The wine world isn’t generally known for its forthright political views, but all the paradigms are shifting in the new governmental landscape. In response to the pussy-grabber-in-chief and what he represents, Kate Norris, the female half of Division Winemaking Company and the Southeast Wine Collective (SEWC), decided to organize a showcase of women winemakers. 

“It’s actually a hard thing to celebrate,” she says. “Why should we have to say we’re women? But I think society has proven that somehow we need to say, ‘Yes, we’re female, and what women do is amazing.’”

All month long, the SEWC is featuring flights from female winemakers from the Pacific Northwest (proceeds go to the ACLU). Each week features different wines, rotating by theme—this week it’s “Modern Minimalists,” with natural wines from Julia Baily, Kelley Fox, and Brianne Day. (If nothing else, the series is a great chance to check out some of our brightest winemakers.) 

Years ago, when I first started exploring Oregon wines, I took it for granted there would be a fair proportion of female winemakers—why wouldn’t there be? But that thought process might have been another example of the Portland cultural bubble. When Norris visits other states, it’s often assumed that her business partner Tom Monroe is the sole winemaker.

“I’ll sit down in a meeting and they’ll talk only to Tom about making the wine,” Norris says. “I’ve also been to [multiple] events where my name was not listed, just his. I bet you he never gets that!”

Laurie Lewis and Renee Neely of Hip Chicks Do Wine can point to similar occurrences.

“We’ve been making wine for the last 18 years,” says Lewis. “I’ve lost count of the number of times a customer... [has] doubted that myself or Renee were the winemaker.” There are other needling experiences, she recounts, such as being asked if they can operate their own forklift or do an offload. 

Brianne Day, whose wines have been acclaimed nationally and is opening a tasting room next month in Dundee, has found her success baffles some men. She recounts how a neighbor came over to her winery and directed all his questions to the male intern.

“Most female winemakers would prefer to be called winemakers,” Norris says. “You don’t call men male winemakers.”

“He couldn’t get his head around the fact that I owned it,” Day remembers. “What did he want me to say... that to get here I sucked a lot of dick? He was so incredulous.”

Day was quick to point out that she learned much of her winemaking technique from men and was reluctant to discuss her craft purely in terms of gender. It’s a nuance Norris recognizes.

“Most female winemakers would prefer to be called winemakers,” Norris says. “You don’t call men male winemakers.”

The stats say the wine world has a gender problem. Half the population of the US is women and they drink more wine than men, yet in the country’s largest wine-producing region, California, women make up 10 percent of winemakers. In Washington it maybe as few as seven percent. I assumed, as did anyone else I mentioned it to, that Oregon had a much higher rate—but a few years ago the website Great Northwest Wine put the figure at 10 percent.

Much has been written on the disparity, and causes flourish: institutionalized discrimination, girls being socialized to not take risks, or that it’s “men’s work.” Certainly one idea that gets short shrift from all the women I spoke to is that they can’t physically handle the job.

“There’s nothing women can’t do in the winery,” says Norris. 

What can be crucial is having a role model, or at least seeing a woman do the work—even for someone who grew up in the industry. Veronique Boss-Drouhin, who heads up winemaking at Domaine Drouhin in the Dundee Hills as well as the prestigious vineyards of her home region of Burgundy, grew up playing in the family’s winery.

“I was surrounded by boys and would only see men working in the cellar and winery,” she says. Things changed only when her father hired a young woman to assist him. “This was a big eye opener,” Boss-Drouhin says. “I was 10 years old. She was one of the very first women winemakers in Burgundy.”

Encouraged by her parents, Boss-Drouhin later studied oenology at the University of Burgundy in Dijon where she was the only girl in class.

Lewis believes that strong female examples are important—the likes of Trudy Kramer, Amy Wesselman, and Patricia Green inspired her.

“They helped provide the confidence I needed to create a winery that not only has two women winemakers, but hopefully continues to inspire women in the wine industry today,” she says.

Obviously any winemaker wants to be judged on his or her wines, not their gender. But when there is imbalance in the industry and when women are denigrated by the presidential administration with impunity, the battle lines have already been drawn. Norris admitted that for a long time she wouldn’t say anything when ignored by businessmen in meetings.

“I didn’t want to be uppity,” Norris says. “But I was quiet for too long when these things happened. That’s what this is about.”

Southeast Wine Collective | 2425 SE 35th Pl |

Hip Chicks Do Wine |

Day Wines |

Domaine Drouhin |