The WineKnitter Vol. 26 No. 03 Wine

A Celebration Of Women & Wine


March 1st begins “Women’s History Month.” And throughout the month, women worldwide are acknowledged for their achievements and contributions. Over the past few years, I have written articles about Women’s History Month, giving shout-outs to women in the wine and spirits industry. However, I never wait for March 1st to come around; I like to keep the acknowledgments going all year long! At the risk of being repetitive, here is a quote from one of my previous articles. “Taking only one month a year to celebrate women is not acceptable. However, if during the next 31 days we succeed in sharing enough stories, perhaps it will inspire and encourage younger generations that they too can overcome obstacles and aspire to become whoever and whatever they want to be.” Many of these stories also encourage others that it is never too late to change paths, no matter your age or circumstance.

Within the global wine and spirits community, many women have broken barriers and stepped into roles that men once dominated. Female winery owners, winemakers, sommeliers, and wine educators are no longer the “exception,” and female distillers and master blenders are on the rise! The list of accomplished women is lengthy and impressive! Here are just a few examples of women who have helped pave the way for others. Claudia Harris of England was the first female in the world to pass the rigorous Court of Master Sommeliers exam and receive a title in 1984. Madame Clicquot (Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin) became the proprietor of the famous champagne house in 1772, transforming it into an iconic winery, Veuve Clicquot, that earned her the title “Grande Dame of Champagne.” In 1997, Joy Spence of Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum became the first woman in the spirits industry to hold the title of master blender. Heather Nelson is the first woman to found a whisky distillery in Scotland in over 200 years. She opened Toulvaddie Distillery Ltd. in 2015. Susana Balbo became Argentina’s first female oenologist in 1981, undaunted by a male-centric arena. Hanna Weinberger became California’s first female winemaker in Napa Valley in the 1880s. The list is endless, and I’m so thankful for these women, past, and present.

Here are five more women that deserve a shout-out!

Ntsiki Biyela 

Ntsiki Biyela

Ntsiki Biyela is one of South Africa’s exemplary and highly respected winemakers. Ntsiki grew up in Mahlabathini, a rural village in KwaZulu-Natal. A few years after completing high school, she was awarded a scholarship in 1996 to study winemaking at Stellenbosch University. After graduating in 2003 with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology, she began her journey as a winemaker, starting with Stellekaya winery. Ntsiki’s dream and ultimate goals were to create her own wines and make exceptional world-class brands. So, influenced by her grandmother, who was her “guiding light,” Ntsiki took the initiative and established Aslina Wines in 2016, naming it in honor of her grandmother. Her winemaking philosophy is partly drawn on earlier harvest experiences in Tuscany and Bordeaux that reconnected her to her love of nature and the soil where she grew up. In addition to award-winning wines that Ntsiki produces, she sits on the board of directors for the Pinotage Youth Development Academy that provides technical training and personal development for young South Africans in the Cape Winelands, which prepares them to work in the wine and tourism industries. She was voted Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009, and in 2017 she was listed in the world’s top 10 most “Innovative Women in Food & Drink by Fortune’s Food & Wine. Ntsiki’s awards are numerous, acknowledging her role in paving the way for others, eliminating barriers, and her positive influence on the image of the South African wine industry. 

Natalie Christensen

Natalie Christensen

Natalie joined New Zealand’s Yealands Wines team in 2015 and has been this winery’s Chief Winemaker since 2018. She was also named one of the World’s Most Influential Women In Wine by The DrinksBusiness in 2018! However, this native-born New Zealander’s journey to this impressive point didn’t start with wine; it began with a BA in classical music and a masters in psychology. Then, realizing she wanted more out of life, at the age of 25, Natalie interned at a winery where it all fell into place for her. She went on to get a degree in oenology and took part in harvests around the world that eventually brought her back to New Zealand. Restless in between harvests and needing something to do, Natalie applied for a position as winemaker in Spain, got the job, and experienced a fast immersion into making wine for an Albariño producer. Her tenacity, love of adventure, and passion shine through in her award-winning wines. Natalie says, “There is a strong link between music and wine. Everyone in a room can be listening to a piece of music, and each individual will have a completely different experience. It’s the same with wine. Although a group may share a bottle of wine, their experience will be their own, unique discovery.” Natalie pays it forward and mentors up-and-coming women in the wine industry as part of the New Zealand Winegrowers Women In Wine mentoring program.

