Thursday, February 29 2024 10:33

Elevating Every Glass: Celebrating Women Leaders in Wine and Spirits

Written by Liz Tarditi

Another way of celebrating Women's History Month

The wine and spirits industry has winessed the remarkable rise of exceptional women who shatter norms and make important contributions to viticulture, vinification and distillation. Whether as winemakers, distillers, brand owners or entrepreneurs, these women redefine how we perceive and savor wine and spirits while infusing the industry with fresh, distinctive viewpoints and expertise.

Here are the stories of just a few.

Making a Global Difference

Cristina Mariani-May’s leadership of Castello Banfi is driven by a passion to introduce American consumers to Italian viticulture. Her innovations led to groundbreaking research in sustainability, which she shared openly with the greater winemaking community. And just wait until you taste her fabulous wines!

Try Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino ($77.99), a round, fleshy and succulent red wine, exuding black cherry, blackberry, violet and rosemary flavors. Or sample Castello Banfi Chianti Classico ($18.69), with intense notes of cherries, plums, violets and leather, along with supple tannins balanced by pleasant acidity. It’s a perfect accompaniment to roasted spring lamb dishes.

White wine lovers will delight in the crisp citrus notes and mineral salinity of Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi ($19.79) and the full-bodied Banfi Col di Sasso Cabernet Sauvignon Sangiovese Toscana ($13.49) with its complex aroma of ripe red fruits, spices and oak, plus firm tannins and a long, smooth finish. It’s the perfect pairing for casual pizza and pasta nights.

After emigrating from Bosnia in 1996, Indira Bayer partnered with winemakers in her New Jersey neighborhood to launch Wines of Illyria. Featuring family legacies, ancient winemaking techniques and indigenous grape varieties, her business has expanded to include sustainably and naturally produced wines.

Sample Wines of Illyria Stone Cuvee Herzegovina 2020, a blend of 90% Zilavka and 10% Bena, indigenous grapes reminiscent of Chilean sauvignon blanc. And try Wines of Illyria Vranac Herzegovina 2019, an elegant, full-bodied dry vegan red made from 100% vranac with hints of violet, wisteria, notes of blackberry, plum currants and elderberry. Both are available for $18.99 and pair well with charcuterie and cheeses.

Community Building and Empowerment

Founders of the McBride Sisters Collection, Robin and Andréa McBride make wines that celebrate excellence “one delicious glass at a time.” Founded on inclusivity, accessibility, social awareness and sustainability, their business has grown to be the largest Black-owned wine company in the U.S.

Their McBride Sisters Black Girl Magic Riesling ($22.99) is complex and rich with apricot, jasmine and sweet honey notes, a broad floral bouquet, and tropical guava and pineapple for a bright sunny finish. McBride Sisters Black Girl Magic Red Blend ($27.99) is a luscious, velvety, fruit-forward blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon with big plum and cherry notes and a hint of cedar on the finish. It pairs well with spicy, bold flavors like jambalaya, barbecue, smoked brisket and eggplant Parmesan.

The Art of Science and Innovation

The master blender at Jamaica’s Appleton Estate, Dr. Joy Spence holds the distinction of being the first woman master blender in the spirits industry. Her prowess in creating exceptional rums has earned her international recognition and paved the way for more women to pursue careers in the traditionally male-dominated world of spirits production.

Sip some Appleton Estate Rare Casks Blend Jamaica Rum 12 Year Old ($41.59), considered a true expression of Dr. Spence’s passion, with notes of toasted oak, dried fruit, hazelnut, dark cocoa, molasses, orange peel and vanilla.

Trudiann Branker, Mount Gay’s master blender and the first female master blender in Barbados, credits Dr. Spence’s influence. To see for yourself, try Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum ($44.99), aged in charred American bourbon barrels, with aromas of toasted oak, butter, dried fruit and spices. It has a bold taste profile featuring notes of orange zest, black pepper, toasted vanilla and toffee with a long finish.

