This International Women’s Day is a perfect opportunity to showcase and celebrate the women in the world of fine wine.
From across the globe, we’ve picked out a selection of top female talent who are at the helm of some of the best fine wine producing estates:
Chiara Boschis - E. Pira
Once known as ‘the girl’ in ‘The Barolo Boys’ film, today Chiara has build a reputation as one of the most respected winemakers in the region. Her warm heart and deep-felt care for people and the industry seem to empower her with a unique energy felt by all who are graced by her presence.
In the 1980’s she was part of the famous gang who brought modern winemaking techniques to a struggling region lacking in innovation. Alongside the likes of Elio Altare, Domenico Clerico and Paolo Scavino, she was one of the first few producers in Piedmont to start ageing her wines in French oak, creating a wine that was approachable and delicious on release. Wines made prior to this technique would often need to remain in barrel for 20+ years before their tannins softened and they became enjoyable to drink.
Along with a few other techniques, this opened up an entire new perspective for improving wines, changing the game in what was previously a very closed minded set of family producers philosophies.
Chiara was one of the first women in Barolo to own a winery, and at just 29 years of age when that happened, she was quite the revolutionary for her time and place. Today her winery E. Pira owns 11 hectares (27 acres), producing around 6,500 cases a year. She works with the classic grape varieties found in the region- Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, with her best wines naturally being her Barolo’s, of which she makes 3 different labels.
Chiara is famous for leading the charge to gain organic certification for the famous Cannubi vineyard, requiring a long battle amongst many other producers who prepared to make the sacrifice for these changes. All of her wines in fact are certified Organic, which speaks volumes for the commitment she has in all her viticultural practices. You’ll know when you’re in a Chiara Boschis vineyard because it’ll be bright, colourful and bursting with life. She’s a big believer in promoting the biodiversity of her vineyards, so it’s no wonder that her wines taste as terroir expressive as they do.
Château Angélus - Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal, President
Château Angélus is one of the largest and most prestigious St-Émilion estates which was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé A status in the 2012 reclassification. The de Boüard family has made wine on the estate since 1782 and after beginning her career in London’s financial sector, Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal joined the Angélus supervisory board in 2009. Three years later, she took over from her father, Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, and uncle, Jean-Bernard Grenié, in the running of the château. She is the eighth generation of her family and the third woman to preside over Angélus.
Recently, under the impetus of Stéphanie, the estate created a new wine called Tempo d’Angélus. This new addition to the range of wines of Château Angélus, made under the Bordeaux appellation, offers a more streamlined version of its illustrious elders – Angélus, Carillon d’Angélus and N°3 d’Angélus, with which it shares the same depth and complexity while being at the same time more approachable young.
This year we saw the announcement from Angélus, that they would be withdrawing from the next St-Émilion classification. Having certainly earned their promotion over the last decade, building an indestructible reputation, and following along the way, Stéphanie stated that although going through what has been a difficult decision, their “…family’s deep attachment to the region and to the reputation of its wines remains intact. Angelus will continue to actively promote Saint-Emilion and the great growths of Bordeaux on all the continents and in all four corners of the world.”
Mme Lalou Bize-Leroy – Domaine Leroy, Owner
Known as one of the most powerful women in wine, and with the reputation as the “grande dame of Burgundy”, Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy is a force to be reckoned with.
“Lalou Bize-Leroy stands virtually alone at the top of Burgundy’s quality hierarchy.” Robert Parker
Her father, Henri Leroy, alongside his family négociant business Maison Leroy, was a co-gérant of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC). By the early 1950s, as Henri Leroy devoted more and more of his time and energy to DCR, Lalou took charge of Maison Leroy at the age of 23. Lalou demanded and received carte blanche, setting about purchasing finished wines of the highest quality up and down the Côte d’Or. In 1964 Maison Leroy acquired the worldwide distribution rights to the DCR’s wines—excluding only the UK and the United States and just a few years later, Lalou replaced her father as co-gérant, alongside Aubert de Villaine of the Domaine.
In 1988 Lalou Bize-Leroy founded Domaine Leroy by purchasing Domaine Charles Nöellat in Vosne Romanée and Domaine Philippe-Rémy at Gevrey-Chambertin. In total Domaine Leroy now has 23 hectares of vines, mostly Premier and Grand Cru classified.
She immediately began biodynamic cultivation on all the vineyards and her wines quickly became a direct rival to DRC. She still farms her vines to the highest biodynamic standards, even replacing individual vines from her own cuttings rather than replanting new vines, which has resulted in a heritage of ancient vines and a small yield each vintage with a miniscule production of circa 500 cases across all cuvees.
