Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Sisters are doing it for themselves

Heather A is distinctly stage struck this week, flushed with excitement and over the moon that she has rediscovered her inner rock chick. Abandoning the world of wine, she is heading off on tour, including a night at The Royal Albert Hall singing with The Soldiers. Yes, Heather A is one of the many women - and some men - who sing with Rock Choir.

This Surrey based organization, started by Farnham girl Caroline Redman-Lusher, is phenomenally successful and spreading like wildfire throughout the home counties because it is fun, non-competitive, friendly and has an all-important physical and mental feel good factor. In short, it has soul!

Rock Choir is just one of a number of organizations currently on the rise that appeals specifically to women. Recently both Heathers came across a couple of networking companies that aim to entertain, amuse and empower women. Hens Dancing founder Gill Bentham has given a modern, more edgy slant to what the Women’s Institute was and still is to many women, but without the emphasis on jam-making. The Athena Network, with branches across Surrey and the UK, is one of a host of networking groups which have sprung up of late aimed at connecting business women. What all these organizations have in common is harnessing and capitalizing on the power of women when they come together: socially, creatively and commercially.

According to Dorothy Mackenzie, co-founder of brand strategy company Dragon Rouge, we need to wake up to "Womanomics". The concept is based on the fact that the 45-plus aged women is the fastest growing section of the population and, therefore, is becoming increasingly important in terms of consumer marketing. They have a large contribution to make in the workplace - and money to spend. Savvy retailers are taking notice and starting to direct fashion and products to the grown-up woman.

All very interesting, but what, pray, has this to do with wine? Wine, too, used to be very much a man's world: horny-handed men of the soil made it and pin-stripe suited men sold it, mostly to other men. And men in the press and elsewhere told the rest of us which were the wines and vintages to lay down in the cellar. And, sorry to have to bring this up, we've all come across wine bores over the years – and they don't generally wear skirts!

But now sisters are doing it for themselves in all aspects of wine.

There are female château-owners and female wine-makers showing that you don't need highly-developed biceps to make great wine. And that pinnacle of achievement in wine knowledge, the fiendishly difficult Master of Wine qualification, once a woman-free zone for nearly 30 years of its 50-odd year history, is now looking increasingly pink-tinged.

We have not yet met many women who don't enjoy a glass of wine (could be the circles we move in). But perhaps most importantly of all, women hold the purse strings when it comes to buying wine in the UK. Women now buy more wine in this country than men – largely because over 70% of the wine we drink is bought at the supermarket with the weekly shop, which is still, for the most part, the domain of us lucky ladies. Womanomics indeed.

But wine is not a feminist issue. Our wine recommendations this week may all be made by women – not because female winemakers need to be given preferential treatment, nor because they are intrinsicically better than “man-made” wines. They are just good wines that will give enjoyment to all, whatever your gender.

Women have been involved in wine-making for longer than you might think. Champagne can boast both Veuve Clicquot (the widow Clicquot) and Louise Pommery of Champagne Pommery amongst its most historic names. And Madame Lily Bollinger's legacy includes not just the delights of Bollinger Champagne, but also this charming advice on when not to drink it:

“ I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it — unless I’m thirsty.”

In the present day, Englishwoman Patricia Atkinson has written the fascinating story of how she came to be making wine at Clos d'Yvigne in Bergerac in her bestselling book, The Ripening Sun. You can get a taste of her wines at Majestic, including Le Petit Prince at £9.99 (£8.99 if you buy 2 bottles).

Stephanie O'Toole of Mount Horrocks in South Australia's Clare Valley has the daunting role of of being married to arguably Australia's best maker of Riesling, Jeffrey Grosset. They share a winery as well as their lives and you can't help but wonder what they talk about over the breakfast cereal. Jeffrey may come out on top with his dry Rieslings, but Stephanie's own Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling is a modern Australian classic – richly sweet, but with fine acidity. This and a lemon meringue pie or tarte au citron would be a match made in heaven. Wined up Here of Norbiton list the 2006 for £14.50 for a half bottle.

Half way across the globe from Australia, in what might be considered one of the most macho of cultures, land of the cheroot-smoking gaucho, Susana Balbo is widely respected as one of Argentina's best winemakers. She is responsible for the gutsy, red-meat friendly Ben Marco Malbec, Dominio del Plata, £11.99, £10.99 if you buy two at Majestic.
This is just the tip of the iceberg – the more you delve into wine, the more women you find! Tom Savigar is strategy and insight director at The Future Laboratory, a forecasting and brand strategy agency, with clients including Louis Vuitton, British Airways and Marks & Spencer. His conclusion: the future 's female friendly. Or, to put it in a more lighthearted way:

“Who loves not wine, women and song, remains a fool a whole life long” Martin Luther

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