Hendrick’s Gin’s master distiller, Lesley Gracie, has redefined gin-making with her imaginative and avant-garde creations. Tasked with developing a new, more complex and original gin, she successfully incorporated the essences of fresh cucumber and rose petal to set Hendrick’s Gin apart, blazing the path for a gin renaissance.

The success of this distinctive spirit has allowed Gracie to lead the company in creating The Hendrick’s Gin Palace, featuring greenhouses filled with botanicals from all over the world, including rare specimens personally selected during her exploration of the Amazon. Try her original creation, Hendrick’s Gin ($42.99). For a truly artistic experience, pick up Hendrick’s Flora Adora Gin ($43.99), inspired by the aromas of a flowering garden, rich in notes of lavender, rose, honeysuckle and hibiscus, with green juniper, coriander, wet green leaves and grassy chamomile on the long finish.


These remarkable women offer a glimpse of the range of talented and influential individuals in the wine and spirits industry. Their outstanding achievements and steadfast commitment to excellence are a living testament to the impact of embracing diversity and inclusivity.

Raise your glass to these trailblazers and let their achievements inspire a future filled with innovation in fine wine and good spirits!

More Women in Wine

The U.S. wine industry has many women leaders. Here are a few more vineyards to sample as you raise a glass to them.

Cakebread — Nicki Williams, Winemaker. Williams brings more than a decade of experience to Cakebread from some of Napa Valley’s most well-known wine estates, including Mount Veeder Winery, The Prisoner Wine Co., Franciscan Estate, Merryvale Family of Wines and Chateau St. Jean.

Dark Horse — Beth Liston, Winemaker. With a minor in wine & viticulture from Cal Poly and more than a decade of harvests behind her, Liston has winemaking experience from South Australia to Napa, and now California’s Central Valley. She pours passion, creativity and experimentation into the bold wines of Dark Horse.

Duckhorn — Renée Ary, Winemaker. Promoted to winemaker at Duckhorn Vineyards in 2014 after 11 years honing her craft, Ary refined her gifted palate and mastered the Duckhorn style. Her approach balances artistry, science and a deep respect for the viticultural side of winemaking.

Franklin Hill Vineyards — Elaine Pinvinski, Owner. With a mission to live off the land while raising her children, Pinvinski started her vineyard and winery over four decades ago as a single mother. Owner of the first winery in Lehigh Valley, she’s dedicated to supporting working mothers, both in life and in business.

Imagery — Jamie Benzinger, Winemaker. As a second-generation winemaker at Imagery, Benzinger has been on a roll. Named Best Woman Winemaker in the 2019 International Women’s Wine Competition, she was also included on Wine Enthusiast’s list of 40 Under 40 Tastemakers.

Iron Horse Vineyards — Joy Anne Sterling, Partner & CEO. Representing the second generation at Iron Horse, Sterling is CEO of the winery and is a member of the California State Food & Agriculture Board, appointed by the governor, and the California Coastal Conservancy, appointed by the state senate.

J Vineyards — Nicole Hitchcock, Head Winemaker. After getting her start at several wineries, Hitchcock became head winemaker at J in 2015, drawn to the winery’s focus on food, wine and the importance it places on the terroir of Sonoma County, an ideal location to craft the sparkling wines J is known for.

The Prisoner Wine Co. — Chrissy Wittmann, Senior Director of Winemaking. Wittmann came to winemaking in an unconventional way. After earning a B.S. in ecology and biology at Cal Poly, the future winemaker found her love for wine while analyzing soil and wastewater samples in a lab.

Liz Tarditi is an entrepreneur and classically trained chef with 35 years’ experience in the culinary world. She holds a degree from Villanova University and graduated with honors from the Culinary Arts program at the Art Institute of Seattle. Liz has worked for Fine Wine & Good Spirits for five years, becoming a Wine Specialist in 2020. She enjoys pairing wine and food for special events and celebrations. See Liz at the Phoenixville Fine Wine & Good Spirits location.

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