There has been no official winemaker at Domaine Leroy since the 1993 harvest. According to Lalou the grapes are of such a quality that they do not need a winemaker! “We are guardians. We watch, we observe, we make some decisions, but it is the grapes that come first–they guide us. Our job is to look, observe and try to understand. That is our job, our role. Yes, we make decisions, but we don’t really do anything.”
Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, Veuve Clicquot
If you are looking for an influential woman in the world of wine, you don’t need to look any further than Madame Clicquot. When I started my research, I wanted to look at current female leaders in the world of wine but after reading about her I had to share her story. I had no idea what an incredible businesswoman she was in her time and how she single-handedly revolutionised Champagne production to the delicious drink we know today. We certainly have a lot to thank her for!
Born in Reims in 1777, Barbe-Nicole was the eldest daughter of a wealthy textile industry tycoon. After the French Revolution, she married the son of another wealthy textile family, Francois Clicquot who sadly died a few years later in 1805, leaving a company which was involved in banking, textiles and importantly, champagne production. Surprisingly for a woman of her age and time, the young “Widow Clicquot” Barbe-Nicole, took over the company, with a special interest in champagne production. She proved her innovative prowess early on, by creating the first recorded vintage champagne in the region in 1810.
Barbe-Nicole then invented the first riddling table and innovated the Remuage system – a simple process for creating a clear wine after fermentation, rather than the yeasty, cloudy version that everyone was accustomed to drinking. She “riddled” her kitchen table with holes just large enough to hold the neck of a champagne bottle to allow the sediment to collect in the neck, which could then be expelled easily. Both these processes are now a fundamental part of champagne making to this day.
In 1818 she broke away from the tradition of adding an elderberry-based preparation to create rosé champagne and instead blended some of her Bouzy red wines with her champagne to create the first “rosé d’assemblage”, a technique now used across most Champagne Houses.
No wonder she is known as ‘ La Grande Dame’ of Champagne, a name the House created in 1972 to mark its 200th anniversary and launch its prestigious vintage cuvee. The name is a tribute to her creative vision, determination and intuition. Her legacy still adorns the famous yellow label today – veuve means “widow” in French.
Laura Catena – Catena Zapata, Managing Director
Founded in 1902, Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata is known for its pioneering role in resurrecting Malbec and in discovering extreme high-altitude terroirs in the Andean foothills of Mendoza. The family’s Adrianna Vineyard at almost 5,000 feet elevation has been called the Grand Cru of South America. Dr. Laura Catena was born in Mendoza and spent her childhood with her grandfather Domingo at the family’s winery in the small village of La Libertad.
In 1995 Laura joined her father Nicolás Catena Zapata at the family winery and founded the Catena Institute of Wine with the vision of making Argentine wines that could stand with the best of the world.
When the winemaking team began to experiment with new terroir at the Adrianna Vineyard they discovered that each small parcel within the vineyard had their own unique characteristics which in turn were showing in the wine. Laura decided to ensure the winemaking team researched and studied this terroir, creating the Catena Institute of Wine, aimed at getting a better understanding of the Argentine terroir, the characteristics of Mendoza with the ultimate goal of making Argentine wines that can stand with the best of the world.
Now the managing director of Bodega Catena Zapata, she is the fourth-generation Argentine vintner at the estate and works closely with the winemaking team to make the vineyard selections and blends for the family’s wines. Laura is also founder of her own Luca Winery in Mendoza, Argentina, as well as a practicing part-time doctor of Emergency Medicine in San Francisco.
Dr. Laura Catena has been called “the face of Argentine wine” for her active role in studying and promoting the Mendoza wine region and Argentine Malbec.
Saskia de Rothschild – Domaines Barons de Rothschild, CEO & Director General
Although she always helped to blend the annual vintage, de Rothschild’s career aspirations were not in wine, but investigative journalism, where she started her career writing for the International New York Times. She then when back to school to study viticulture and oenology and committed herself to Château Lafite and their other family estates in France, Argentina, Chile and China, as well as across the two négociant lines, Légende and Saga. She was directly responsible for the relaunch of Château Rieussec and lives full-time in Pauillac – the first member of the Lafite side of the Rothschild family to do so since the 1855 First Growth was first bought by Baron James in 1868.
She took over from her father Baron Eric de Rothschild in 2018, aged 30 to become the sixth-generation of the Rothschild family in charge of the estate, and is the first woman at the helm. In doing so she also became the youngest person to lead a first growth Bordeaux estate.
One of the issues she is most passionate about is sustainability, signified by Château Lafite Rothschild’s conversion to 100% organic farming in 2020. She states that one of the things that effect the evolution of the estate is our dependence on nature. “You have to be very humble when your fate can be decided by a frosty night, a hailstorm, or the amount of sunlight your grapes will receive in a given year. What is certain is that nature and how we can help the land tell its story through light human interaction will still be what we do best.”