Over the past two decades working as a Sommelier in several capacities in Toronto, I have had the privilege of witnessing the rise of Canadian wine, perhaps growth like we may not see again. The depth, breadth and quality of wine has never been stronger and I like to think that is in part due to the influx of women working in the vineyards and in the wineries. In celebration of International Women’s Day (it should be a month in my humble opinion), it’s time to take a closer look at who some of the players are and what they have accomplished.
In examining the current climate, I have to admit that the numbers are still woefully low for women influencing our wine scene, and even worse for diversity. While I have seen some positive change in these areas I think we can all agree we still have a long way to go.
“It would seem that women start into the oenology and viticulture programmes, but they don’t stay in the field,” noted Kelly Mason during a conversation with me a few years ago. It poses an interesting dilemma: if women are attracted to this field and excel in academics, why are they not staying in it? How can we mentor and foster their growth that clearly needs care past the university door? It’s worth noting Kelly has made huge strides of her own in both supporting upcoming women and in creating the incredible wines of Mason Vineyard amongst others.
“It’s exciting to see more and more women become part of the Canadian wine industry. They’re an important part of our dynamic industry.” – Magdalena Kaiser
My own personal takeaway is that we need to continue to support and grow this community by offering opportunities and being sounding boards for other women. This can be done through mentorship, volunteering or just simply straight-up supporting women. While I can attest to the fact that this is not always easy – because sometimes motives are met with suspicion and women are sometimes jockeying for position in what is still an all too familiar bro club – we have to continue to try. No woman should feel like an island in an industry that can be tough to break into and even tougher to establish oneself in, and we don’t want to miss the opportunity of fostering a better future here in the Canadian wine scene.
All of this being noted, I would like to take a moment to appreciate what strides have been made, and celebrate some amazing trailblazing women who are making a difference daily. Here are a few of my favourites, although it is by no means an exhaustive list. Check out their wines and support our local women in wine this month and raise a glass to them, with their own delicious and unique wines:
Ann Sperling: Director of Winemaking and Viticulture at Southbrook in Niagara
Ann has been a leading force in the Canadian movement towards organic and biodynamic fine wine. Raised on a family vineyard in Kelowna Ann was passionate early on regarding the balance of fruit quality and its effect on the finished wine. She studied at UBC in Food Sciences and entered the wine industry full time back in 1984. She now crafts the magnificent organic wines at Southbrook as well as those at Sperling Vineyards in Kelowna and if all that was not enough, ancient malbec in Mendoza.
My favourite wine: 2018 Laundry Pinot Noir
Melissa Paolicelli and Angela Marotta: Proprietors, Two Sisters Vineyards in Niagara
Founded and run by this dynamic duo, they are responsible for bringing premium experiences to the wine scene in Niagara through delicious cuisine, beautiful vistas, curating amazing guest experiences and supporting the evolution of top quality wines for over a decade. Through this time they have not only embraced their local community through supporting women through charity work, but promote women within their own business.
In chatting to Angela she has concerns over the lack of female educators and professors still in the wine and vineyard educational programs. “More and more women are entering this field especially as Ontario continues to gain awareness for its wine producers and farming. Having more female representation in these institutions can provide a more comfortable environment for female students to have open conversations on how to best prepare for a career in a male dominated industry and by addressing any fears as a result.” I tend to agree with this entirely and women not only feeling supported but safe continues to be a concern in the alcohol beverage space in general.
Melissa talks about another important aspect of the wine business, and that’s sales. “As women in wine and looking at the sales aspect, there were some obstacles that we encountered, especially in the beginning. Our personal challenges navigating the hospitality industry just to get in the door to present wines was difficult and at times unsuccessful. We needed to work that much harder to be heard when advocating for our brand to restaurants that were more male dominated.”
My favourite wine: 2017 Merlot
Jocelyn Lightfoot: Co-founder & owner-operator of Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards in Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia
Jocelyn discovered her love of wine early on and became a Sommelier before meeting husband Mike who is a 7th generation Annapolis Valley farmer. Jocelyn helps oversee the 40 acres of certified biodynamic vineyards and a working farm that produces the ingredients for the culinary program at the winery. Known for being one of the prettiest views at a winery anywhere in Canada, it is also home to some great wines, most notably bubbly. This is also a must stop on your next trip out to Nova Scotia.
My favourite wine: 2019 Bubbly White
Severine Pinte: Winemaker & Viticulturist, Managing Partner of Le Vieux Pin in South Okanagan, British Columbia
Severine is a quiet and humble woman with a deft hand at crafting powerful and age worthy wines of substance from this unique micro-climate. Severine came to Le Vieux Pin loaded up with International experience (14 harvests under her belt) and eight years of vineyard management. With an illustrious portfolio of degrees to accompany all of this experience, it’s no wonder she has put this small boutique winery on the map for creating some of Canada’s most noteworthy wines.
My favourite wine: 2019 Syrah, ‘Cuvee Violette’
Magdalena Kaiser: Owner/Winemaker at Tiny Batch Wine Project in Niagara
Magdalena came to wine very naturally, literally born into it. Her late father Karl Kaiser has been credited with putting Canada on the map for wine and was the co-founder of iconic Inniskillin Wines. She has fond memories as a young teen bottling wine at home and working in the vineyards. Not all who are exposed to the business young want to stay, but Magdalena did and has made her own mark on our Canadian industry by marketing Ontario wines at home and abroad for several years.
Tiny Batch (which is just that – tiny amounts produced) was a passion project for her and a way to have a creative outlet while paying homage to her father. These wines are beautiful and unique with thoughtful packaging and absolutely worth seeking out. Magdalena leaves us on a hopeful note, saying “It’s exciting to see more and more women become part of the Canadian wine industry. We have so many talented women both on the winemaking and production side and also the wine business and marketing side. They are an important part of our dynamic industry.”
My favourite wine: ‘Mermaid’ Skin Fermented (Orange wine) Gewurztraminer
Jennifer’s love affair with wine started in her early twenties, and she has made it her full time job ever since. Academically, Jennifer passed both her Diploma of Wine and was Canada’s first female Master Sommelier. Passionate about uplifting women in wine, Jennifer has been a volunteer and mentor for several organizations including CAPS, Vinequity, GuildSomm and Femmes du Vin. You can find her now curating the list at Fresh City Farms, teaching or chatting about plant based food and wine.