Women’s Role in The American Wine Industry
In 1974, Dr. Anne Noble joined the faculty of Enology and Viticulture at the University of California, Davis. She was the first woman hired as a faculty member in the viticulture department. Women’s role within the American wine industry vastly evolved throughout the 1900s. The US went from barely noticed to a dominant force in the wine industry. What catapulted women and the US to the global wine stage?
A Brief Early History of American Wine
People have been making wine in the US for centuries. The United States has grown wine for over 500 years. In the 1830s, the first commercial winery in the US was opened, and on Roanoke Island, you can find a 400-year-old grapevine.
During the Gold Rush, people in California started drinking wine in addition to beer and other spirits. In 1875, California lobbied for a federal tax on imported wine. This tax resulted in California table wine being much more affordable than European imports to East Coasters.
Prohibition put a stop to winemakers’ success. In California, immigrants—especially Italians—offered to bring grapes to winemakers in Chicago and beyond. It was still legal to grow fruit for juice and even ferment that juice as long as it wasn’t done commercially. Winemakers planted thick-skinned grapes that could withstand travel and then shipped these grapes to home-winemakers all over the USA. These weren’t the best grapes for winemaking, so home winemakers often had to dilute the wine with water and sugar.
Did You Know: Many vineyards were ripped up and replaced with orchards in Napa and Sonoma Valley during Prohibition.
Following Prohibition, much of the American wine industry was destroyed, and there were not very many wineries left. In the 1960s, the University of California, Davis, developed technologies to improve the wine. The first celebrity chef, Julia Child, popularized wine drinking to the American public.
Americans continued to improve their winemaking techniques without receiving much credit until the famous “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. This is when French experts ranked American wines above French wines in a blind tasting for the first time.
American Women Join the World of Wine
Before the Judgment of Paris, women in the American wine industry were few and far between. There had only been a few wine widows in the 1800s, like Hannah Weinberger.
In 1965, Mary Ann Graf earned a degree from the University of California in fermentation science. She is truly the first woman winemaker in California. Zelma Long enrolled in UC Davis’ Master of Food Science as the only woman in her class. She got a job during her studies and became the first woman to manage a winery in California.
But it wasn’t until the Judgment of Paris that women in the American wine industry really rose to prominence. California’s wines went from being mainly a domestic or “poor man’s” product to receiving popularity worldwide. Vineyards started popping up in Napa and Sonoma counties, and current vineyards needed more workers. The US gladly hired men and women alike to make wine.
Dr. Anne Noble and the Wine Aroma Wheel
Dr. Anne Noble pioneered research that is still used to this day. Not only was she the first female faculty member for UC Davis’ Viticulture and Enology program, but her Wine Aroma Wheel also revolutionized how wine is talked about.
Dr. Noble joined UC Davis in 1974, two years before the Judgment of Paris. At this time, wine was described as either masculine or feminine. These two broad terms were difficult to categorize, especially for those who didn’t grow up around wine. It also meant there was no objective way to describe wine.
As a sensory specialist and chemist, Dr. Noble set out to describe wine using food terms. Everyone can understand words like nutty, fruity, floral, spicy, woody, etc. You’ve probably seen these terms on the bottle of your favorite wine. So the Wine Aroma Wheel was born! Not only did it give terminology to the wine, but it also provided a visual reference of the aromas. Both professionals and amateur wine tasters can easily use this tool.
Women in the American Wine Industry Today
Women continue to make wine history in the US today. Winemaking is still a man’s world, and only 14% of California wineries have a woman in one of their lead winemaker positions. But this will hopefully change as American wine becomes more and more popular yearly among domestic and foreign consumers.
For now, the next time you read the back of a wine bottle that describes the wine as “fruity with woody notes,” you’ll know that if it weren’t for a woman, you’d be reading something very different. Cheers!
Read also: The Judgment of Paris and its Revolutionary Implications in the Winemaking Industry
Today In Wine History
May 24, 1976: The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, also known as the Judgment of Paris, changed the wine industry forever. Before this, French wine was the crème de la crème. But when blind taste testers preferred California wine over French, American winegrowers finally received the recognition they deserved. Some of the judges, who were all French, wanted to change their vote after the judgment was read.
Want to read more? Try these books!
Baiocchi, Talia. Vintage America: A Brief History of Wine in America. Accessed: June 21, 2022.
 Wine in America. Accesses: June 21, 2022.
 Wine in America. Accesses: June 21, 2022.
Gilbert, John C., Ph.D, Gilbert, Lucia Albino, Ph.D. California’s Lead Women Winemakers Show Slow, Steady Progress from 2011 to 2020.
Taber, George. The Judgment of Paris: California vs France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.