Wine Women of Provence

You know I'm all about rosé and all about women in wine (seeing as I am one myself) so when I received an email from Wines of Provence highlighting Women of Provence, I clearly had to share!! So, here you go :-)

A Few of the First Ladies of Provence

Since the advent of winemaking, the cultivation of the vine and the vinification of grapes was considered a man’s game. Over the latter part of the 20th century, a few determined women quietly challenged the status quo to earn their rightful place to work alongside men in the vineyard and cellar. 

In Provence, as with elsewhere in the world of wine, these daring pioneers paved the way for a younger generation of female winemakers, cellarmasters and winery owners. Today, women winemakers are growing in numbers, creating award-winning wines, and finally crushing the gender bias in a male-dominant industry.

Château de Saint Martin is a Cru Classé-ranked winery located in Provence’s Var region. Women have managed the winery throughout its history, passing the reigns through the generations, from mother to daughter, since 1740. 

Adeline de Barry took the helm of the family business in the early 1990s, increasing the château’s sales and distribution, winning awards in France and abroad, as well as de Barry herself being decorated with France’s Cross of the Legion of Honor. 

De Barry describes her style of winemaking as “sensitive, a mix of tradition and innovation, based on originality rather than on moving trends.” When asked what might make her approach different to her male counterparts de Barry hesitates to resort to gender stereotypes. She diplomatically answers that, “I attach more importance to my intuitions and small details than men would, but I also have men on my team to try and listen to their point of views,” she said.

She holds other women in the industry in the highest regard and names Isabelle Fôret as someone she greatly admires. De Barry calls Fôret “the female pope of wine” and said “her knowledge of wine is as great as her sensitivity.” 

When asked how she would compare being a female winemaker in Provence to elsewhere in the world she chalks it up to Provençal art de vivre. “The art of living and the lifestyle are more casual than everywhere else so we are known for being more welcoming,” she said.

Régine Sumeire of Château Barbeyrolles was one of the first women to make wine in Provence. She has been the head winemaker at the Château Barbeyrolles since 1978, learning the trade from her father, winemaker Roger Sumeire.

Sumeire said her father taught her the “gestures and care of the vineyard.” Both her father and grandfather were winemakers and instilled in her a passion for winemaking that still motivates her today.

After a visit to Bordeaux’s Château Haut-Brion in 1985, Sumeire was inspired to create a rosé for Barbeyrolles, applying some of the vinification techniques used for white wine. Out of this experiment she created her renowned Pétale de Rosé, widely regarded as a fine example of Provence rosé wine.

In regards to being a woman in the wine industry, Sumeire said, “at the beginning it was harder to prove (oneself), but then it’s easier from the perspective of relationships and confidence.” 

Sophie Simonini-Cerciello has been the head winemaker of Château Barbanau for over three decades. Her great-grandfather was a vigneron in Cassis in the early 1900s. Subsequent generations moved away from winemaking to other sectors until her father inherited vines in 1970. He dreamed of returning to the business and the family bought another winery near Cassis and began producing wine in 1989.

When Simonini-Cerciello first started in the wine industry she was one of few women. In the beginning, she said, “I had first to prove my credibility. Now, there are many women in the wine industry, and we don’t have to prove any longer that we have the ability to do this job.”

Simonini-Cerciello also finds it is difficult to differentiate the style of a female winemaker from that of a male winemaker, but “that being said, my winemaking approach is maybe more with heart and my ‘feel’ for the wine,” she said.

“The most important aspect to me is to respect the expression of my terroir. I am looking to make wines I’d like to drink: well balanced, bright, stylish… Year after year I try to innovate with a vision of thinking different,” Simonini-Cerciello said.

Although in the beginning of their careers these women struggled to earn the recognition their winemaking deserved, they positively reflect on the experience and said they used the challenge as motivation to grow. 

“People expect more from a woman winemaker. They expect something different. So I always have to improve myself,” Simonini-Cerciello said.

Better With Time

A visit to Cantina li Seddi