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In the Rhône Valley, the Role of Women in Wine is Rising

In the Rhône Valley, the Role of Women in Wine is Rising

Ambre & Madeleine | Photo Credit: Domaine de la Mordorée

In the revised 1987 edition of Robert Parker’s “Wines of the Rhône Valley,” originally published in 1977, there are eight quotes about the wines of the region or the wines themselves on the front pages of the guide. Every single one of them is attributed to a man. But on Parker’s acknowledgments page, he thanks two women—Joan Passman, then Parker’s assistant, and Hanna Agostini, who then organized tastings and translated Wine Advocate into French—for “the enormous amount of work they did both in gathering and assisting in the verification of the vast amount of information in this book.”

This was standard fare in the U.S. wine industry in the late 1980s, as it was throughout the Rhône Valley at the time. Women were integral in all areas of the industry, but its forward face was male.

Times have changed, and throughout the world, women have come out from behind the scenes to take their rightful places in the industry. Just under half of all of France’s oenology diploma graduates are now women; and, in the Côtes du Rhône, the number of women winegrowers, winemakers, cellarmasters, technical directors, and sales managers—all leadership positions—continues to increase.

We spoke with women from four estates in the region about their jobs, how they see the roles of women changing in the region, and the challenges that still exist. 

Gaëlle and Amélie Barrot, Managers of Vignobles Mousset Barrot

Famille Mousset Barrot | Photo Credit: Vignobles Moussett Barrot

Sisters Gaëlle and Amélie Barrot operate the estates of Vignobles Moussett Barrot located within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes du Rhône, and Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations. Gaëlle does most of the work in the vineyards and Amelie works in the office, but working in the family business was not the original plan for either of them.

Initially, both women had their hearts set on other careers. Gaëlle planned to be a pharmacist and Amelie planned to be an interpreter. 

“During our studies, we realized how we were attached to our roots and how the wine was an exciting product,” says Amélie. “So we decided, almost at the same time, that we wanted to go on what our grandparents and parents have done on the family estates.”

In 2000, when they chose to join the family business, Vignobles Mousset Barrot was only the 3rd estate in Châteauneuf du Pape managed by women. Over the past two decades, things have progressed quickly. Now in the region, women have taken over many family vineyards from their parents. 

“Continued progress is needed to achieve complete equality in wine regions in France,” Amélie says. “Some are still massively run by men.” The sisters are doing their part to help level the playing field. 

“We support equal opportunities and encourage our team to grow professionally. Our commitment to gender equality is crucial for a fulfilling experience at our estate,” she says. 

While they work in the vineyards and the administrative side of their family’s estate, they recognize the importance of women working on the winemaking side, in particular as it relates to style and flavor profile.

“Women in the Rhône Valley have also made a big impact on winemaking,” says Amélie. “More gentleness and softness on the operation during vinification lead to more finesse and elegance in the wines. Clearly, today, the Rhône Valley offers very precise and pure wines, with lots of freshness, more adapted to what consumers look for in the wines.”

Ambre Delorme: Winemaker and Owner of Domaine de la Mordorée

Ambre Delorme | Photo Credit: Domaine de la Mordorée

Along with her mother, Madeleine, Ambre Delorme has been working with her family’s estate—established in 1986 by her grandfather and father—since her father passed away in 2015. 

The mother-daughter team works together “to preserve Domaine de la Mordorée, its identity, and its philosophy,” according to Ambre. The most important part of that philosophy, she says, is “respect for the living, our terroir and its biodiversity.” But diversity in workers is also important.

“The role of women in the wine industry varies from region to region and evolves over time. More and more women are getting involved in wine production around the world, including in France. Today, a third of French winegrowers are women,” Ambre says. “I think that is a very good thing because we need more parity and more female examples in this world, which is initially marked by a masculine imprint.”

She believes that when men and women work together, they complement each other’s work and vision, and the acceptance of this is one of the things that makes the Rhône progressive. Another thing she views as positive in the region is that it now has more women’s groups that support the increasing population of females in the industry. However, she’d like to see people begin to think of women in the wine industry as a normal thing, and not something “to point the finger too much at.” 

That may take some time to accomplish, but if the employees at Domaine de la Mordorée are any indication, seeing it as normal is getting closer.

“We work on instinct when it comes to employing people to work on the estate, and today we work with as many men as women, and this has happened naturally,” says Ambre.

Florence Quiot: CEO and Owner of Famille Quiot

Florence Quiot | Photo Credit: Domaine de la Famille Quiot

Florence Quiot and her brother Jean-Baptiste are the 13th generation (the family first made wine in 1748) to operate and manage the five Famille Quiot properties. Florence would like to see the Rhône be even more progressive than it is when it comes to focusing on the talents of women. While Ambre Delorme’s estate has a 50/50 split of women and men employees, Florence does not yet see that equal division across the region. 

“France and the Rhône Valley wine industry remain traditional, dominated by men,” she explains, while acknowledging the role of women is growing and more women are involved in the fields and the wineries.

Why? 

“Because they want to be,” she believes. “Some are taking the lead and running the estates [started by their families] instead of dismantling them.” It’s now common to see the leader of a winery be the “daughter of” the previous generation instead of the “son of,” but it’s not the norm yet. 

As someone who is a minority in the industry, Florence tries to stay faithful to herself and her vision for the winery. 

“My challenge in the coming year is to adapt our Company Famille Quiot to the challenging environment and improve the quality of our products,” she says. She sees the Rhône Valley as an “incubator of wonderful products,” and those products must meet the tastes and ethics of the consumers who buy them. And she’s good with that.

“It is so rich to work with [wine] and try to explore what’s on the horizon,” she says.

Laurence Féraud: Owner and Winemaker of Domaine du Pégau

Laurence Féraud | Photo Credit: Domaine du Pégau

Winemaking goes back centuries in Laurence Férud’s family—to 1670. That family connection to wine inspired Laurence to work in chemistry and oenology, and, in 1987 she established Domaine de Pégau. 

She’s impressed by the roles that women in the Rhône wine industry have gained over the past couple of decades. 

“For 20 years, the new generations are incredible,” she says. “The women winemakers have skills, a sensitive touch for the finest wines. They are also closer to the vineyards to get the best balance in their soils, matching perfectly with grape varieties, and respectful nature culture.”

While women were always capable of working in any area of the wine industry, men didn’t always give them their rightful respect. Laurence believes that over time, men have become more accepting of their female colleagues as they continue to show what they can do, including being “precise in their work and their objective to produce the wine they like.”

She is focused on producing not just wines she likes but ones that are as “close to perfection as possible” from “the best grapes suited to warmer climate.”

“I am excited about research aimed at adapting wine to all changes: climate, consumers, and lifestyle,” she adds.  

These are changes and challenges to which everyone in the wine industry must adapt, and the women of the Rhône Valley are up to the task. To bolster them, the Femmes Vignes Rhône Association was founded in 2004. This group of female wine professionals encourages open and constructive exchanges while supporting women in the traditionally male-dominated wine industry of France. 

And hopefully, now when someone chooses to ask for quotes about the wines of the region, they will seek out the voices of the knowledgeable, passionate women in Rhône wine.