Does gender matter when it comes to making wine?

Samantha O’Keefe

Samantha OKeefe - Credit: Archant

Women winemakers as the subject for a column struck me, initially, as an interesting, maybe revealing idea.

Alessandra Casini Bindi Sergardi

Alessandra Casini Bindi Sergardi - Credit: Archant

But the more I’ve thought about it, and the more I’ve talked to women who make wine, the less relevant sex seems.

There is good reason, though, for carrying on with the idea: women are responsible for some very, very good wines.

So let’s meet some.

Samantha O’Keefe moved from a television career in California to wine farming in South Africa in 2003 because she “wanted to pursue an authentic life and create something from nothing”.

Now she is one of the country’s rising wine stars.

Her limited and lovely range from the previously unknown Greyton area is made with minimum interference: “I work hard in the vineyards so that the wine can express itself with as little intrusion from me as can be tolerated.”

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That’s far from a purely personal approach.

“All of the woman winemakers that I know (including myself) do not try to impose our idea of what the wine should be, we allow the wine to express itself and tell its own story,” she adds.

“Because of this, wines made by women tend to be elegant, expressive and clean. They haven’t been forced.”

In Champagne, Françoise Bedel has “always been in the vines, since I was a small child” and she continues the independent house established by her parents, switching in 1998 to biodynamic viticulture.

The individual winemaker, woman or man, is one part of the yin and yang of wine, she argues.

“Individuals, by putting their soul into their wine, can create a relationship with the soul of the wine itself – and that brings the ultimate result in each vintage.”

Estelle Roumage is also from a family with a long wine history, in Bordeaux, and sees little difference in the female or male approach: “We all make wine according to our personality.”

She does, however, confess to one advantage: “It’s great to be a woman as you get more attention than guys.”

Joking apart, Christelle Betton, maker of serious, delicious whites and reds in Crozes-Hermitage on an estate established by her grandfather, acknowledges the value of groupings such as Vignes Femmes Rhône in “presenting our wines to the rest of the world”.

But for Alessandra Casini Bindi Sergardi, who heads a family company whose much-lauded winemaking in Tuscany stretches back to 1349, fervent promotion of all good Chianti Classico, whoever the maker, is most crucial.