To celebrate International Women’s Day we meet with
four movers and shakers in our burgeoning local wine scene.

Here they share their secrets on smashing the (wine) glass ceiling;
why balancing health with hedonism is the next big trend,
and what and where in the world of wine you should be
drinking and exploring this year.

The wine industry should be a matriarchal society. It’s been scientifically proven that women are not only better at tasting; they purchase and enjoy more wine than men. According to Drink Aware in 2021, 37% of adult women in Great Britain drank wine at home with 15% enjoying wine at the pub, compared to 32% and 11% for adult men respectively.

Yet the traditional world of wine is still broadly a boy’s club, an intimidating arena to face when you may be the only woman at a wine event. The wine industry is not unique when it comes to bias and traditional structures, however the wine tanker is slowly turning – the gap between the number of male and female Masters of Wine is closing and more women sommeliers hold senior positions in top restaurants. Change is afoot and the UK is one of the key wine regions in the world leading the charge. With a relatively equal split between men and women working in the wine sector, the UK is now one of the most exciting wine scenes for diversity and inclusion.

Meet our Trailblazers

Queena Wong
Founder, Curious Vines

Queena is renowned for championing diversity in wine, supporting and connecting women in the wine industry sphere, as well as consumers and collectors.

A trailblazing female collector with a love for champagne, Queena was recently inducted as Dame Chevalier into the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.

In July 2022 Queena was listed in CODE’s 100 Most Influential Women in Hospitality and her pioneering Master of Wine Support Programme is a ground-breaking example of her commitment to women in wine.

Beatrice Bessi
Head Sommelier, Chiltern Firehouse

As Wine Director at one of London’s most celebrated restaurants, Beatrice is currently an Advanced Sommelier at the Court of Master Sommeliers and a candidate for the notoriously demanding Master Sommelier exam.

A single mother, Beatrice is a leading light for women sommeliers worldwide.

Sarah Abbott MW
Director, Swirl Wine Group & Co-founder, The Old Vine Conference

As one of just over 400 Masters of Wine in the world, Sarah is prolific in her interests within the wine industry.

As a head judge at the annual IWSC, the world’s largest wine competition, she has been a stalwart for nurturing heritage vineyards and emerging wine regions,

A finalist in the Louis Roederer wine writing competition, Sarah also co-authored the Burgundy section of the award-winning wine guide, ‘The Wine Opus’.

Wendy Outhwaite
Co-founder of Ambriel Sparkling

Having swapped life as a barrister to become a winemaker, Wendy is a force of nature when it comes to her passion for English wines.

When Wendy is not tending to her precious vines and award-winning Ambriel sparkling wine, she is a director on the board of WineGB, the national association for the English and Welsh wine industry.

Future wine trends?

We are all far more conscious now of what we are putting into our bodies, and this has generated an interest in natural wines. Unfortunately, there have been some poorly made natural wines which have given them a bad reputation. I see consumers starting to understand these wines and no longer accepting faults as a definition of ‘natural wine’.

People are drinking less but better wine, a trend that is also leading to an increased offering of low or no alcohol drinks.

There is more pressure on costs pushing both the industry and customers to seek out local, or lesser-known wine, where demand may be lower.

The effect of alcohol on health and society is a powerful trend. It could be seen as a threat to wine, but I think we should engage our expertise in flavour, experience and story to reconcile the concern for health with the desire for hedonism. Sustainability will become non-negotiable for wine brands, especially at the top end. The natural and organic wine trend will continue as well as demands for ingredient labelling. Rosé beyond the summer could develop, and there will be an increase in ‘celebrity’ wines.

Wine drinkers are getting older. I hope we can prove to younger consumers that wine can be a rewarding drink compatible with a healthy lifestyle and the environment.

Now that we’re more thoughtful about our environmental and social footprint, our wine practices must also change, but not by greenwashing as a marketing gimmick. Across the globe vignerons have recognised the environmental cost of centuries of monoculture and unsustainable practices. Our modern, more thoughtful approach is better for the planet and for our wines. Younger wine-drinkers care about this, and we should too.

In England, Sparkling wines have seized the spotlight, but I see an increase in still wines in the future. Our warmer climate and riper grapes create fabulous possibilities. Winemakers are experimenting and are delighted by the results.

The influence and presence of women in wine

As a female collector, I usually find myself sitting at extremely gender-biased tables, often as the sole woman. This can be intimidating, or, worse, I have been ‘talked at,’ and dismissed. The female palate has been proven to be better than men’s and cannot afford to be dismissed. By encouraging women to enter into wine we can address the balance at the table. Raising awareness and building confidence by supporting women in both the industry and consumer spheres will help break the bias.

