WOMEN IN WINE: Change is a Process

Monday, 7 December, 2020
In a robust panel discussion during Vinimark’s recent Women in Wine webinar, hosted by wine journalist and creator of the HanDrinksSolo community, Jono Le Feuvre, an international panel of women began exploring a series of assumptions and attitudes in the realms of gender equality, and women working in wine.

The debate unearthed some interesting and tough questions, “How much of what we see defines what we think is true? Should all receptionists be women? Is this simply a status quo that can be changed? And if it can be changed, how will that happen? Are women-only awards patronising? Would the existence of a “girls club” connote a weakness in the women who chose to be part of such a club?”

It became clear that you do not talk about the Wine Industry Girls Club. But not for any clandestine reasons à la Chuck Palahniuk, simply because there is no Girls Club of which to speak. And, this seems to be the way women professionals in the wine industry prefer to go about their business.

The following panellists all shared valuable and hard-won insights into carving out a career in an industry that is still male-dominated, both locally and abroad:

  • Jancis Robinson, international wine critic
  • Samantha O’Keefe, Cape Winemakers Guild member and award-winning winemaker
  • Penny Setti, sommelier and Champagne Bollinger brand ambassador
  • Rose Kruger, winemaker at Stellekaya
  • Palesa Mapheelle, one of the four dynamic female online influencers behind @wine_ish
  • Cha McCoy, New York and Portugal based wine consultant at Cha Squared LLC and
  • Ginette De Fleuriot, Vinimark Marketing Manager and Cape Wine Master

The conversation teased out an interesting conundrum revolving around women supporting women, in that almost all panellists agreed that they would explicitly support other women, but also (almost unanimously) would like to be seen as professionals first and foremost, and not be categorised by their gender. The point was raised, though, that there is a need to support and mentor women noting that they are not operating on a level playing field as discrimination still exists – and challenges for women and more evidently, for women of colour, are very real.


It was striking to note that, whilst none of the panellists expressed deep grievances against their male counterparts in the industry, there was agreement that women are wary to talk openly on the topic. This was echoed by Le Feuvre, who reported repeatedly being asked, “not to be quoted” or to only answer questions around gender equality “off the record”. If nothing else, one of the most important questions asked was, “Why is it still seen as problematic to speak out even when it is something really serious like reporting on sexual assault in the workplace or more specifically, in the vineyard.”

It brought home the point seldom spoken about, that for most women it was easier to stay quiet or as McCoy put it, stay in your lane and not stir the pot to avoid derailing your hard- earned place and career in a male-dominated industry.

Instead, what emerged was a matter-of-fact acknowledgement of the wine industry’s gender gap and a steady resolve to forge a path with savvy and determination, juggling the multiple and complex roles women in wine have.

“Certainly, there is the ‘boys club’ aspect that people don’t talk about,” said De Fleuriot. “It’s very much a cultural thing, but it gets forgotten. It also begs the question: how are we changing the way that we think about work and who is fit to do what?”

It was in response to this that Le Feuvre posed the possibility of the ‘girls club’ as an answer to the ‘boys club’:

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