On International Women's Day, the courtyard of the Westin Versa in Napa Valley is a lively scene with people having a great time sipping, eating and talking. As you walk around to the 30 or so tables where wines are being poured, you don't see any men. These are the Women of the Vine, and they have a compelling story to tell about what's behind their own wine labels.
Deborah Brenner is what you would call a connector. She's a dynamo, and has managed to court some of the best vintners in wine country for Women of the Vine, a venerable a who's who list: Gina Gallo, Pam Starr, Milla Handley, Genevieve Janssens and more. It all started as she was researching and writing Women of the Vine, published in 2006, where she explores the contributions women have made to the American wine landscape.
While her book was successful, she wanted another way to connect with and tell the stories of these female winemakers, winery owners and grape growers. She came up with the idea to create a new wine label, Women of the Vine, a direct-to-consumer product. Many of the women featured in Deborah's book are making small amounts of wine and have a hard time competing with the larger wine companies for shelf space in retail outlets or getting their wine onto restaurant wine lists. Deborah's vision was to collaborate with the winemaker on wines for the Women of the Vine Marketplace, sourcing those wines from sustainable, family grape growers.
Women of the Vine is not a "no boys allowed" club. Deborah sees it as an inclusive group: "This is not just for women, but for all people who desire to pursue their dreams, take chances, and create the life they want to live. It is not about ratings, scores, competition, techniques or tasting notes. It is about the true pleasure of wine and what it means to so many of us." Deborah herself is in her "second act," having left a career in computer technology marketing. For several of the Women of the Vine vintners, wine is also their second act. For others, they are second or third generation family vintners. Following your passions is the common mantra.
To share the winemaker stories further, Deborah knew she'd need a partner to expand. She went to More, a lifestyle magazine that boasts a circulation of two million readers. Sabine Feldmann, the publisher of More, says that her readership is extremely passionate about the magazine, but they are equally passionate about wine. Thus, a new collaboration developed, the More Uncorked wine club.
Deborah and Sabine announced the debut of More Uncorked to a sold-out crowd of 250 people at the Women of the Vine event. The wines are all hand-crafted by women winemakers and winery owners. Along with the wines other benefits include special promotions from sponsors and a discount on buying more of the wine featured in the club shipment.
While I am not a fan of wines marketed directly to women, which I feel are usually dumbed down, I find that what Deborah at Women of the Vine and with More Uncorked are doing is something different. The club supports small family farms and wineries. The wines are not industrial products. here's a story behind the label, and most importantly, a soul. This feels like the right way to do it -- respectfully, intelligently and passionately. It's all about making those connections and building relationships.
By the way, Deborah has also registed "Men of the Vine."
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