Women in the Wine Business - Dundurn
Jun 15, 2023

Women in the Wine Business

What would you like to say to women who want to enter the wine business?

On my podcast, Unreserved Wine Talk, I asked Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, what advice she’d give young women entering the wine industry. I was really asking for myself as I needed a new approach.

“Be more serious about business. Be ambitious,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many business cards I have from professional women who call themselves Wine Chicks, Wine Goddesses, Wine Divas, Wine Dolls. Language can marginalize.”

Ouch. My email signature was Chief of Wine Happiness. As women, we’re taught to be caregivers, which is easily manipulated. Is the desire to be liked or, at least, to not appear threatening, part of why women in the wine industry belittle their own skills and experience with cutesy names?

I then asked her if we make wine more accessible with self-deprecating humour:

“No, not unless you’re already in a position of power.”

True, we don’t see those monikers with men: Harvest Hunks, Wine Warlocks, or Stainless-Steel Studs.

Then there’s the title of my book, Wine Witch on Fire. Language can marginalize, but it can also reclaim lost meaning. As I wrote my story, I also wanted to counter the old narrative about wicked witches, just as I wanted to be professional without depersonalizing myself. 

MacNeil told me women also overexplain and second-guess themselves. I call it talking past the sale. This is made worse by what MacNeil describes as an insidious and often subconscious form of harassment: “Being belittled, ignored, talked over, looked past, demeaned, interrupted, reprimanded, corrected, or addressed as a junior, among countless other slights and abuses — takes a toll on anyone’s confidence.”

There it was: gaslighting. Both MacNeil and I make our living by giving our opinion on wine. The challenge is owning your expertise when you’re constantly undermined.

“Give a lot and ask for a lot,” MacNeil said. “Take risks. Adopt a professional, business-oriented tone of voice and dress the part. Take control when you can and when it’s appropriate.”

MacNeil’s words resonated with me, not just professionally but also personally. I realized it was time to take myself seriously and not be so jokey and deflective about my accomplishments. If I started appreciating them more, perhaps I wouldn’t always be hunting for new ones. It was also time to rely on my intuition. There are more than five hundred million neurons in our stomach lining, which is why it’s often called the second brain. It’s also where 90 percent of serotonin is produced. I had to stop second-guessing myself and start trusting my gut — it was the smart thing to do and it’s what I advise young women entering the wine industry and other businesses.

Natalie MacLean, named the World's Best Drinks Writer, has also won four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards. She’s the bestselling author of Red, White and Drunk All Over. She hosts the NYT recommended podcast Unreserved Wine Talk. She lives in Ottawa. Learn more here.