As a woman-owned company, it is one of our mandates to find and support other women in the wine industry from producers, to distributors, events, and everything in between! We’ve partnered with Wonder Women of Wine for the past year and a half to designate which producers we have that are 50%+ owned by women as well as customize different boxes with women owned wineries and publications and are excited to push the envelope further!
In this blog I want to walk through some statistics on women in wine, discuss the demographics change when we start looking at natural wine, and highlight some women in wine that we love and would encourage you to follow! We also interview Wonder Women of Wine founder Rania Zayyat on this topic, so let's start there!
Ever wonder who the wonder woman of wine is? Meet Rania Zayyat.
If you’ve ever fantasized about what life would look like as a sommelier, this is the place for you. Today, the wine industry feels and looks very different than it did three years ago when we launched our business. One of the ways it has changed is the number of women I’ve met while working to bring consumers natural wines. Every year it seems I’m encountering more women in leadership roles and many new women winemakers.
MYSA Natural Wine recently sat down with one of the leading women in wine, Rania Zayyat, advanced sommelier and founder of Wonder Women of Wine, a nonprofit advocating for gender equality in the wine industry.
We turned to Rania to learn more about her journey to becoming an advanced sommelier, how you go about forming an advocacy group, and what keeps her going. Enjoy our discussion below, and tune in to our Instagram Live conversation on Wednesday, September 9th to be able to ask questions to me and Rania.
Let’s start here: Women represent 60% of wine buyers in the United States and make up half the workforce in the wine industry, but account for only 5% of chief executives at the largest companies.
Rania, what gives?
Rania Zayyat: These are pretty astounding numbers, right?! I feel like there are several factors at play here. One is, as we know, a minority of the overall population, straight white men, have controlled a majority of industries, government roles, and positions of power in this country since its inception, and they’ve acted as gatekeepers, historically allowing mainly other straight white men access to resources like funding, mentorship, higher level positions, decision-making roles, etc. On the other side, our society has, subconsciously and consciously, taught women to question themselves, that women can’t be trusted, that characteristics such as empathy, nurture and understanding, are perceived as weak or less valuable than men’s approach to business, and so while women and underrepresented groups are not given the same access or opportunities, our negative beliefs about ourselves are reinforced through that lack of access. It’s a big mess and we’re hoping to make some long-term, sustainable changes that not only benefit women, but benefit anyone who has ever felt underrepresented, overlooked, spoken over, and passed up.
OK, you’ve shared another stat with us: in 2015, female somms reported earning an average of $7,150 less than somms that were male. Where are we today?
Zayyat: There have been some more recent studies conducted by SevenFiftyDaily on career salary surveys across the wine industry as a whole versus just sommeliers, and in 2019, women earned an average of $12,000 less than men, which accounted for a slight decrease of 1.7% in the overall wage gap between men and women. We obviously have a lot more work to do.
Why don’t we back up a minute and have you briefly share your entry point into the wine business?
Zayyat: I’ve been working in wine for 10 years and the hospitality industry for 16 years now, and my interest in wine arose naturally as I started working in higher end restaurants while going to school. I’m an anthropologist at heart, and have a degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Houston, so I’ve always viewed wine as this really beautiful component of culture, bringing people together, and an important experiential piece of dining. Plus it means you get to travel to wine regions!
I started working at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, TX in 2010, which was a dream of a wine program for a young and budding sommelier like me who wanted to learn about all the classic wine regions of the world, the best producers, vintages, and service. I spent three years as a server there and then eventually started picking up shifts to help the wine team do inventory, arrange the cellar, organize bottles, work tastings, and then graduated into working floor somm shifts in my fourth year. I took and passed my Certified Exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers in February, 2013. After that, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in wine and have worked in the industry ever since. I moved to Austin in January 2014 to pursue opportunities in the wine industry here and then took and passed the Advanced Sommelier Exam in July of 2015.
I’m currently the Wine Director at Bufalina in East Austin.
Did you find the process to become an Advanced Sommelier difficult? What advice would you give to other women exploring this option?
Zayyat: It’s definitely a difficult process to get to that level, but it’s something I knew I wanted for myself and my career, and looking back, there were a lot of sleepless nights, all day study sessions, weekly blind tastings, service practicals, map making, and not as much traveling as I would have liked.
My advice would be, if you’re pursuing anything in this industry (or in life), make sure you’re doing it for you and not for anyone else. Also, find a support group, people who are also pursuing the same thing. And something that I didn’t do, but if I could go back and do all over again, would be to take care of yourself physically! However you prefer to move your body, do it. It will refresh your mind.
Based on your experience training to become a sommelier and having worked in the restaurant industry for years, when did the idea for Wonder Women of Wine really take hold?
Zayyat: I had the idea to start WWOW on the heels of the #metoo movement in late 2017, early 2018. When women started sharing their stories that November, I felt really compelled to act in some way on behalf of women, but wasn’t really sure what that looked like or what I wanted to do. And then one day I was sitting at a coffee shop working, and the idea of a conference struck me, which is crazy because I have never put together a large event in my life, let alone a national conference, but that’s what my gut was telling me to do, and I went for it.
