One of my favorite quotes about wine is “a bottle of wine is actually alive,” as spoken by actress Virginia Madsen in the film, “Sideways.” Her character, Maya, goes on to discuss wine’s continued evolution and complex lifespan. Inside every bottle is a bit of history, from the grapes grown to those who picked them and assisted in the fermentation process. While we may love to consume a glass (or two), it’s easy to forget that so many individuals are responsible for the end product.
According to a 2017 study on wine consumer segmentation from the nonprofit Wine Council Market, women make up 59 percent of the total wine drinkers in the U.S. Today, many winemakers are women and they are quietly disrupting what was once a male-dominated wine industry to cater to the next generation.
So, raise your glass — we’re toasting some of the hardest-working women winemaker entrepreneurs you need to have on your radar.
Robin and Andréa McBride, co-founders, McBride Sisters
Imagine starting a winery with your sister. Now, imagine she is your long-lost sister from a different continent. That’s exactly what happened to Robin and Andréa McBride, two African American sisters who grew up on opposite sides of the world (in the United States and New Zealand, respectively), raised by separate mothers, unaware of each other’s existence. The two reunited in their twenties after trying to find one another and bonded over wine tastings.
Through sheer serendipity, both sisters had grown up around vineyards and knew they wanted to start producing their own wine. They began importing their wines through New Zealand in 2005 and launched their wine brand, McBride Sisters, in 2010. As Andréa revealed to Glamour Magazine, the names chosen for their wines reflect their story of finding each other.
Berlin Crystal Kelly, founder and co-CEO, Proud Pour
“What if drinking wine made the world a better place?”
This is the question that Proud Pour posits to wine lovers everywhere, while providing a solution. When she wasn’t working her full-time finance job in New York City, Berlin Crystal Kelly spent her free time brewing wine from her West Village apartment. However, she wanted to do more than simply make wine. Full of entrepreneurial spirit, Berlin was on a mission for her wine make the world a better place. She left her job and the East Coast in favor of moving to Oregon to become a full-time winemaker.
Proud Pour, founded in 2014, pairs wines with solutions to local environmental problems. One hundred wild oysters are restored to local waters with the purchase of just one bottle of her Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc, and 90 square feet of bee habitat are planted with her Oregon Pinot Noir. Drink up — happy hour never felt so good!
Helen Keplinger, owner and winemaker, Keplinger Wines
From her father’s wine cellar to the wine-paired dinners made by her mother every night, Helen Keplinger spent her young life surrounded by wine. She was also interested in science, art and nature, all key ingredients that pulled her toward a winemaking path.
Helen started a winery out of a vineyard in the Priorat region in Spain in 2004. As she travelled back and forth between Napa Valley, California and Spain, she would also travel throughout southern France with her husband to explore and taste other regional wines. The mantra for great wine, as Helen discovered, was only made possible through great vineyards.
Keplinger Wines prides itself on creating these wines out of California vineyards where wines are made with care as a reflection of their origins and the lands from which they came.
Ntsiki Biyela, owner and winemaker, Aslina Wines
As the first African American woman winemaker in South Africa, Ntsiki Biyela continues to break new ground every day with her winery, Aslina Wines. Ntsiki, who grew up in a rural village in Kwazulu Natal, was awarded a scholarship to study winemaking in 1999 at Stellenbosch University.
Post-graduation, Ntsiki joined boutique winery, Stellekaya Wines, but still dreamed of starting her own business. After collaborating with Helen Keplinger (mentioned above) on a Wine for the World Initiative, Ntsiki launched Aslina Wines in 2016.
Aslina Wines currently produces four wines using only grapes that have been selected from different vineyard blocks in the Western Cape to ensure every bottle is crafted with passion and elegance.
In a largely male-dominated industry, these women are learning to stand out. Cheers!