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Calling Out Sexism in the Wine Industry

Posted on | December 6, 2012 | Written by Janice Cable | 18 Comments

Today, The Drinks Business, a wine-and-spirit industry magazine, published an article titled “Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Wine 50-41.” I assume that the industry publication plans four more parts, but given how spectacularly The Drinks Business has failed in its first part, I ponder the need to continue.

To begin with, The Drinks business chose the image to the left as its initial illustration for the article. This picture, depicting a shapely woman caged in an upturned wine glass, engendered a swift reaction on Twitter. As soon as the article hit the Internet, prominent wine writer and blogger Meg Houston Maker tweeted, “Really, Drinks Business @teamdb, WHAT were you thinking with that illustration?” Meg’s reaction was hardly unusual; within an hour, wine tweeters were expressing outrage. Within two hours, The Drinks Business had replaced the image.

The first image is bad, no question. It essentially depicts exactly the opposite of what the article is trying to claim: that women have gained a measure of power in the notoriously sexist world of wine. A classic naked stripper silhouette, caged by a glass–it’s at once woman as comestible and woman as object; like a bug, a woman is something to be looked at, pinned down and scrutinized. Imagine for a moment the same image but replaced with a naked man. Yeah, that.

The second image isn’t a lot better. Sure, this silhouette at least dresses the woman, but she’s still faceless, nameless, a black-bordered enigma in heels and a short skirt. She’s standing seductively, hip cocked to one side, breast framed by an elbow. She’s the respectable sister of the stripper in illustration one. Why not a picture of Jancis Robinson? She’s more or less the standard-bearer for professionalism in wine, regardless of gender.

But at its core, these illustrations do little more than point out the gobsmacking sexism inherent to The Drinks Business listicle, a slideshow of women who are authorities in the world of wine, whether because they make it, write about it, or sell it. Do a quick search on The Drinks Business for “50 Most Powerful Men in Wine,” and you get…nothing. The default setting for the wine industry is male. And that means that it’s all the more important to not only write about women in wine, but to get it right.

To its credit, The Drinks Business’s Lucy Shaw does a fine job giving each individual woman her due. However, that’s some late-to-the-party salve on some wounds that begin with the image and continue with the intro to the piece. In the intro, Shaw writes, “The fact that there are enough powerful women working in wine to warrant a top 50 is a sign of how far the industry has come in a short space of time.” I question the historicity of this fact. A closer scrutiny argues that women have long had a place in winemaking, whether you’re talking about Champagne titan the Widow Cliquot, or California’s Josephine Tychson, Lily Langtree, Kate Warfield and others in the late nineteenth century, or Italy’s longstanding tradition of grappa-making women.

As a woman who has fallen into the professional business of wine, I’m deeply troubled by articles such as this one by The Drinks Business. This is an industry magazine whose target audience is people like me, people who include women who make, sell, or write about wine. I imagine that it wasn’t the publication’s intent to belittle women, to degrade them, or to offend them. Sadly, the article did all that—and more.

I think about the women winemakers working in Italy: Maria Teresa Mascarello; Cinzia Merli; Christina Rinaldi; Alessia, Allegra and Albiera Antinori; Gaia Gaja; Paola Scavino; Bruna Giacosa; Luciana Sandrone—just Piemonte alone sits on the verge of a new woman order, and these hard-working, smart and savvy women deserve better. Likewise, women like Christy Canterbury, MW; wine writer Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka; writer Meg Houston Maker; wine retailer and Italian white wine maven Melissa Sutherland; wine connoisseur and restaurateur Karen Campanale and all the women involved in the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium, all those involved in the Wine Sisterhood and, hey, every woman who has ever experienced a small epiphany while drinking wine, we all of us deserve better.

Let’s make it happen.

UPDATE: Currently, the illustration for piece is a gender-neutral, inoffensive bunch of grapes. The Drinks Business has also added this apology to the piece, in italics, under the original intro: “Due to popular demand we have changed the image on this page of the feature. The original image was not meant to cause any offence, we apologise to anyone who was offended. We look forward to comments about the feature and the list, Teamdb.”  My response is a giant eye roll.


18 Responses to “Calling Out Sexism in the Wine Industry”

  1. Amanda
    December 6th, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

    For me, the image(s), in addition to being insulting, was thematically jarring. Really? Someone thought that the way to segue into an article with portrait images of living breathing businesswomen was to use clunky, cheap clip art? It doesn’t just demean the women of the industry, but the audience reading the article. Pandering to the idea that it requires a base comic to engage readers.

