By Laura Ness
Cindy Lauper said it best: girls just want to have fun. And women pretty much want the same thing. Women in the wine industry just want to make wine fun. Women winemakers mostly want to make wine that’s fun, and have fun doing it. Otherwise, what’s the point? And in general, we wine women are just like other women: we mostly want to drink wine that’s fun.
Which is why the International Women’s Wine Competition, run by Debra Del Fiorentino of Wine Competitions Management & Productions, exists. What, you might ask, makes this competition different? First of all, it’s like no other in that all the judges are women. There’s typically a winemaker, a wine buyer or somm, and a wine writer on each panel.
The panel coordinators might not be women, though, as in the case of my panel. Poor Doug Uyehara, he was in for a day of hilarity, high-speed negotiation, lively discussion rife with colorfully unfamiliar terms (perhaps a few made up), and some seriously offbeat humor. It made for a memorable day.
International Women’s Wine Competition Judges
I asked many of the participants what makes this one different? The judges all said, it’s fun, it’s collaborative, and it’s a great bonding experience. They really look forward to this one because it’s a lot more collegial than most, it’s manageable in size, and it’s international, so the range of wines is exciting and educational. But the fact they get to judge with other women and share their experiences is priceless. Some said it’s their favorite one to judge, by far.
There’s more freedom to engage in the kind of discussions that women like to have: part nurturing, part bantering, part teasing and part deliberating, always with the goal of positively supporting all winemakers, not just women. Because we know what this industry is all about. We know how difficult the work is, from the physically challenging farming and janitorial side, to the hospitality, marketing, and sales sides.
We also know that women often have to work twice as hard as men to earn their fun. Which explains why, on average, panels at the International Women’s Wine competition got through their workload at a record pace.
One of the intrepid backroom servers who worked with my panel said, “This is easily three times faster than competitions where there are men involved! I usually try to stay two or three flights ahead of my panel, but you gals made it tough to stay ahead! I really enjoyed listening to the banter: you were really fair with one another and kept a really good balance.”
Other support staff echoed this observation: the competition runs so much smoother, so much faster. Everything clicks, there are no fights, no posturing, and no stalemates. There’s no need to use a “silver bullet:” women are natural peacemakers.
Said one male panel coordinator, “The judging goes so quickly! The judges are much more generous: they don’t look for faults, but they are fair. There is easy discussion, cooperation, generosity and no rude, off-color humor. (Ugh, he most certainly wasn’t on my panel!) Things go smoothly and everyone has fun.” Bingo.
Another panel coordinator expressed how quickly the judging went, how collegial the atmosphere was, and how much generosity went into each deliberation. She remarked that the women judges really cared about the wines, taking into account what the winemaker was trying to achieve.
We averaged over 130 wines per panel, and we were done well before 3pm. At most other competitions, most panels would be laboring until at least 4pm, sometimes 5pm. Sometimes longer.
But we got it done early, and competition director, Debra Del Fiorentino, along with her core staff, were able to celebrate with the judges at the judges dinner that took place at DeLoach that evening. Sometimes, judging runs so late, there’s no time to party. This was a special evening because we were treated to a welcoming presentation by the sponsoring group, Wine Women, followed by an emotional speech by Jean Charles Boisset, the winery sponsor behind Wine Women, and himself, an ardent feminist.
Boisset showed just where his heart was when he observed that over 68% of the employees at his many enterprises (DeLoach, Raymond, Buena Vista etc.) are women. “You men here,” he joked, “Are here only because by law we have to interview you! And by the way, all you men here tonight, this is a night for women, so please go ahead and shave your legs!” Humor aside, JCB went on to praise the women in his life, first and foremost, his mother and grandmother for their hard work and vision and their determination to make their dream of someday having a winery come true.
His mother was a dancer and taught lessons in their home. He remembers the long hours she spent writing letters by hand to all the parents of the students, reaching out to them when they started their winery. Probably some of the most meaningful direct marketing that has ever been done.
Boisset also gave a shoutout to his wife Gina Gallo, whose vision and passion for the wine industry has helped him to succeed in building a growing empire of wine here in America with uniquely French roots and influences. He talked about his twin daughters and how they were already showing enormous creativity and determination. They will surely go on to prove their mettle and make their royal couple parents proud.
Boisset thanked all the women in his company who have helped him to grow it to prominence in the industry, saying that he just wanted to give them a place to follow their instincts and do amazing things.
He then pointed to Debra Del Fiorentino, who in addition to running the many competitions she manages in addition to this one, started Spirited magazine to serve the beer, cider, spirits and wine market. Earlier this year, she developed and hosted the first ever Spirited! Trade Show and Conference, at which Boisset was a keynote speaker and proudly introduced his line of spirits.
“She took this idea she had and created this event from nothing,” said Boisset. “It was remarkable! She followed her dream and made it come true.” He urged us all to do the same. Because, you know you can do anything you put your mind and heart into doing. Because you are women.
At the sweepstakes the following day, we were happy to see so many fine examples of well-made wines, twelve of the 35 made by women.
- Best Red Wine and Best of Show: 2013 Blagden Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard, California, Sonoma Coast
- White Wine: 2017 Viognier, Maggie Malick Wine Caves, Estate Grown (produced/bottled), Virginia; Loudoun County
- Rosé Wine: 2017 Michelle’s Rosé, Trattore Farms, Sonoma County
- Sparkling Wine: 2013 Estate Brut, Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, Estate Grown, Carneros
- Cider: 2016 Gowan’s Gravenstein Heirloom Cider, Estate Grown (produced/bottled), Anderson Valley
- Fruit Wine: Forestedge Winery, Black Currant, Minnesota, NV
- Fortified Wine: San Sebastian Winery, Cream Sherry, American, NV
Women Winemaker 2018
Accolades for the title of Woman Winemaker of the Year went overwhelmingly to Diane Wilson of Wilson Artisan Wineries.
- 2016 Creekside Cellars Roussanne, Colorado – pretty, delicate, exhibiting exceptional balance – an amazing example!
- 2017 Maggie Malick Wine Caves Viognier, Loudon County, VA – gorgeous, heady, with beautiful perfume and sweet, driving fruit – a head-turner
- 2016 Merisi Wines Grenache, Los Carneros, Sonoma – great pepper, sassy with a juicy core of lovely cherry, raspberry, basil and leather
- 2016 J Dusi Wines, Paper Street Cornflower Blue Mourvedre, Paso Robles – classic, classy, meaty, savory and exhibiting graceful elegance – made by Janell Dusi
- 2016 Idle Hour Cabernet Franc, Heringer Estate Vineyard, Clarksburg, CA – bright-fruited, almost candy-like, showing the freshness and explosiveness of carbonic maceration – made by Anna Marie dos Remedios
- 2016 Russian River Vineyards Barbera, Morning Sun Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County – juicy, mouthwatering, driving: has its foot firmly on the gas pedal, on the way to a top speed finish
- 2014 Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon, Chalk Hill, Concannon Clone – absolutely dead-on execution of the varieta; with perfect weight and balance – a winner
- NV 21 Brix Winery Ella’s Red Concord, Lake Erie, NY – yep, that’s the grape of my childhood: raw, unchecked and free to run wild in the woods
Back Room Staff
A special shoutout to Debra’s intrepid core backroom staff, many of whom have been with her since 2007. They are the ones who make these competitions run like clockwork:
- Libby Kirk
- Candace Gable
- Jean Maeda
- Sher Morrice-Tice
- Trina Rushing
- Jamie Black
- Jerry Rico
- Tom LoCoco
- Jay Reed
- Bonnie Black