Women & Wine


Women’s History Month may be coming to a close, but these women are worth honoring all year round. Wine Enthusiast tapped these superstars of the wine industry to find out what inspired them to pursue their path.

The Grower: Karen Cakebread, Ziata Wines, Napa Valley, California

KarenCakebread.jpgAfter spearheading the marketing division at Cakebread Cellars for 18 years (her former spouse is Steve Cakebread), Karen decided to create her own brand, Ziata, named after her mother, in 2008. Her interests include travel and hiking (she trekked Mt. Kilimanjaro)—and viticulture. She has a particular interest in growing Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, and does it well.

Ah-Ha Wine Moment:

“Working crush in Napa Valley for the first time…one of my jobs was to collect grape samples for the winemaker. As I was walking the vineyards early in the morning, it was so peaceful and the landscape was so stunning…It also connected me to nature as it relates to agriculture. I’ve always been an outdoor gal so the wine business felt as comfortable as my old, worn-in jeans.”

Standout Moment:

“Planting my first vineyard and harvesting the first crop of fruit, which I helped pick. My second moment is the creation of my own brand, Ziata. I’m involved in every step of the process, from vineyard to bottle. It doesn’t get any more exciting than to watch people enjoy something you’ve made from the heart.”

The Winemaker: Bibiana González Rave, Pahlmeyer, Sonoma Coast, California

BibianaGonzalezRaveA native of Colombia specializing in Burgundian varietals, Bibiana learned the art of winemaking while studying in France—and has brought this deep understanding of viticulture with her to Pahlmeyer as consulting winemaker.

Ah-Ha Wine Moment:

“In 2001, I had my first serious winemaking internship. I was able to get jobs at Domaine Michel & Stéphane Ogier and Domaine Cluser-Roch…I felt like the luckiest person in the world. What I didn’t know was that only men performed some of the vineyard tasks…I asked Stéphane Ogier to allow me do all the work. After a few months—and many painkillers—I felt an indescribable connection with the vines and realized that my dream to make wine was a reality.”

Standout Moment:

“While studying at the University of Bordeaux, I became obsessed with the influence of oxygen on winemaking. The preeminent researcher in the field and the dean of the university mentioned that Château Haut-Brion was doing this type of research, but during my interview, the director informed me that the study was to be on millerandage rather than oxygen. I almost walked out. Fortunately, I took the job. Looking back, I couldn’t imagine my life without the experience of working there.”

The Sommelier: Alpana Singh, The Boarding House, Chicago

AlpanaAlpana’s vibrant personality and impressive knowledge of wine (she became a sommelier at age 23) attracts diners to her restaurant, The Boarding House, in Chicago, where she serves as Master Sommelier. She is also the host of the PBS show, Check, Please!, now in its ninth season, and makes regular guest appearances on Chicago Tonight to answer viewer questions about wines and spirits.

Ah-Ha Wine Moment:

“It was a built up momentum when I realized I was spending more time reading about wine and tasting than paying attention to my courses in college. I do recall the first time I was able to name the varietal and region of a wine blind, and it was an encouraging moment, learning that I could trust my palate and sense of smell and taste.”

Standout Moment:

“Without a doubt, passing the Master Sommelier exam was one of the biggest moments in my life. In order to pass, I had to turn my life upside down, move thousands of miles away from my family and dedicate myself to no other goal than getting those two initials after my last name. There were so many times when I just wanted to give up, but I didn’t. It forever changed my life.”

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The Retailer: Roberta Morrell, Morrell & Company, New York City

RobertaMorrellHaving served as President since 1985 and officially taking over as CEO/President in December 2012, Roberta has been involved in every aspect of the business, from marketing to purchasing and public relations. The 5,000-plus-square-foot wine shop is a New York institution that dates back to the 1920s, with four divisions and 95 employees.

Ah-Ha Wine Moment:

“When I was born. Growing up in a serious wine family, I always knew that one day there would be a career for me in wine. This is Morrell’s 68th year in business, and I have been active since 1976.”

Standout Moment:

“When Robert Parker referred to me as ‘the Philippine Rothschild of America.’ Early on I chose to see the wine business as a form of art, as well as commerce. All of the care that the growers take and the science, and savoir-faire the winemakers use are all part of what makes wine so special. I also believe there is a relation between the sincerity of the people making the wine and the quality that goes in the bottle. That’s why I love what I do.”

The Sales and Marketing Director: Jasmine Hirsch, Hirsch Vineyards, Sonoma Coast, California

JasmineHIrschRaised on her family’s vineyard, Jasmine’s childhood was spent among the vines. After a brief stint in the banking industry, she returned to her roots in 2008. Today she manages all aspects of sales, marketing and customer relations for the company, keeping constantly educated about each particular vine and wine.

Ah-Ha Wine Moment:

“What truly holds me to this business is my passion for the land, my respect for what my father has created, and my curiosity about the potential of our vineyard to make wines that every year are more expressive and true to our unique place.”

Standout Moment:

“A few years ago, I had an experience that shifted my perception of the meaning of wine in my life. I was sitting in the Kaisersteinfels vineyard with my friend Josi [Johannes] Leitz [of Weingut Leitz]. We were drinking his wine, talking about our lives and families and eating German bread and sausages. The experience made me realize that what I truly love about wine is the context—the people, the place, the history, the food.”

The Importer, Cristina Mariani-May, Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, New York

CristinaMarianiMay(3)As the co-CEO of Banfi Vintners and the proprietor of Castello Banfi Montalcino, Cristina helps make Banfi Vintners one of the leading U.S. importers of fine wines, while initiating research into new grape techniques and supervising the luxury hotel on the estate’s property.

Ah-Ha Wine Moment:

“Though I grew up in the wine business, I did not always assume that it would be my calling. But my studies in art brought me to Fiesole, and it was there, looking out on the Tuscan countryside and enjoying the lifestyle that values wine as an essential element of a good meal, that I knew that my fate was sealed.”

Standout Moment:

“Standing on stage with my father at the VinItaly wine fair to accept the Premio Gran VinItaly for the fourth time filled me with pride; Finishing the New York City Marathon, wearing the Banfi crest on my chest, showed me that great achievements are possible with diligent preparation; Being invited to speak at Cornell University’s Distinguished Lecture series proved to me the value of striving to be best in class. These three moments sum up where I have been and how I will get where I am going!”

Published on March 29, 2013
Topics: Wine Enthusiast Q+AWomen and Wine