During February’s #winestudio program, we focused on women in wine: winemakers, winery owners, and the forces that bend the market to make way for them. This last bit is the specialty of Amy Bess Cook, whose WOW Sonoma initiative promotes the efforts of women in the Sonoma County wine industry and beyond.
In her eight years working at a boutique winery, Cook watched as the work of powerful women was routinely marginalized, from the corporate conference room to the tasting room floor. Curious as to the factors behind such dynamics, she researched the challenges facing women entrepreneurs in general. What she found was surprising, yet not. Limited access to money and power, exacerbated by outdated social norms, still affected women negatively across the board – even in the 21st century.
The View from 30,000 Feet
On her website, Cook cites an article by Cindy Bates that appeared on the Microsoft Business Blog, which outlined several key issues facing women business leaders in general:
- Social behavior norms in the business world tend to be different for women than for their male counterparts (e.g., women are statistically less likely to aggressively promote themselves or their businesses or to develop robust professional networks).
- Access to investment and funding is much tighter for women business owners than it is for men (she cites a 2014 Babson College study which shows that fewer than three percent of venture capital-funded businesses were women-owned).
- There is a comparative lack of mentors and community support for women in the business world.
A Closer Look at California’s Wine Business
Drawing a bead on the local wine industry, she found that researchers Lucia and Jack Gilbert at Santa Clara University had drawn similar conclusions:
- Of more than 4,000 wineries in California, only 10% had a woman as their lead winemaker.
- Of those wineries, a significantly smaller portion of female (4%) than male (47%)winemakers were also owners of their winery.
- In California, the North Bay area had the highest percentage of women lead winemakers (12 to 14%) while Southern California had the lowest (4%).
- Proportional to their representation in the field (9.8% women, 90.2% men) more women lead winemakers (23%) than men (14.1%) were listed in the acclaimed wine reference book Opus Vino.
WOW Sonoma Is Born
All of this led Amy Bess to push for change. She founded Woman Owned Wineries Sonoma (WOW Sonoma) in the hopes that it would bring visibility to the efforts of businesswomen driving the wine economy there. It is a comprehensive list of local establishments meeting two requirements: they must be based in or source their fruit in Sonoma County; and a woman must be the founder or primary partner engaged actively in business operations. At last count the list included 55 wineries, with direct links to each of their websites. The list is constantly evolving and remains free to all users.
Speaking of evolution . . . Amy Bess envisions more for the WOW Sonoma project, perhaps expanding it to other regions as interest in woman-owned wineries continues to grow – which it surely will. We seem to be at an inflection point where women are rallying together, encouraging each other to take risks, speak up, and exert their power. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine a better time to promote businesses owned and operated by women, regardless of what the product is, or where it’s marketed.
Add Your Voice: Join the WOW Wine Club
If you’ve been inspired by Amy Bess’s vision and determination, you can help sustain her efforts. She recently launched a crowd-funding page, where anyone who wants to support WOW Sonoma may contribute to the cause. Its short-term goal is to cover administrative costs so that the WOW Sonoma list remains free for the public.
But her longer-term vision is to establish a wine club that sells these wines directly to the consumer. A one-stop shop, if you will, where you can support the efforts of these pioneering women. If you’d like to learn more, go to her @ifundwomen page here. You can contribute to the cause and join the WOW Sonoma Wine Club in one fell swoop!
My guess is that Amy Bess has her eye trained on an even bigger prize, though: one that ultimately galvanizes women everywhere to mentor and support one another, building a network that emboldens them to speak louder and toot their own horns; one that blazes a clear and fearless path for the next generation of women business owners, wherever they are. Wouldn’t it be cool to be a part of that?
As I mentioned at the start, our #winestudio program spent the month of February with powerful women in the wine world. Please stay tuned as I bring you their stories. Coming up:
- Breathless Wines, founded by three sisters to honor their mother, specializes in traditional method sparkling wines from Sonoma County;
- Pedroncelli Wines recently celebrated its 90th anniversary and is led by the dynamic Julie Pedroncelli-St. John; and
- Ca’ Marcanda, the Tuscan outpost of Piemonte’s celebrated Gaja family, now headed by the aptly named Gaia Gaja.
If you’re a wine lover but are not yet familiar with the #winestudio program (a woman-owned business, by the way) run by maestro Tina Morey, click here immediately! Each Tuesday evening at 9pm ET, Tina leads a wine safari in which we learn, directly from winemakers, the hows and whys behind their prized bottles. It’s unlike any traditional wine program I can think of, and I mean that in a good way. Wine professionals, journalists, educators, and marketers join the on-line discussion, making it the most dynamic program out there. And we manage to have a pretty good time while we’re at it. Interested? Tune in via Twitter, following the hashtag #winestudio.