Paso Robles: Women of Garagiste

By Melanie Webber

paso wine

paso wine

If this year's Garagiste Festival is any evidence, women are making strong inroads into the traditionally male-dominated wine industry.  Of the 48 garagiste wineries pouring at this year's festival, nearly 60% boast a woman as winemaker, owner or co-owner. And that is good news for the industry, at least in this female oenophiliac's opinion. Today, less than10% of California wineries have women as the main or lead winemakers.

It is easy to immediately jump to the conclusion that this small number is all about sexism - and the legacy impact of male dominance in the field should not be discounted - but it is probably as much a reflection of what historically were the pure physical challenges of winemaking, as of anything else. The good news is that today's technology and equipment equals the playing field - after all, almost anyone can drive a forklift, stomp grapes or clean barrels.   And while the truth is that no one thinks twice about the gender of a winemaker while lingering over a particularly fine Zinfandel or tasting for the first time the wonders that can be wrought from Carignane by a really good winemaker, the wines produced by J.Dusi's Janell Dusi, Ranchero Cellars' Amy Butler, Gironata's Stephanie Terrizzi or Rangeland Wines' Shannon Gustafson - all women winemakers pouring at the 2012 Garagiste Festival - can certainly makes us all exceedingly grateful that the winemaking playing field has, indeed, been leveled.  And, of course, for the team at the Garagiste Festival (50% of which are women), there is huge pride in seeing the significant influence of women in the garagiste movement

This emergence in the garagiste arena is no surprise. Garagiste winemaking by its very nature provides a richly unique environment for women (as well as men) to learn winemaking on the job, as well as to experiment, and to maintain control, because the businesses are small and the winemaking completely hands-on - one of the many reasons garagistes wines can be so sublime.   And, for many garagiste wineries, the operation is truly mom and pop, with the winery often the second job for both, meaning that it truly is all hands on deck by necessity.  That direct learning can be as good as anything taught at a university viticulture program. Plus, because these are small businesses usually with no employees, it puts the owners/co-owners out in the front of the winery, not behind the scenes - meaning these hardworking women, passionate about their hand-crafted wine, are very visible to the public, providing excellent role models for girls who may contemplate making wine as a career choice (or career women who are contemplating making a second career choice)!

Another woman who has had a powerful influence in the Central Coast wine industry as sommelier and proprietor of 15C Wine Shop and Bar is Ali Rush Carscaden, who has built her business into the Central Coast's go-to place for both industry and in-the-know wine consumers.  To highlight the remarkable women of garagiste, Ali is hosting a special pre-Garagiste Festival tasting - "The Women of Garagiste" - at her brand new Templeton location, Saturday November 3rd at 6pm, featuring the wines of five of the women winemakers/owners (Alta Colina Vineyards, Ambyth Estate, Giornata, J. Dusi, and Ranchero Cellars) pouring at the festival. And, to taste the wines of all the men and women who are pouring some of the best artisan wines anywhere in the world, join us at The Garagiste Festival, on November 10th at beautiful Windfall Farms!

Melanie Webber is in charge of Public Relations for The Garagiste Festival. Her public relations agency, mWEBB Communications, Inc., won a 2011 American Business Award for PR/Communications Campaign of the Year. She is a lover of all things Central Coast, especially the wines, and is working on advancing her wine knowledge through the WSET program.