating. – Renee Ary

Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Bottle

Duckhorn is the flagship brand for Duckhorn Vineyards. They focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. They produce very high-quality wines, which means the wines are pricey.

You can usually find this brand in retail stores and on restaurant menus. You can’t go wrong with this wine. Their Cab or Merlot are the perfect wines to have with friends over a nice juicy steak.

Stags’ Leap: Joanne Wing

Joanne became the winemaker for Stags’ Leap in 2015 and oversees all red and white wine production.

She grew up in New Zealand on a farm and orchard. This connection to agriculture drove her desire to understand how vines are grown. As a result, she pursued a horticulture degree at Massey University in Auckland, Australia.

Stags' Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Bottle

One visit to Napa and Joanne was hooked. She returned in 2009 and joined the Stags’ Leap team.

Stags’ Leap wine is very high end with a price to match. They focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blends, Petite Sirah (Not to be confused with Syrah. It is a different grape.), and Chardonnay.

Cakebread Cellars: Stephanie Jacobs

Stephanie is the 4th winemaker in the over 40-year history of Cakebread Cellars.

The winery has been led by women since its inception, starting with our co-founder [and] followed by my predecessor, Julianne Laks, who was the winemaker for over 30 years. Dolores Cakebread had a huge impact on shaping Cakebread Cellars, and to this day plays an important role … with her legacy around the culinary program. Stephanie Jacobs

Bottle of Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay.

Cakebread Cellars produces a wide variety of high-end wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Red blends.

Meiomi & Clos du Bois: Melissa Stackhouse

Melissa earned a degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis. She developed her skills working at many of California’s top wineries. She is now the winemaker at both Meiomi and Clos du Bois.

“It is rare that you find a career that involves working with the earth and also requires a level of creativity and artistry. This unique combination is what drew me to winemaking.” – Melissa Stakehouse

Meiomi Pinot, Chardonnay, and Rose wine bottles

Meiomi offers reasonably priced wine that can be found easily at retail outlets and in restaurants. They focus on Pinot, Chardonnay, Rosé, and even have a sparkling wine.

Clos du Bois Pinot Noir Wine Bottle

Clos du Bois offers quite a few wines at a value. They produce a broad range of red wine from 11 grape varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot, Zinfandel, and Red Blends.

They offer a variety of white wine as well including Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay along with a couple of Rosé wines.

J. Lohr: Kristen Barnhisel (white wines)

Kristen grew up in California winemaking country and was mentored by Zelma Long, a female legend in the wine industry. Kristen is the first woman and first American to work the harvest for Ruffino in Italy. She went on to earn her degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.

J. Lohr bottle of Chardonnay

Kristen has worked in a variety of wineries in various positions, learning from some of the best winemakers. Kristen is now the winemaker for the white wines at J. Lohr. She produces Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Rohne Blend, and Rosé.

“I love the challenge of making serious white wines that reflect their vineyard roots. It is incredibly rewarding to take an inherently transparent grape and to find that perfect place where fruit flavors, aromatics, alcohol, acidity, texture and palate length all come into perfect balance.” – Kristen Barnhisel

Sonoma-Cutrer: Zidanelia Arcidiacono (Pinot Noir) & Cara Morrison (Chardonnay)

Zidanelia was born in Texas, but grew up in Argentina surrounded by vineyards. That’s where she found her true calling at a young age. She joined Sonoma-Cutrer in 2015 and focuses on making Pinot Noir for the brand.

Sonoma_Cutrer Pinot Noir Wine Bottle

“What makes a good glass of wine? Well, if the wine is correct (no flaws) then what makes any wine good is very personal based on your level of experience and taste. What I think makes a wine memorable is the moment and company you are enjoying it with.” – Zidanelia Arcidiacono

Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Wine Bottle

Cara Morrison has worked at a variety of wineries literally around the world. She specializes in producing Chardonnay in the classic Burgundian style. (Classic white burgundy is typically made without aging in oak.)

She considers Chardonnay a special grape that allows the winemaker more versatility than any other.

“A lot of people find it odd that us winemakers are really excited about rocky soils. With vines, you actually want them to struggle because it forces more flavor into the grapes. Super rocky soil that is difficult to grow in can give grapes this really lemon-lime, flinty tight acidity. The wine almost tastes like the soil.” – Cara Morrison

Women in Wine Producing Big Brands

There are so many female trailblazers in the wine industry. Women are breaking out of traditional female roles in the wine lab and are now working in all areas and levels of the industry.

Many of these women in wine are making a big impact with some of the biggest wine brands. Keep an eye out for these brands when you make your next wine selection and raise a glass to the achievements of these outstanding women.


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