Breaking through the glass ceiling in oenology

  • Right balance: Laura Catena, a fourth-generation Argentine vintner, physician and author, is managing director of Bodega Catena Zapata

    Right balance: Laura Catena, a fourth-generation Argentine vintner, physician and author, is managing director of Bodega Catena Zapata

  • California dreams: Margo Van Staaveren is general manager of Chateau St Jean in Sonoma, California

    California dreams: Margo Van Staaveren is general manager of Chateau St Jean in Sonoma, California

As I have spent much of the past couple of weeks watching the Fifa Women’s World Cup, my wife suggested that I write about wines made by females.

Few women would argue with the statement that their sense of hearing is far more acute than that of their husbands; sight is also different.

Males are more sensitive to small things and movement, whereas females are more perceptive to changes in colour.

When it comes to sense of smell — so critical in winemaking — we males cannot compete.

In a study published by the US National Library of Medicine we are told that females average 16.2 million olfactory cells compared with 9.2 million in males.

To make it even worse, I read that I might only have 3.5 million associated neurons compared with my partner’s 6.9 million.

Of course we males make many of the fine wines on our planet, but let me share with you some of the best known women that I know in the world of wine:

• Laura Catena is a fourth-generation Argentine vintner, physician and author.

She was born in Mendoza and spent her childhood with her grandfather Domingo at the family’s winery in the small village of La Libertad.

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1988 and received her medical degree from Stanford University.

In 1995, Laura joined her father Nicolás Catena Zapata at the family winery and founded the Catena Institute of Wine with the vision of making Argentine wines that could stand with the best of the world.

She is managing director of Bodega Catena Zapata and works closely with Alejandro Vigil and Luis Reginato to make the vineyard selections and blends for the family’s wines.

She is also a practising part-time physician of emergency medicine in San Francisco and splits her time between there and Mendoza.

Catena 2016 Malbec presents a deep violet colour with purple reflections. This microclimate blend of four unique vineyards offers intense aroma, soft texture and concentrated flavour.

Deep aromas of ripe red and dark fruits are joined by delicate violet and lavender notes, with traces of vanilla and mocha.

A rich, concentrated mouthfeel is highlighted by flavours of blueberries and blackberries with a touch of leather and cinnamon.

The wine has well-integrated tannins, bright acidity and a flinty minerality that provides exceptional length to the finish. Parker rates it 92/100 and James Suckling 91/100. $23.50

• 2018 was Margo Van Staaveren’s 38th harvest at Chateau St Jean in Sonoma. She was named Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2008.

During her long tenure with the winery, one of the most scenic that you can visit in California, Margo has played a pivotal role in every facet of the winemaking process and is now the general manager.

Chateau St Jean Cinq Cépages 2012 offers layers of complex aromas including black currant, chocolate-covered Bing cherry, wild mountain blackberry fruit, cassis and a soft, sweet earth note.

Nuanced notes of spicy jasmine and crushed rock are intriguing and add depth to the nose. The aromas lead to a plush palate with rich flavours of boysenberry, dark chocolate and black tea.

The full-bodied wine is refined with well-integrated, ripe tannins offering good structure.

In signature Cinq Cépages form, this wine combines the strength of the diverse Sonoma County region to create a well-balanced and elegant wine. Blend: 84 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 6 per cent merlot, 6 per cent cabernet franc, 2 per cent malbec and 2 per cent petit verdot. $75.

For a little over $20 you can also try her fine examples of pinot noir and chardonnay.

• Fourth-generation winemaker Véronique Drouhin-Boss is widely admired for her work in Burgundy (Maison Joseph Drouhin) and Oregon (Domaine Drouhin Oregon).

She has been designated by her family as keeper of the family style, the person responsible for making sure that all Drouhin wines emphasise elegance, balance and sense of place.

In 1987 her father, Robert, purchased land in the Dundee Hills of Oregon, established Domaine Drouhin Oregon and named Véronique as winemaker.

This began the Drouhin family’s commitment to Oregon, which is an important and active part of their lives. Véronique, married to Michel Boss and mother of three children, lives in Burgundy.

Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills 2015 Oregon Pinot Noir receives an impressive 95/100 from James Suckling who writes: “Great pinot noir that shows dried flowers, violets and orchids. Cherry and raspberry undertones, too. Medium to full body with an incredible polished texture. Ripe and round tannins and a fresh and vibrant finish. Delicious now but better in 2020.” $44.35.

• An Australian press release reads, “Sarah Marquis, CEO and chief winemaker of the prestigious McLaren Vale wine label Mollydooker Wines, has been recognised as Owner/Operator of the Year in the 2018 Australian Women in Wine Awards announced on November 16.

“The award recognises a wine business owner or operator who has made an outstanding contribution to their business and the Australian wine industry.”

Should I write about her Velvet Glove 2016 or Carnival of Love 2014 or Enchanted Path 2016? Actually, my most vivid memory of Sarah is having her introduce her teenage son; it certainly caused my wife and I to chuckle as he certainly lived up to the wine she was offering us to taste.

Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy 2016 Shiraz is dense in colour with vibrant dark purple hues. A complex, alluring and lifted nose of blueberry, dark cherry, caramel and hints of vanilla bean leap from the glass.

Powerful yet delicate, the wine voices luscious layers of fresh berries, black pepper, coffee and a finishing note of chocolate cream. Full-bodied, well-defined tannins provide the backbone, as the wine fills the mouth and continues to evolve with every glass poured. $58.90.

I have been fortunate to meet all these ladies and it is such a pleasure to represent a group of winemakers with such undisputed talent.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit

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Published Jul 12, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 12, 2019 at 8:15 am)

Breaking through the glass ceiling in oenology

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