Wine's Glass Ceiling And The Winery Working To Shatter It
Kristi Faulkner for Forbes.com
It is irony writ large that the products women are most passionate about are often made and sold by companies who are hostile to their own female talent. The hyper-competitive fashion industry draws women to its top schools at a female/male ratio as high as 99-to‑1, but the paradigm is not reflected in fashion’s workforce. An analysis of the top fashion brands reveals that men are more likely to serve in leadership roles, most especially in the c‑suite.
Women so driven by their passion for wine that they pursue viticulture as a career face the same obstacle as their friends studying fashion. The domination of men in winemaking has been entrenched for a century, even as the majority of wine sales are attributed to women. From bars to book club to baby showers, have you ever been to a gathering of women that didn’t feature wine?
Scan the classrooms of UC Davis, considered by many to be the best wine-making and wine-business school in the country, and you’ll see women outnumber men in its Viticulture and Enology program. But follow those students off to their jobs after graduation, and somehow the women evaporate like the angel’s share of a barrel.
Dr. Lucia Gilbert, a professor at Santa Clara University and an expert on the topic of women and wine, estimates that of the 4000+ wineries in California, just 10% have a woman as their lead winemaker. Sadly, in terms of business leads, there are zero female CEOs running wineries producing between 100,000 and 500,000 cases annually, according to The Red Cabinet, a nonprofit peer organization of women in wine. Though there is a bright spot in the supersize wineries that produce up to a million cases per year where 25% of chief executives are women.
One winery of distinction in California is working hard to change the ratio of women in wine. J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines has deeply considered why women get into the wine industry, and how to support their journey once they break in. Like many wineries, J. Lohr is family-owned, and still helmed by a man, but J. Lohr is also the proud home to two of the most highly-regarded women leaders in wine: Kristen Barnhisel, winemaker, and Cynthia Lohr, co-owner and brand advocate.
J. Lohr has made a commitment to developing women as consumers and women as vintners with its wildly successful #JLOHRWOMEN initiative. “Educating young women, embracing them at every level of the business, and guiding them on their journey as young professionals,” says Rhonda Motil, a VP at the winery, “is a vital part of our dedication to our craft.”
An appreciation for diversity and female leadership is embodied by J. Lohr’s acclaimed winemaker, Kristen Barnhisel, the woman responsible for developing the vineyard’s white wine portfolio. If you’ve ever enjoyed the J. Lohr Estate Riverstone Chardonnay, one of the top five chardonnays in the US, you can thank Barnhisel’s gifted palate and technical skill for producing it.
While the larger, more corporate wineries like Constellation Brands, E. & J. Gallo and Treasury Wine Estates have professional advancement programs for their female employees, J. Lohr approaches its women’s initiative in a style more befitting of a smaller, family-owned enterprise. From the vineyards to the cellars, to the offices, and in the visitor centers, J. Lohr inspires and promotes its talent fairly, without regard to sex. Scan the winery and you’ll see women leading in the vineyard and in the back office.
The winery’s philanthropic activity works to advance women through education and mentoring and throws it support behind women’s development organizations like Dream Big Darling, Women of the Vine and Spirits, and Women for WineSense.
You’d be surprised how many wineries don’t seem to recognize the fact that 6 out of 10 wine consumers are women, or that women are willing to pay more for a wine they love. J. Lohr, by contrast, welcomes them. #JLOHRWOMEN has attracted a significant social media following and engages the audience with authentic dialogue, delightful food-friendly lifestyle content and captivating Instagram stories. Perhaps J. Lohr’s crowning achievement is J. Lohr Carol’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a splendid release awarded 91 points by Wine Spectator and 100% designed to benefit women.
The proceeds from Carol’s Vineyard support breast cancer patients, a deeply personal cause for the Lohr family. Three dollars from every bottle sold goes towards early breast cancer detection. The initiative has contributed funding for thousands of women who otherwise would not be able to afford mammograms and provides for the special delivery of HOPE Kits (a gift box of comforting items) to women undergoing breast cancer treatment. “Breast cancer resonates with all people, not just women,” says Motil. “It impacts everyone.” Carol’s Vineyard is a toast and a tribute to Carol Lohr – Jerry Lohr’s wife, and Cynthia Lohr’s mother.
Women who love wine are loving #JLOHRWOMEN. And this winery is loving them back.
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