Not Ladies that Lunch, Women that Wine

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05 September 2018

Here at Phipps last month we were delighted to welcome Sula Richardson to the team – joining us to work across Wines of Germany, Rioja Wine and Cognac. Sula was already a familiar face for many from Women in Wine meetings (which she co-founded with Regine Lee) and from interesting industry events, such as P(our) …

The original drinking societies were the symposia of ancient Greece – raucous affairs with entertainment, food and, at the centre of attention, drink, where women were prohibited unless in the subservient roles of musicians, servers or prostitutes.  Centuries later and the world is still full of wine symposia, but of a very different kind. Halls the world over (London, Paris, New York and California) echo with discussions on the role of women in today’s world of wine, exploring inequalities that have either crept in over the decades or been present for millennia.

One such symposium was ‘P(our)’ which took place in Paris in June 2017, where Sula and Clara Rubin (Red Squirrel Wines) delivered a fascinating speech entitled ‘is Wine Gendered?’ The speech focused on the representation of women in the industry – looking at how women are perceived within organisations and the role of advertising in shaping the outside world’s perception of women in wine.

Looking at the industry today, Richardson and Rubin highlighted, only 13 of the Harpers Top 100 in wine for 2017 lack a Y chromosome and of the 39 headshots used to adorn the pages, only 4 were women. Whilst a laudable 43% of the wine industry is made up of women, this isn’t a fact that shines through when reading about the industry and its key players. As is sadly the case in many fields today, women are under-represented at the top echelons of the wine world. There are a whole host of reasons why this may be the case: common (mis)conceptions, lack of representation at mid-level, status quo and a dearth of role models.  

For consumers, wine marketing plays a huge role in forming their view of the industry and the issue here, rather than under-representation, seems to be how women that appear in ad campaigns are portrayed. Memorably infamous examples include Decanter’s 1990 front cover with a naked woman holding a (barely visible) bottle of wine and Côtes du Rhône’s series of pin-up style labels for their ‘Cuvée Sexy’ wines. In this universe women seem to exist to hold bottles seductively whilst wearing very little which hardly reinforces their position in the industry. But perhaps even more problematic is the inference that wine-drinkers all in fact lecherous voyeurs, who will only respond to titillation? Are women to be excluded from enjoying wine as well?

An example of what not to do!

But there are signs of a new direction. One of the more memorably tasteless blunders from recent times was the #tastethebush campaign from Premier Estates – showing a woman (this time clothed, at least) sporting a wine glass placed in the style of Eve’s fig leaf. In itself this was a step in the wrong direction, but the shocked reaction to the campaign, where previous generations would not have batted an eyelid, was encouraging. The advert was branded ‘sexist’ in the media, condemned by Wines of Australia and banned from Youtube.

In a similar vein of progression, Côtes du Rhône’s most recent campaign advertising ‘un superbe rouge pour getting the girls ‘round’ appears to be celebrating, rather than demeaning women and their relationship to wine. The women depicted are appropriately clothed, drinking wine and having fun. Here Côtes du Rhône is advertising ‘everyday sophistication’, as something accessible, through wine, to women, rather than simply using the sex appeal of women to sell to men. It is a far cry from ‘Cuvée Sexy’ and shows how attitudes are evolving.

Côtes du Rhone’s forward-thinking adverts


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