Women of wine: the ridge, the wave and the backwater

Dare circles of winegrowers express more than sociability: moral, technical or commercial mutual aid. They act to get out of the isolation due to their small number. From the precursors Aliénor d’Aquitaine (1994) to the Fa’Bulleuses champenoises (2015), via the Vinifilles in Occitanie (2009), they come together within the Women of Wine (2009) An exclusively female competition, Féminalise, puts them in the spotlight.

From 2017, these circles extend to the entire sector with Women do Wine, initiated by Sandrine Goeyvaerts. It aims to highlight this growing presence of women in all professions, the uniqueness of their experiences. Mutual aid then takes on the accents of sorority. It enhances the image of these professionals in the media, in line with the book Winegrowers (2019, Nouriturfu). Today, the Filles de vignes podcast takes up the torch of this visibility.

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Get out of the backwater

The territory of wine is indeed a backwater, considered by some as “a reserved domain, sometimes a place of fierce confrontations” (Larousse). An anthology of stereotypes persists. The existence of “feminine” wines, supposedly fine and delicate, a palate predisposed to prefer white wines, the wine list systematically extended to men in the restaurant, the telephone calls where the interlocutor asks to speak to the winemaker, weariness wins to repeat the clichés. Not to mention dubious tasting, even very aggressive wine labels. Some have been withdrawn from sale.

Rethink the distribution of tasks within the farm, use linguistics to challenge inequalities, the feminization of job names in mind. Non-mixed collectives organize a privileged space for discussion, but also for tasting and sales. These places serve as an essential lever to free the voice of women from wine, to secure them in the event of violence. A book points with pen and pencil to ordinary sexism, but also to the discrimination still suffered. With humour, through “sexist swigs”, Alessandra Fottorino and Céline Pernot-Burlet denounce them in In vino Femina (Hatchet). They contribute to encouraging “exchanges between women and men who share the same fight for equality, without being radical”.

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A before and after #MeToo

2017 marks a key date in the history of women in wine. Under this hashtag taken up in October around the world, awareness of the discrimination experienced by women spares no class, no profession, no place. A few months earlier, the wine world had been shaken by the conviction of wine merchant Marc Sibard for acts of harassment, and a sexual assault on three employees, including sommelier Emma Bentley. In September 2020, a hashtag, #payetonpinard appears on Instagram. Transformed into an association in mid-2022, it collects daily, anonymously, testimonies on inequalities, ordinary sexism or all forms of violence in the wine sector. It organizes psychological and legal support. At its head, Isabelle Perraud, winegrower in Beaujolais, would like “a presumption of veracity in the story of women”. She dwells on the immense difficulty of filing a complaint, rarely leading to a procedure, before a hypothetical conviction. A double penalty threatens: that of being silent, which is the common lot, or that of being dismissed, like Emma Bentley forced to emigrate to Italy.

Two ongoing legal proceedings warn of this desire to silence women, especially when they enter the public sphere. Sandrine Goeyvaerts, victim of cyberbullying after judging the sexist nature of a cartoon, is suing blogger Vincent Pousson for public insults on the grounds of sex. But on social networks, “I get attacked as soon as I publish something,” she says. As for Isabelle Perraud, a complaint has been lodged against her for defamation by Sébastien Riffaud, winegrower in natural wine, for having republished testimonies from abroad on her behavior. In the meantime, she braves the departure of clients, threats and pressures of all kinds.

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A more progressive organic world?

Having listened to many wine women this year, it appears that the world of organic wines – long at the forefront too! – offers a space that is more respectful of the cause of women, open to debate. A surprising finding even shows a parallel curve between the increased representation of women in wine and the development of organic wine from the 1990s-2000s. The question deserves to be explored. On the other hand, it is in the world of organic and natural wines that speech is freed and that legal cases arise. The union for the defense of natural wines has adopted a motion against violence against women in the name of its values.

Beyond declarations of intent, Sandrine Goeyvaerts is campaigning to “dismiss, punish, put women in safety”. The key, for Isabelle Perraud, lies in raising the awareness of all those involved in wine, in educating boys and girls from the ranks of agricultural education. It intends to develop prevention through posters, presented in the salons. “What matters to me today is that we respect women”. It is a question of putting an end to the impunity described by Hélène Devynck for the world of the media.

Invest also the authorities

More present in all the vine and wine trades, made more visible by their collective work, surfing individually on a few peaks, women now intend to invest in the governing bodies. Their demand is not unanimous, tenses male bastions, exposes the avant-gardes to outpourings of hatred. Yet, stubbornly, they invite us to step out of an oppressive antediluvian model to build an egalitarian society. Wine provides an extraordinary angle of approach, in its sociability, by a form of universal language as well as in its anchoring in a mistreated nature, at the heart of decisive contemporary issues. It encompasses it to better demonstrate the increasingly imperative need to change the general paradigm in our human societies, with respect for the living, for all others.

*Historian, researcher graduated from Jean-Jaurès University in Toulouse, winegrower today near Montpellier, Florence Monferran has been committed for ten years to highlighting high quality heritages and terroirs, wines and Languedoc grape varieties. In 2020, she published the book The Brew of Heracles, published by Privat.

Women of wine: the ridge, the wave and the backwater