Aside from being one of California’s best winemakers, the woman was a babe. She was asking me if I had an opinion about why there aren’t as many women as men in the wine business, but I was staring at her fantastic breasts and wondering if each one tasted a little different, as bottles of the same wine can vary. I can’t say I understood the question, even after I asked her to repeat it while I marveled over the flair of her nostrils, her outrage showing in the way she was nearly breathing fire. Her neck was slightly flushed, the color of young Échezeaux, and I recognized it as a sign of an impending orgasm. She makes one of my favorite wines in California, but I don’t see how that matters. I asked her if she had any tattoos.
I don’t recall which started first, my wine collection or my collection of women. One collection I keep perfectly cool and locked in a cellar. The other is in racks all over my house. When women feel they are not treated equally, I share their outrage. I find that loosens them up.
Late last year, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Women in Wine Symposium held in Napa Valley. How could I refuse? Though I confess, I initially thought it was more about marination than job equality. Not that it mattered. In truth, it’s simply a venue for me to talk about myself and then cruise for chicks. Then I became interested in the question. Is the wine business sexist? Is it harder for a woman to achieve success as a winemaker, or vineyard manager, or working in the tasting room where they belong? Are women treated differently in a male-dominated field? God, I hope so, they’re just so damned delicious.
I only noticed recently that there are more and more women in the field of wine. I hadn’t really thought about it. Women in wine are like the Viognier in Côte Rôtie, they’re tossed in the bottom of the bin and crushed under the weight of men until what results is something fine, and special, and mostly about men. You’re not supposed to notice them, not when you do it correctly. But, now, suddenly, the Viognier wants an equal voice, wants to be valued for more than its lovely perfume. And, now, so do women in wine. What could be cuter?
The first evening of the Women in Wine Symposium I walked into a ballroom filled with women employed in the wine business. I was the only man in the room, though many had brought husbands. There’s a difference between husbands and a real man, as there is a difference between a Cru Bourgeois and a First Growth. I’m a First Growth. The one you had removed but then it grew back. The room was overflowing with estrogen, for which I am a Super Taster. Even blind, I can tell the difference between a ’68 Domaine Menopause from an ’85 Clos Zapine. What can I say? I like ‘em a little crazy.
I wandered around the ballroom and talked with several women, asking them about whether they’d ever felt discriminated against on the basis of their sweet, perfumed, warm, wondrous sex. One woman, a knockout in a form-fitting dress that hugged her curves like Mario Andretti in his heyday, told me that she had produced more than a few wines that had received scores from Robert Parker in the high ’90’s, but was paid far less than her male peers. I’m not sure what that had to do with it. She’s talking to one of wine’s greatest prose stylists, a man who could help her career if she’d simply ignore his hands coming out of turn 6 on that fabulous bottom and headed for the finish line, and Robert Parker’s name comes up? Perhaps, I thought, women might be more successful in the wine business if they weren’t constantly shooting themselves in the foot.
Yet there have been many women who succeeded in the wine business in California, women who changed the face of wine, many without having much of a face at all. I was standing in a ballroom with many of them, a few of whom seemed to suffering from red blotch virus, and one in particular whose limp handshake implied she had dead-arm. “Hey,” I quipped, “if eutypa, why not become a secretary?”
I spent a few minutes talking to a blonde bombshell about sexual discrimination in the wine industry. She’s very successful, and would seem to be the whole package. Leggier than an Eiswein in a dirty Riedel glass, she told me that she was expected to always be perfectly groomed, attired in short skirts and low-cut tops that exploit her sexuality because it’s still the case that most high-powered buyers and wine critics are men. “Works for me,” I explained. And I wondered how this could be understood as sexist. Dressing for success is as old as the oldest profession, and now, suddenly, it’s politically incorrect? I’m afraid, I told her, I just don’t get it. She simply walked away, and too briskly for me to get my selfie stick underneath that revealing skirt.
I was enjoying the evening. Wine loosens the inhibitions, and time was on my side. As I strolled around the crowded ballroom, sampling wines made by women winemakers, I thought about how women are almost as important to wine as men. There are 338 Masters of Wine in the world, and 112 of them are women, while nearly all of the rest are men, with several question marks. That seems about right. An almost even third are women, a third are men, and a third are all of the above. Can’t get more equal than that. There are 230 Master Sommeliers, and 32 are women! How is that not equal? That’s basically one in seven—better than Snow White’s dwarves. And when you think Master Sommeliers, you think dwarves.
I spoke to one last woman at the Women in Wine Symposium. She approached me and introduced herself. She was a big fan she told me. She had read almost all of my work, and she recognized that I modeled myself after a great American writer. “I know that you admire and try to emulate Hemingway,” she told me. “May I buy you the gun?”