Women’s History Month
March is Women’s History Month, an appropriate time to honor those visionary women who have made immense contributions to contemporary society. During the month of March, we are reminded of the incredible influence of accomplished and forward-thinking women in our culture such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, pilot Amelia Earhart, the original Suffragettes, entrepreneur Julia Child, artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and too many more to mention here.
Women’s History Month (WHM) began in America as a week-long celebration in 1981 after lobbying by the National Women’s History Project. After several joint resolutions of Congress, the week-long celebration of influential women in American history expanded to include the entire month of March, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8th. Every U.S. president since 1987 has issued annual proclamations designating the month of March as Women’s History Month.
Here at Amendment XXI we have decided to honor those contributions to American society by women of all stripes by highlighting those fierce females who have carved a path through the male-dominated field of wine and spirits. During the entire month of March, we will highlight wines and spirits which are crafted and produced by women and promote those brands which are owned and operated by women.
Like most large industries, males have historically dominated the world of wine and spirits. Most winery owners and wine-makers are men, leaving women to occupy other subordinate roles such as sales and marketing. In select cases, some very visionary and talented female entrepreneurs have risen through the ranks of the good old boys club and proven themselves to be just as talented, if not more talented than their male peers. We’d like to highlight some of those extraordinary women here and give a short background on some of those female wine-makers and brand owners who are leaving their mark and forging their own unique path.
Tucked into the hillsides of Italy’s northern Alto Adige region is the winery known as Elena Walch. An architect by trade, Elena married into the one of the oldest and most significant wineries of the Alto Adige and quickly introduced contemporary wine-making practices to the very traditional estate. Promoting quality and innovation, Walch stood at the head of the Alto Adige quality revolution and has gained local and international esteem for her efforts. Today, the responsibility for the family business is being put into the hands of Elena’s daughters, Julia and Karoline Walch, already the fifth generation of wine-makers, who carry on their mother’s philosophy – dedication to terroir and sustainability.
Elena Walch produces a wide variety of styles including many traditionally Germanic varietals. Alto Adige is located in the far north-eastern corner of Italy and borders the country of Austria. With such close proximity to a German-speaking nation, it is no surprise the wine-making reflects Germanic styles. In the Walch portfolio you will find varietals such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc. The Walch name itself is indeed more reminiscent of a German family name than it is an Italian one, and the cuisine and architecture of Alto Adige also reflects Germanic influences.
Apart from those more traditionally central European wines, Elena Walch also produces a native Schiava red wine along with Pinot Grigio, Lagrein, and a host of other Italian varietals. We are particularly fond of the Schiava, a light-body red which showcases a bright ruby color and delicate hints of cherry on the nose. On the palate, it is harmonious and elegant due to naturally mild acidity and tannin with a pleasant bitter almond flavour on the finish. Elena Walch’s Schiava is an elegant, fruity red wine with a pleasant, lingering finish. For those wine drinkers who love Pinot Noir, we often prescribe the Schiava as a wonderful alternative which offers a similar profile.
We have been carrying Jules Taylor’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ever since the day she first walked into the store several years ago with her portfolio of wines. We immediately fell in love with her humor along with her vibrant and witty personality, not to mention the delicious wines she produces.
Jules is the visionary and chief wine-maker behind Jules Taylor wines and operates the winery in conjunction with her husband, George. Based in Marlborough, New Zealand, she focuses on classic varietals from the region including the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Rosé of Pinot Noir, and late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
Jules was born in Marlborough in the year the first vines were planted and has literally grown up with Sauvignon Blanc. She spent several years putting her viticulture and oenology post graduate degree to use as Group Senior Winemaker for one of Marlborough’s largest wineries, and then as Consultant Winemaker to the region’s most prestigious brand. Jules spent a few life-affirming vintages in Italy which contributed to her love of wine as a simple pleasure to be enjoyed alongside good food and great friends. She strongly believes wine should be more about creating great memories and less about status or cellaring potential.
The Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc we carry is a wonderful example of what New Zealand can offer. Upon first visit, vibrant tropical and citrus aromas leap out of your glass, knocking your olfactory senses with passionfruit pulp, mango, lemon and tahitian lime, backed up by fresh notes of lemon blossom and chamomile. The lip smackingly delicious palate contains concentrated tropical fruit flavours of passionfruit and pineapple, complimented with fresh citrus notes. Juicy and dry, this wine has appetizing acidity and a beautiful lingering finish.
Gem & Bolt Mezcal
Mezcal has grown wildly in popularity over the past several years and is quickly catching up with it’s more recognized Mexican cousin, Tequila. Mezcal is an agave-based spirit which mirrors the aromas and flavors of Tequila, but offers a more artisan approach with a distinctive smoky profile. The main difference between the two styles of spirit can be summed up as this: All Tequilas are Mezcal, but not all Mezcal is Tequila.
Mezcal is actually the name of the broad category of agave-based spirit which is produced in Mexico. Tequila, on the other hand, is a style of Mezcal which is made of certain species of agave and distilled in certain geographic regions. Although there is some overlap regarding geographic areas of production, most Mezcal is produced in the southern state of Oaxaca while most Tequila is made in the states of Jalisco, Tamaulipas, and a few others.
The two spirits are distilled a little differently from one another, creating different approaches to both spirits. While the agave for Tequila is steamed in large commercial autoclave ovens and then distilled two or three times in copper pots, the agave used to make Mezcal is cooked in earthen pits that are lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal before being distilled in clay pots. While some large-scale Mezcal producers (Mezcaleros) have adopted modern methods, artisanal Mezcal makers continue to use this more traditional method, which is the source of the earthy and smoky characteristics commonly associated with Mezcal.
AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon are the dynamic duo behind the Gem & Bolt Mezcal brand. They work with artisan Mezcaleros in Oaxaca state and have created a truly unique brand with a focus on their own artistic backgrounds. AdrinAdrina and Elliott grew up together in the mountains of Virginia, amongst intellectuals, artists, activists, herbalists, rebels, and moonshiners. Their families were wild rabble-rousers and masters of celebration. They ran around maypoles, ate biodynamic food from the garden, and celebrated together. They both went on to become artists and form thriving creative networks around the world.
Gem & Bolt is unique to the Mezcal world due to the inclusion of Damiana. Damiana is a flowering shrub native to Mexico and has been used for hundreds of years by the Aztecs, Mayans, Zapotecs, and in many other parts of the world. It thrives in the same climate as agave, and naturally complements the essential “heart opening properties” of the Mezcal spirit. Damiana is believed to endow magical properties in the bedroom as an aphrodisiac, as well as touted for being a natural anti-depressant, overall organ tonic, and mood elevator. The infusion of Damiana into the Gem & Bolt Mezcal softens the spirit and gives it a slightly floral characteristic. Many artisan Mezcals can be very earthy and extremely smoky, giving novice drinkers a little more than they bargained for. Gem & Bolt Mezcal with the addition of Damiana offers a more approachable, or feminine-style of Mezcal.
Chisa Bize of Domaine Simon Bize
Here we travel to France’s Burgundy region, the global epicenter of high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Although the tale of Chisa Bize is shadowed by tragedy, it shows how truly talented and dedicated women can overcome difficult odds and prosper.
Like many great houses of Burgundy, Domaine Simon Bize has a very long history dating back to its founding in 1890. The operation farms 22 hectares of vines in some of the most sought-after terroir in the world, Savigny-les-Beaune. Their holdings are a laundry list of Savigny-les-Beaune’s best sites, from perfectly situated microclimates to the best premier cru parcels of the appellation. Their house style is partial to whole cluster fermentation for the reds and little to no new oak on both whites and reds.
The appellation of Savigny-les-Beaune is located just outside the village of Beaune, considered the heart of the Burgundy region. The area is in the northern portion of the Cotes d’Or and the wines in this area are made from both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Because of its more northerly location, the Chardonnay produced here is often not as ripe as that made in the southern Macon part of Burgundy, offering more mineral-driven and austere expressions of Chardonnay. Pinot Noir does very well in northern Burgundy and is often described as having a deep cherry color with garnet highlights. The Pinot Noir from Savigny-les-Beaune boasts a bouquet of small red and black fruits (blackcurrant, cherry, raspberry) and flowers (violet). The body is ample and discreetly tannic and the fruit remains present. Roundness, volume, power and balance are all here, and in just the right proportions.
Domaine Simon Bize was led for many years by Patrick Bize until his untimely death at the age of 60. The future of the estate was unknown until his wife, Chisa, stepped in and took charge along with Patrick’s sister, Marielle Bize-Grivot, during a very tumultuous period. Chisa had been quietly involved with Patrick over the course of the years, encouraging him towards the direction of organic and biodynamic farming, principals that have been quietly applied to the estate for years. Nicolas Gordo, Patrick’s long-time winemaker, has been overseeing the cellar work for many years and while the wines of the domaine will no longer have Patrick’s finishing touch, they were left in very capable hands. The Domaine continues to produce lovely expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Savigny appellation and has retained its reputation as a leading producer in Burgundy.
The Future is Here and it is Female
In most major industries, males have dominated the upper echelons of ownership, management, and creative direction. The wine and spirits industry is no different with most of the wineries and spirit brands firmly in the hands of men. The tide is changing, however. Women are jockeying more and more for their deserved place in leadership roles throughout the industry. As more women take on those positions, it will only mean a positive improvement for the industry as a whole. It’s unfair to generalize by gender and biology, however women do possess certain inherent traits which are often under-developed in their male colleagues and which contribute greatly to successful and prosperous workplaces.
The field of wine and spirits is extremely sensual in nature. We consume these products for several different reasons, however the most fundamental pertains to how the products affect and stimulate our senses. Several of our senses become engaged as we enjoy a glass of expertly-crafted red Burgundy, for example. We appreciate the differences in color the wine displays – varying shades of purple, or crimson, or magenta. We engage our olfactory to identify certain aromas which help us determine from where the wine originates. Our memories are stimulated by those aromas and recall those things we have experienced throughout our lives such as the scent of an over-ripe black cherry, or the slightest hint of wet earth we experienced the last time we visited a working farm, or the aroma of purple and red wildflowers we experienced on a springtime hike. Our sense of taste is stimulated every time that luscious liquid enters our mouths, creating pleasant sensations balanced between sweet, savory, spicy, and tart.
Women seem to place focus on and appreciate the sensual nature of products and experiences. It is often women who advocate for and bring sensuality to the forefront of our culture. They tend to employ empathy, another character trait responsible for creating effective, prosperous, and kind workplaces. The positive contribution women make to our world is endless and the wine and spirits industry should understand that promoting more female participation will only strengthen and improve the category.
During this Women’s History Month let us raise a glass and toast those visionary women who are making impressive contributions to our society and who are re-shaping the wine and spirits industry!