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5 Women in Wine to Watch

5 Women in Wine to Watch

Women’s History Month may be almost over, but that doesn’t mean our celebration of women in wine ought to be. Here’s a list of my current role models in the wine world and why I think you should also have them on your list too

1. Marvina Robinson

This wouldn’t be a list written by a Big Apple girl without some serious love for another. Marvina Robinson built B. Stuyvesant Champagne from Brooklyn – the city she grew up in, where she fell in love with wine as she sipped bubbly with her college pals, and where she planned her future as a Champagne bar owner.

Since the days of plastic cup cheers-ing, Marvina has partnered with a vineyard in France to craft her own brand of Champagne, seeking feedback from friends and family to approve the first two styles in her portfolio, a Rosé and a Grand Reserve Brut. Let it be known that the creation of this bubbly empire didn’t happen overnight: Marvina left a two-decade career in finance to return to her dream of owning a wine brand. As one of only a few Black women who own Champagne labels, Marvina told MSNBC that she fought an uphill battle trying to get vineyards to work with her. “At first, they didn’t want to work with me in France. I had a lot of people at the vineyards saying. ‘This isn’t your industry.’ But when they say, ‘No,’ it doesn’t make me go away.”

May we all raise a glass of bubbly to the fortitude she showed and the delicious Bed-Stuy namesake bubbly we have as a result of that fortitude. Marvina proves it’s never too late to do exactly what you want to in wine and turn a ‘no’ into ‘vino’ (I had to!).

Behind the Wine with Marvina Robinson

2. Sarah Hoffman & Kendra Kawala & Zoe Victor

These Stanford GSB grads have been innovating in the canned wine space, a segment of the wine industry that is expected to grow by 13% annually for the next five years. Stemming from a shared love of craft drinks (Sarah is a craft beer enthusiast and homebrewer) and elevating the little guys (Kendra and Zoe worked together in healthcare consulting, where they were passionate about lifting up some of the smaller players in the industry), Sarah, Kendra, and Zoe founded Maker to make premium wine more accessible.

The company has grown from a class project in Stanford’s “Startup Garage” course to a leader in the canned wine sector, with 13 wines ranging from the familiar (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon) to the peculiar (Muscat Canelli, Cabernet Pfeffer). Maker highlights the producers – or makers – behind each can by proudly printing their name on the label and including a full write up card for each wine in every package. Winemakers in the Maker family include Chris Christensen of Bodkin Wines, called a “Sauvignon Blanc Savant” by Food & Wine and Janell Dusi of Dusi Wines, whose family Zinfandel vines date back to 1920, among others.

Wines come in 6- or 12-packs and joining Maker’s Can Club means quarterly wine shipments sure to impress. Use promo code VIVALAVINO for 15% off your order or 35% off your Can Club subscription.

3. Rachel Woods

Self-professed wine nerd and ex-Facebook engineer Rachel Woods is CEO and founder of Vinebase and believes fervently that there’s something wrong with the wine industry. In a promo spot for LaunchHouse, a community for founders she was selected to be a part of, Rachel explained that, “Most people don’t know that 76% of wine in the US is sold by 10 major wine brands.” She added, “On the other hand you have 11,000 wineries in the US who are mom and pop, small business owners, amazing independent winemakers, and they really struggle to get their wine out there. It’s not found on the grocery store shelf. Our whole goal of Vinebase is to change that.”

Vinebase is a marketplace dedicated to small producers, and aims to highlight their stories and unique winemaking philosophies. The platform allows shoppers to filter by woman- or minority-led wineries, to select veteran- or multi-generational winemakers, and empowers wine lovers (like me!) to join as tastemakers to showcase and highlight wines within their marketplace that stand out.

Keep an eye on Rachel and her team as they continue to reshape the wine industry, removing barriers for small producers to reach consumers, and paving pathways for more to follow suit.

4. Anna Maria & Luisa Ponzi

Continuing the legacy of the Ponzi family in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, sisters Anna Maria and Luisa Ponzi are the former president (now Consulting Director of Marketing) and head winemaker (respectively) behind decades of delicious Oregon Pinot Noir. Founded by their parents Dick and Nancy in the late 1960s, Ponzi Estate was one of the original Willamette Valley wineries.

In an interview for Oregon Wine History Archive (OWHA), Luisa spoke about how when she first started in winemaking – first in France, then later back in Oregon – she looked up to the (few) other women in wine. For example, Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars who had broken into the male-dominated industry. She also shared that, despite their pedigree, she and Anna Maria had to grow some thick skin and muscle their way in.

“I think my sister and I have both built the reputation in the [Willamette] Valley that we’re pretty outspoken. Part of that’s just hereditary… but part of it is our experience of having to put yourself out there – a lot.”

Fortunately, Luisa is optimistic about the future of women in wine, at least in the Willamette Valley. “These days, there are so many women [in wine] and it’s just so great. More than half of the resumes I get are from women these days and it’s wonderful.”

Today, that legacy and the notoriety of the wines combine to uphold Ponzi’s reputation as the cream of the Willamette Valley crop. These two women have spent the last 25 years leading the charge, but that tenure has not impeded their ability and willingness to innovate. The release of the Together Pinot Set highlights their commitment to empowering women. 100% of the profits are be donated to non-profit organizations dedicated to the advocacy of anti-discriminatory legislation and to the protection of all human rights, in particular to those of women of minority.

5. Heidi Peterson Barrett

If you’re a wine nerd like me, you’ve already seen the headlines: Heidi Peterson Barrett leaves Kenzo. But, unless you’re casually drinking $100+ bottles of wine on the regular, the impact of this departure might not land.

HPB (the nickname I’m calling her in the fantasy I have where we’re pals) leaving feels momentous because of the resume she’s crafted in her 30+ years in winemaking, and because of the point of contention she departed over. 2020 was a truly difficult vintage in Napa Valley. Even before the worst wildfire season California has seen, droughts and record-breaking heat waves threatened the crop. Winemakers crafting cult classic Napa Cabs were rightfully on high alert even before the fire sirens wailed. Many estates left their fruit on the vines, lost their vineyards to the flames, or experienced smoke taint that couldn’t be overcome. Many chose to forego winemaking so as not to deviate from their excellence.

As the founding winemaker of Kenzo Estate, this departure is a big deal. It’s made even bigger by HPB’s insistence to Wine Searcher that she was not responsible for the 2020 reds about to be released, asserting to the world that she won’t put her name on wine she doesn’t believe is the highest quality – and, she should know. Heidi has crafted five wines that have earned perfect 100-point scores from Robert Parker.

It takes a strong woman to earn her spot and an even stronger one to leave that spot when her name is on the line. I’m waiting with bated breath to see where Heidi goes next.

Which women in wine do you look up to? Who are the movers and shakers of the wine industry? Tell us who we should have our eyes on by tagging us or sending a message on social media, @coravin.