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4 Reasons Why Women Should Consider A Career In The Wine Industry

Mari Coyle

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I have loved wine my entire life.

When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to study viticulture and enology—which is a fancy way of saying that I wanted to study wine. I wanted to learn the science behind the art, and really understand what made one red wine taste like crushed blackberries, and another taste like sweet vanilla. So I went off to study at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis. And by the time I was 24 years old, I had become the winemaker at Chatom Vineyards in the California Sierra Foothills.

I share this because most people, women especially, don’t know that having a career in wine is even an option. There’s this unspoken belief that in order to become a winemaker or play a creative role within the process of winemaking, you have to have been raised in Napa Valley, or have connections there, or have some sort of family fortune in order to get started. In my case, I didn’t have any of these things. I was just another college student choosing a major, trying to do something I loved for a living. 

What I loved just happened to be wine.

After spending over two decades in the wine space, I have seen firsthand how much the industry needs and thrives on the involvement of innovative people willing to take creative risks. Wine is big business (a $70 billion-dollar industry, just in the United States), and our country is the largest wine consuming country in the world, but that is because wine is more than just a product. 

It is an art, a science, and an experience, all wrapped up into one. 

When I was in my early 20s, I was too young and naive to give much thought as to whether or not I “could” break into the wine industry. I just followed my passion. But after working in the industry for so long, and in talking with so many of the women involved in our community at ONEHOPE, where I’m head winemaker, I thought I’d share a few reasons why, now more than ever, women should consider breaking into the wine industry themselves.

1. The majority of wine consumers today are female.

Only recently has wine consumption by women become the majority. Today, 56% of wine drinkers are female.

For example, most of the day-to-day shopping is done by women in households, and women tend to buy wines across a wide variety of price points—not one specific price point. So, if more women are drinking wine, more women should be part of the creative winemaking process too—making wines they know women will enjoy.

In addition, there is actually some interesting data around the science behind sensory sensitivity, and the fact that women tend to have more refined sensory palettes than men. For example, in one study, women were more accurate in their ability to recall odors than men, and in the region of the brain that receives signals from the nose, “women were found to have on average 43 percent more cells and 50 percent more neurons.”

2. Wine is a science—but unlike more formal sciences, wine is a lot more fun.

We forget that, historically, some of the leading scientists in the early days were women.

For most of us growing up, we think of the sciences as being chemistry, biology, etc. And yes, there is a bit of chemistry and some of those more scientific components involved in winemaking, but all things considered, they aren’t too advanced. As a result, winemaking allows you to learn some of the chemistry and biology basics, but apply them to an industry that is enjoyed by millions upon millions of people. 

For example, I have worked with some really interesting winemakers who have philosophy backgrounds. Or, I have worked with people coming from more corporate food science backgrounds. The point is, regardless of where you’re coming from, winemaking can be a great way to still be involved in the sciences, but in a more hands-on, natural, and enjoyable environment.

It’s worth noting, however, that as unlikely as it might seem, even women with sales backgrounds can find the wine industry to be a refreshing change of pace. Sales itself is a bit of a science, in figuring out what makes people tick, and women who have mastered the art of talking to many different types of people would find wine to be an interesting career pivot—especially as wine continues to be sold more and more directly to the consumer.

3. Working in wine makes for a more enjoyable lifestyle.

As a woman, one of the hardest things to juggle is your family and your career.

This is obviously dependent on your role, but for the most part, I can confidently say that wine has allowed me to have a wonderful career while still being able to raise a family. I have two boys, and throughout my career, I have had the fortune of getting to live in a number of beautiful places (known for wine), and still have the flexibility of being a professional and a mom at the same time. For me, the career has been a perfect fit.

I also get a tremendous amount of joy out of going through the process of bringing wine to completion: seeing the grapes grown in the vineyards, tasting them along the way, planning the long-term aging process, and then ultimately getting the wines into the bottle. That process is really rewarding for me, and it’s one I believe a lot of other women would find tremendously fulfilling. (Not to mention, you get to spend so much more time out in nature).

4. The wine industry is becoming a powerful way for women to connect with other women.

Now, more than ever, more and more women are entering the industry and taking leadership positions.

It is a space where you can always be learning something new, every single day—whether it’s out in a vineyard, or through online courses, an internship at a winery, or from a mentor figure. There are so many women in wine now who are willing to give back and share their insights because for many of us, we remember what it was like 20 years ago. Back then, the industry was still extremely male-dominant. And 40 years ago, women in wine were few and far between. 

Again, you don’t need to have some sort of industry connection in order to get involved. If you are now where I was when I was in my early 20s, trust me when I say there are a ton of opportunities within the industry during harvest time. Everybody hires seasonal staff ranging from people who have been making wine for years, to people who are just starting out and eager to learn. This is a great way to just jump in and see if it’s something you enjoy—and if you can’t take the luxury of taking a quarter off from your regular job or school, there are so many books and great online resources for you to peruse the meantime.

5. Being knowledgeable about wine (especially when it comes to food pairings) can be a terrific skill for so many women.

Lastly, women tend to be the ones who host and create experiences—whether it be for family, friends, a significant other, etc. 

But especially when I think about all the women who have gotten involved in our ONEHOPE community, engaging and learning about wine together, it has made me realize how wine knowledge can truly become a skill for life. Wine and food is one of those things that can bring people together, help them relate to one another, and provoke conversations that might have otherwise felt forced or mundane. 

And so, even if your ambition isn’t to become a full-on winemaker, taking some time to learn a few of the basics can be a fun way to get involved in the industry.

Mari Wells Coyle is an award-winning winemaker with a taste for adventure in wine, food and life. When she’s not in the cellar, you might find her in the kitchen experimenting with food and wine pairings, or navigating whitewater rapids along the western Sierras.

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