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Women “Firsts” in the Wine World

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As we continue to celebrate the achievements of women during Women’s History Month, we are proud to feature women pioneers in the world of wine. But just who are these female firsts in wine?

First Women Winemaker in California

It was in the 1960’s when the wine industry in the U.S. truly came into its own. But viticulture and winemaking were critical to California’s economy before Prohibition in 1920. Hannah Weinberger is credited with being the first female winemaker in the 1880’s, a role she assumed after her husband was shot dead in 1882. As a result of this tragedy she managed the operations of his winery, as well as taking on his role of director of the Bank of St. Helena. She also become the only California female vintner to win a silver medal in the wine competitions of the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. Weinberger managed their 35 acre property, which today is part of William Cole Vineyards—until Prohibition forced its closure.

First Modern-Era Winemaker in California

Fifty years after Weinberger was forced to end her role, Hannah Graf earned became the first woman to earn an enology degree from the University of California, Davis in 1965. She is considered a pioneer as the first women winemaker of California’s modern era—the era after California and the rest of the U.S. recovered after Prohibition. With very few mentors, Graf had a more analytical vision regarding wine—her love of science no doubt impacting her approach to her career. Starting as an assistant winemaker and enologist in California’s Central Valley-located Gibson Wine Company, she became head winemaker at Sonoma’s historic Simi Winery in 1973. She was mentored by Andre Tchelistcheff, and had few female peers. After her she left Simi in 1979 she launched her own consulting service, Vinquiry, which provided lab testing to wineries in Sonoma and became a well-respected, successful venture.

First Woman Winemaker in Argentina

While California has a number of female firsts in wine, it’s important to note the achievements of women in other wine regions. Susana Balbo, Founder of Susana Balbo Wines, is a pioneer in many regards. She’s Argentina’s first female winemaker, the first Argentinean woman to become a global wine consultant, and also served as a member of Argentina’s parliament representing the Mendoza region—Argentina’s capital of wine. Originally intending to become a nuclear physicist, due to political instability she remained in Mendoza, she studied viticulture and earned an enology degree. Her first winemaking duties were realized at her family’s viticultural business but she expanded her expertise through roles at Michael Torino Winery, Martins and Catena Zapa, and consulting for numerous global wine brands. After producing and consulting for other wineries, she launched her own enterprise which she now runs with her daughter and son.

We are honored to feature these pioneering women in wine! They serve as inspiration and role models for our Latinas Wine Club community as they succeeded despite inequities in our society. Salud to these women pioneers in wine!

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