About six years ago, Deborah Brenner decided she needed a major life change. She ditched her career as a highly paid marketing executive and began exploring her interests in food and wine.
After a number of trips to California's Napa Valley and other winemaking regions in the U.S., she became curious about the women in the industry. She started interviewing a surprising number of women winemakers, winery owners, aficionados and experts, and these interviews grew into the lively and inspiring book, "Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women of Who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine."
This is a great book for people like me who enjoy wine but know next to nothing about it. The book includes accessible wine-tasting tips, food-pairing suggestions and a glossary of terms. For example, Milla Handley of Handley Cellars in California recommends sauvignon blanc when eating avocado, saying the combination enhances the creamy flavors in both the avocado and the wine. Handley adds that sauvignon blanc also pairs well with sushi, giving the wine a more minerally aftertaste and cooling the heat of the wasabi. Recurring advice is to not let other people tell you what you like. Brenner quotes winery owner Merry Edwards, "If you have a steak, do you let someone else decide whether the steak is good or bad? You taste the steak and you say 'I like this steak,' or 'I don't like this steak.' People should be the same way with wine."
"Women of the Vine" is also an ideal read for those who love hearing other people's personal stories. The women in Brenner's book are genuine and sincerely love their work, and their paths to the wine industry are remarkably varied. Handley's story of being born into a wine-loving family and competing with her wine-hating sister for their dad's attention is funny, but her first-person story sparkles most when she speaks of wine with the sort of poetic language that springs from real love. She's quoted, "A wine has to have a come-hither quality, which means that when you take a sip and you put the glass down, you want to take another sip because it's revealing itself in layers, so it's very feminine in that quality."
Winemaker Gina Gallo describes herself as "part farmer, part scientist, part chef, part CEO." Another winemaker tells how she went from studying dental hygiene to trying to make blackberry wine at home to studying viticulture and eventually having her own winery. There's also the delightful story of Stephanie Brown, founder of Divas Uncorked, a group for women of color who love wine. The women discuss motherhood, marriage, lucky breaks, terrible losses, struggles with discrimination and personal triumphs.
While researching her book, Brenner learned that large agribusiness interests were taking over many of California's small wineries. In an effort to support the small family vineyards and to highlight women winemakers she launched the Women of the Vine label — an assemblage of sustainably grown wines made by some of the prominent female winemakers in her book. Visit www.womenofthevine.com to learn more about the wines and the vineyards connected with them. I haven't tried the wines in Brenner's line, but I intend to.
As someone intimidated by wine lists, I often ordered the house table wine in restaurants, or deferred to anyone who used words like "terroir" or "tannin." However, since reading this book, I've been drinking loads of wine (research) and I've become more adventurous, trying varietals and local wines that I used to shy away from. That's the joy of this book; it inspires adventure and a healthy appetite for good food and drink.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.