Vintner Theodora Lee/Theopolis Vineyards Anderson Valley

KCBS Radio/Doug Sovern

A Breakthrough For Women In Bay Area Wine Country

Doug Sovern
June 25, 2019 - 11:30 am

Women in the wine industry may be a relative rarity, but now more than ever, they are bringing something special to the table. 

Sommelier Tonya Pitts, the wine director at One Market in San Francisco, believes women have unique attributes that make them extremely well-suited for working with wine. 

"I think I bring a lot to the table. I've got  a really good palate, and I've met a lot of women that have really good palates. Sometimes they don't realize that they do. We have more tastebuds than men, and we are considered super-tasters," she said. 

Pitts recently brought together several female vintners to network and to share their wines to benefit La Cocina, the  incubator for low-income food entrepreneurs, especially women and women of color.

One of those vintners was Theodora Lee, who, like Pitts herself, is a woman of color.

Lee specializes in making award-winning petite syrah at Theopolis Vineyards in Mendocino's Anderson Valley. 

She pointed out that she is at a disadvantage if restaurants and wine buyers taste her wares before they see her. 

"When they taste the wine they have no idea. But if I walk in and try to sell my grapes to a restaurant I'm not necessarily the face they're accustomed to seeing," she said.

But she is sanguine about the reality of what she has had to deal with. "It just means you have to be better at what you do," she said. "All my grapes are handcrafted, I hand- pick, and we make sure we have excellence. When you make a great product, all those other things go away."

Heidi Von der Mehden, maker of pinot noir at Merry Edwards, said wine-making has been a male dominated industry for centuries for the same obsolete reasons so many other fields have been.

"I am just as focused on wine as any man is," she said. "There are differences in how we make wine and what we do, but I don't think that is gender-based."

Roughly 10% of the world's winemakers are women. Here in the Bay Area, it may be closer to 30%.

Pitts is able to envision a more inclusive renaissance to come. "We've got a ways to go, but we're making strides," she said. 

Lee concurred with Pitts' vision. Considering that women buy, and drink, far more wine than men, it only makes sense that women actually make it too. 

"I think we bring a different perspective to the wine business, and as women take over the world ... you need to get on board now, because one day, you're going to want to be with us," she said.