Options for women have changed since I started in the wine industry 20 years ago. There is still a lot to be done in terms of the gender gap – we are sometimes misjudged or underestimated. Yet the way women support each other is starting to feel real, our community is more united. There is an increasing collective of people, both men and women, that understand how change can only make our industry healthier.

Working in wine has been a gift. There are challenges, of course, most industries are male dominated. Long established wine regions tend to be more traditional in their view of gender roles. Younger wine regions, such as England, are more open to women taking on technical roles, and notable for the number of women making many of our acclaimed wines.

Representation is vital in developing diverse talent, and a resilient industry, but it shouldn’t be surprising what women can achieve. Representation of women in the commercial C-suite in wine is still low. As an industry we don’t have the big players coming together to create the type of diversity and talent programmes you see in other sectors.

In both my careers I have been outnumbered by men – but that hasn’t bother me in the least. Nevertheless, I have loved seeing more women in wineries and vineyards, as well as MWs, wine critics, wine journalists, and wine judges. It used to be just Jancis Robinson – but now, wherever you look, there’s a sipster! I think the wine world in the past may have been a little stuffy – but now it’s a more vibrant, welcoming community.

Favourite UK wine regions?

Oxfordshire is the furthest inland you can be in southern England and offers low humidity during the ripening season, helping the grapes stay free of any issues that force many wineries to pick earlier before reaching full ripeness. The rolling Chiltern Hills have steep slopes of chalk and the warm air at the head of the valley protects the vines from frost. I suggest a visit to Hundred Hills where you’ll be surprised by both the beauty of the region and quality of the wines.

I have been impressed by the still wines from Essex (Danbury Ridge is a leader here). And Wales: I hear that there are several dynamic young producers there. English still wine is very exciting, and that’s not just down to ‘climate change’, but to many years of research and improvement in viticulture, training and ambition.

While there is a bit of a buzz around Crouch Valley in Essex, I’m expecting new vineyards to be planted on the warmer soils in the south. Originally, English vineyards for sparkling wines looked for chalk soils, but there is now an appreciation for the benefits of warmer, non-chalk soils.

International wine regions of note?

You should follow what tastes good to you! It isn’t always a region; it can often be a particular producer. I recently had some cracking wines from the Canary Islands –the local grape varieties are unusually grown on their own pre-phylloxera roots. Tenerife also boasts the highest vineyards in Europe on the slopes of Mount Teide, an active volcano and the highest mountain in Spain.

It is very hard to choose just one wine region, sometimes it’s more about the best cuvée of the winemaker, or the best sample from a vintage. I believe one of the most interesting regions at the moment is Sicily. The array of wines, and its native grape varieties including Grillo, Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, are so exciting. A lot of established and young winemakers thrive there. The attention to single parcels and respect for nature is building the region’s reputation internationally.

Georgia! The origin of wine, the source of 8,000 unbroken vintages, the spiritual home of orange wine, and the homeland of Saperavi, the greatest red wine you haven’t heard of (yet).

Oregon makes the most perfumed, delicious Pinot Noirs. They have a purity of fruit which is mouth-watering. I admire the wines enormously, and you can’t help but be swept along by the joyous enthusiasm of their winemakers.

The future of our local wines

The UK wine industry is at an exciting stage with climate change driving it. Champagne houses have pre-empted the quality rise of wines here. Taittinger has bought land in Kent and Pommery has taken up in Hampshire. The UK now has similar weather to what Champagne had in the late 1980s and English sparkling wine is not constrained by regulations which means producers have carte blanche to create the best. There is also the potential to make fabulous still reds as it becomes warmer. The next 5-10 years will see greater investment in England as we wait for our vines to age.

It is a great time for our local industry. Still white and red wines are becoming more exciting, whilst there is curiosity for heritage grape varieties and lost vineyards, as well as pét nats, natural wines and research for potential new varieties.

Now is a tipping point for English and Welsh wines. Many new vineyards have been planted in the last 10 years, and as they mature the production capacity is going to expand significantly. Top quality sparkling wine has created a reputation for excellence, but the industry must diversify to thrive. This is happening: still wines are increasing in quality and diversity and getting the attention they deserve. Wine tourism is important too, with the idea of going on a ‘wine weekend’ becoming part of the ‘minibreak’ scenario.

There are now 195 wineries and 879 vineyards producing 7 million bottles a year. In fact, grapes represent 32% of the UK soft fruit industry (more than blackcurrants, strawberries or any other soft fruit). I’m most proud of the fact that our vineyards have been developed sustainably and are nature positive . I also predict the growth of wine tourism. What could be more glorious than to visit our green and pleasant land, while sipping its wines?