Karen MacNeil on Misogyny in the Wine Industry

women working in wineryKaren MacNeil, author of the iconic The Wine Bible, recently released her 2nd annual report on the status of women in the wine industry. The report isn’t pretty, and she focuses attention on the problem with some starkly honest comments:

Indeed, now that the early waves of outrage and the initial high of the #MeToo movement have passed; now that Weinstein, Cosby, Lauer, Moonves, Ailes, Battali, Lasseter, and a cascade of others are—at least temporarily—toppled, we’re faced with a starker reality: We live among men, and some of them subconsciously hate us.


In doing research for this report, I found myself returning again and again to the relationship between harassment and advancement in the wine industry. They are, it now seems to me, inextricably linked. Harassment is a direct way of blocking advancement. But blocking advancement is also a form—an especially insidious and often subconscious form—of harassment.

MacNeil’s grim assessment is supported by copious data. Here is one representative data point:

I asked the trade associations of the top wine-producing states to estimate the percentage of female winemakers in their states, and while there is no firm research in this area, they responded as follows: an estimated 10 percent of winemakers in California are female, compared to 7 percent in Washington, and 5 percent in New York.

This despite the fact that for the past 15 years, women have on average made up 42 percent of graduates from the prestigious Viticulture and Enology program at the University of California, Davis.

Similar disparities afflict the sommelier community. And it’s important to mention that the situation of racial and ethnic minorities in the wine industry is equally grim.

But perhaps the most telling data point was the poll she conducted asking the following question:

In the wine industry, women remain underrepresented in most professional roles and at most levels, from entry to executive. What are the biggest barriers to women’s advancement?

I presented 11 options, but respondents could also write in their own suggestions.

The top response for the biggest barrier to women’s advancement:

The perception by men that the wine workplace is already equitable when in fact it isn’t.”

Change of course depends first on the recognition that change is needed, which is the point of MacNeil’s annual report. The problem begins right there. Too many men think there isn’t a problem, and thus we miss the myriad subtle ways in which double standards, “mansplaining” and neglectful behaviors undermine women’s prospects. Men tend to think that if we avoid engaging in the worst forms of sexual harassment and violence we’ve earned a gold star.

As MacNeil points out, the barriers to advancement are much more subtle.

Guys. A bit more self-reflection is long past due.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.