    I was so happy to see it spark a conversation. Because ultimately, if we don’t call this sort of thing out, than we’re all just saying that it’s unnecessary to think. Ever.

  2. Janice Cable
    December 6th, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

    Well said, Amanda, and thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  3. Sonomaist
    December 6th, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

    What, you don’t attend professional tastings in 6″ high lucite heels, hip cocked to the side, 4 layers of lip gloss and a come hither stare? Maybe it’s just me…Kidding! Great post!

  4. Janice Cable
    December 6th, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

    Thanks, Sonomist.

    Even if I did attend a professional tasting in lucite heels and lip gloss, I’d expect to be treated with the respect that my wine work accords. Which is somewhat less than Jancis Robinson, but somewhat more than a man who doesn’t know Red Tail from Rinaldi.

  5. Meg Houston Maker
    December 6th, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

    Janice, well said, and many thanks. As of this writing, Drinks Business is now on its third image for this article, having progressed from a bunch of nonsense to a bunch of—grapes. I expect the art department could have done better, but I’m mostly relieved they’ve stopped trying.

  6. Janice Cable
    December 6th, 2012 @ 4:53 pm


    Thanks so much! I had not seen the recent revision to a bunch of gender-neutral grapes. The intro still gives me troublement, as does the whole premise and the need to print the ages of the selected women, but I suppose TDB has been sufficiently shamed.

    I’m glad to have had colleagues like you in the press.


  7. crystal froese
    December 6th, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

    I just saw so this really hit a nerve. Thanks Janice Cable for calling them on it!

  8. Janice Cable
    December 6th, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    My pleasure, Crystal, and thank you for bringing my attention to

  9. Wine Harlots
    December 6th, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

    My most damning insult is, “I’m sure they meant well.”

    Besides the objectifying images they used, and needing to tell the age of eight of the ten women, just the list itself grates on me. It’s as if they are saying that here are 50 prominent women in wine, but they have to be segrated from the men because they don’t quite measure up.

    All the best,

    Nannette Eaton

  10. Janice Cable
    December 6th, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

    Agreed on each and every point, Nannette.

    While I can understand devoting a list of women who have distinguished themselves in wine because as of right now women are a minority, I’m not for creating that kind of “pink ghetto” of achievement. It’s condescending. The fact that the article puts the ages of these women front and center is just insulting.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.


  11. Christy Canterbury MW
    December 6th, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

    Janice –

    Smart & swift reaction to TDB’s vile representation of “Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Wine”. Thank you.

    TDB’s series of photos is a damning, backhanded compliment. As I mentioned in one of my early, vaguely hopeful tweets, there must an explanation for their choice(s). Sadly, as neither TDB nor Lucy Shaw have piped up about WHY they chose – much less approved – the first two photos, it seems nothing other than incredibly poor taste was the culprit. This extends to their decision to spotlight women’s ages.

    However, for the record, I do not object to a list of women, as others in this thread have. There are all sorts of ways to slice up professionals for “Top” and “Best of” categories. Nannette writes that the list suggests that women don’t stack up to men. I don’t see it that way, but interpretation is in the mind of the beholder. The egregious problem here is the context in which the article begins. As you pointed out with fine examples, powerful, independent, business-minded women are hardly new entrants to this business.

    Until now, I have highly respected TDB’s journalism. Today, they bit the dust. Period.

  12. Janice Cable
    December 6th, 2012 @ 10:07 pm


    You’re why women in the wine business deserve better than this. Thank you.


  13. Mark C. Pederson
    December 6th, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

    I wonder what Susan Sokol-Blosser thought when the book “The Boys Up North” came out talking about the pioneer winemakers of the Northern Willamette Valley?

  14. Janice Cable
    December 6th, 2012 @ 10:07 pm


    I’m unfamiliar with the book, but I suspect you raise a compelling point re: historicity.


  15. Josh Rubenstein
    December 6th, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

    Well done Janice!

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    December 7th, 2012 @ 8:00 am

    […] an article titled “Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Wine: 50-41.”Janice Cable thinks it was a spectacular failure. And she’s […]

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    December 7th, 2012 @ 8:24 am

    […] an article titled “Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Wine: 50-41.”Janice Cable thinks it was a spectacular failure. And she’s […]

  18. Alice
    December 17th, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

    we need more women like this…

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