Since forming your advocacy group, what is something that you’ve encountered that has been most surprising to you?
Zayyat: We’ve been doing weekly interviews with women in the wine industry called #femmeFriday since July 2019, and one of the questions we ask is “Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?” And I’m always surprised when I hear women say they haven’t felt any gender discrimination. I mean, I’m not mad, I think that’s great that they feel that way, but it really makes me pay attention to how we individually process our interactions with others.
What do you see as the future for women in the wine industry?
Zayyat: I see a bright, inclusive, and diverse industry where individuals are not only respected for their individuality, but are celebrated for it, which in turn will lead to a stronger wine industry with a consumer group as diverse as the professionals who are in it.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your mission within the industry?
Zayyat: We are an adaptive species, and as we evolve and grow into a more virtual world (even though I prefer seeing people in real life), we’re finding new ways to connect with winemakers, sommeliers, and consumers, and collaborate with others in the industry. That’s why I’m so excited about the MYSA Natural Wine and Wonder Women of Wine Club. We get to put together packs of amazing natural wine that support womxn winemakers and winery owners, connect with consumers virtually, and give back to support scholarships for womxn through Wonder Women of Wine.
For obvious reasons, I’m interested to hear more from you about your thoughts on the natural wines category.
Zayyat: Personally, it’s pretty much all I drink. I don’t like the idea of choosing sides between natural and conventional wine, because I got into wine through conventional producers, and I think whatever that wine is for someone is awesome, but I support natural wine because I believe sustainability and taking care of our planet is a responsibility that all industries need to be aware of. We need to be adopting practices that preserve the future of our environment and our planet. This extends to almost every industry, so why not wine?
Is there a specific wine, region or winemaker within this particular space we should put on our radar?
Zayyat: The Loire Valley. Not only do some of the best natural winemakers in the world reside and make wine here, but the region has so much stylistic diversity that you can do a 10-course tasting and wine pairing and have a perfect wine for every dish, or a perfect wine for every person at the table, and the wines are awesome! It’s a cooler climate with a lot of topographical variation from the coast of the Atlantic to the center of France, so you can get a beautiful salty, briny Muscadet, an aromatic and electric Chenin Blanc, a bright and floral Pineau d’Aunis, a spicy, earthy, and robust Cab Franc, and a complex and unctuous dessert wine.
This discussion has been inspiring. Thank you! I can’t wait to do it live and hear from our MYSA and WWOW families on Wednesday, September 9th.
Statistics on Women in Wine
Before diving into what these findings mean for the wine industry, let’s take a look at the numbers overall:
- In 2015, female somms reported earning an average of $7,150 less than somms that were male. Source: Guild Somm
- In 2016, 62% of all graduates from UC Davis Viticulture and Enology program were women, yet only 10% of winemakers in California and 7% in Washington are women. Source: Wine Speed and Sprudge
- Only 4% of vineyards in California are owned by women. Source: Wine Collective
- Women only constitute 15% of the top roles in the wine industry. Source: Academic Wino
There are multiple indications that this number is rising, based on enrollments in winemaking programs increasing and other initial indicators but it’s difficult to say that with certainty. The point is that from an industry perspective, the wine industry has a LONG way to go before women are on equal footing with their male counterparts in all areas.
Women in Natural Wine
The news isn’t all bad though! In our little niche of the world, natural wine, women are in many areas leading the charge. While natural wine as a category is still considered too small for its own research, anecdotally we can say that there is significant representation from women in the space. With all three independent magazines on natural wine, the two leading book authors on natural wine, one of the largest importers of natural wine, and many of the most revered natural winemakers being women, it’s a very exciting space to be in!
Below we’ve highlighted just a fraction of the women in natural wine that we work with, read, drink, and generally love!
Flat Brim Wines
Donkey & Goat
Fossil & Fawn
Jenny & Francois
Maine & Loire/Drifters Wife - Portland, ME
Haley.henry - Boston, MA
Field and Vine - Somerville, MA
The Wine Bottega - Boston, MA
Violete wine - Cambridge, MA
Nathálie - Boston, MA
Rebel Rebel - Somerville, MA
Fancy Nancy - Brooklyn, NY
Vedge - Philadelphia, PA
Fond - Philadelphia, PA
Cork - Washington, DC
Dio Wine Bar - Washington, DC
Lost Larson - Chicago, IL
Elske - Chicago, IL
Helen’s Wines - Los Angeles, CA
Vinovore - Los Angeles, CA
Botanica - Los Angeles, CA
Juice Box - Seattle, WA
To look for in physical publications and their newsletters
Insta Accounts to follow
If you want more recs on what to read, check out our guide!
The Wine Zine
Women in Wine Club
We also have an exciting initiative launching in September with Wonder Women in Wine for a very limited wine club that focuses completely on female natural winemakers alongside some amazing content and swag from tasting notes to live tasting videos with WWOW Founder Rania Zayyat and special notes from the winemakers themselves!
Stay tuned on our mailing list for more information soon.