Bruna Giacosa

Bruna Giacosa with her father, Bruno

Bruna is a fourth-generation winemaker who, in 2004, took over one of the most celebrated wineries in Italy, the iconic Bruno Giacosa winery in Piedmont, Italy. It was formerly headed by her world-renowned father, Bruno Giacosa, who sadly passed away in 2018. Bruna began her passage into the world of wine at the age of eight while working alongside her father, and now she is an amazing force and the heart of the winery. She is responsible for the business and winery management and represents the brand throughout the global wine markets. Bruna inherited her father’s passion and enthusiasm for making great wine, always looking for perfection and upholding his philosophy of respecting traditional techniques while embracing the best of modern technology. As a result, she continuously seeks the improvement of the wines while maintaining the highest standards in winemaking. And indeed, Bruno Giacosa Barolo and Barbaresco wines remain legendary, with each vineyard site producing unique and eloquent wines. Bruna is making sure that her father’s legacy continues for generations.

Paola Medina Sheldon

Paola Medina Sheldon

Paola is technical director and winemaker for Bodegas Williams & Humbert, located in the heart of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. She is second-generation of the Medina family who took full ownership of this 130-year-old historic winery in 2013. The winery is noted for its production of sherries and brandies. And, it is no surprise that Paola, who grew up in this environment rich with family heritage and connections, would one day become a winemaker. Her path began with a degree in chemistry from the University of Granada, a degree in oenology from the University of Cadiz, and a master’s degree in viticulture, oenology, and legislation from the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Paola worked in wineries in various capacities before joining Bodegas Williams & Humbert in 2010. She has become part of the “sherry revolution” and is an expert Sherry winemaker, throwing her passion and knowledge into the production. Paola was highlighted by Decanter in 2018 as one of the ten most influential and pioneering winemakers in Spain, pointing out “her innovative production of vintages with biological aging, and the necessity to focus on quality wines and integrate sherry into haute cuisine.” In addition to winemaking, Paola regularly conducts and participates in winemaking courses and seminars within Spain and abroad.

Kristin Vogele

Kristin Vogele

Kristin Vogele is co-founder and owner of LUKE with her husband Thomas, the winemaker. The winery is located in the Wahluke Slope AVA in the Columbia Valley in southeast Washington state and is one of the warmest and driest climates in the state. Kristin is the youngest of five siblings who grew up in Seattle, far from the world of wine. She rode horses before she could walk and spent her childhood riding and showing horses. She met her husband-to-be in high school and received a degree in Economics from the University of Washington. Being a true believer and living proof, I always say that it is never too late to find new passions and roads to follow. And Kristin believes it too. After a 20-year career in the software industry, Kristin decided to focus full-time on the family wine business that she and her husband launched in 2012.   Kristin says that it is not just the love of wine that drives her passion but also the meaningful interactions and the stories shared by customers who have found a personal connection to the LUKE brand that inspires her the most. LUKE produces award-winning blends, and it is one of the top five independently owned brands in the Washington category.

So, in addition to sharing inspiring stories in March, let’s keep it going year-round! Celebrate the women that have and still are helping to open doors for us and future generations!

Until next time…


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Penny is a wine, spirits, food, and travel writer. Her sensory examination and evaluation of wine and food are noteworthy. Penny has a popular website called The WineKnitter that takes you with her to discover wine/spirits, travel, food, and culture worldwide. She began her serious foray into the world of wine in the early 1980s, where she was part of three very successful family-owned restaurants in NYC and "cut her teeth,” so to speak, with wines such as Petrus, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, Cristal, etc. Penny has an extensive presence on many social media sites, and her education is ongoing with wine seminars, wine tastings, and culinary delights from around the world. She studied at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, completed WSET Level 2 Certification with Distinction, and is continuing with Level 3, advanced certification in wine. Penny is a member of The Wine Media Guild.

2 comments on “A Celebration Of Women & Wine

  1. Rosemary

    Fabulous as always Penny. Your in-depth history of these women, shoe the power behind their excellence! Awesome job and thoroughly enjoyed reading 👍🏻👏🏻🎉

  2. Pingback: The Pink and Green of March – Santé Magazine

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