A Woman’s Touch: 5 Women Vintners Changing the Industry

There is a theory backed up by serious scientific research that suggests women are better wine tasters than men. The research was conducted by Professor Linda Bartoshuk at the University of Florida, who discovered a percentage of the population has more taste receptors on their tongues than others, and more of those “super tasters” are women.

Paul Hobbs and Crossbarn, Sonoma - winery
Paul Hobbs and Crossbarn, Sonoma

If that is true, we can assume that women must be better winemakers as well. Despite the fact that most studies find only 10 percent of U.S. wineries currently have women in charge of their cellars, things are starting to change. The shift is largely due to the impact of the first generation of female winemakers, who made huge contributions in the field. That group includes Heidi Barrett, dubbed “the first lady of wine” by Robert Parker; Helen Turley, superstar consultant and proprietor of Marcassin; Merry Edwards, master of Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley; and other luminaries, such as Cathy Corison, Eileen Crane, Delia Viader, and Mia Klein.

The following are five women to watch in the years ahead.

Pam Starr | Crocker & Starr, Napa Valley

In 1997, Starr (the former winemaker at Spottswoode Winery) teamed up with grape grower Charlie Crocker to resurrect a historic vineyard in St. Helena that dated back to the 1870s. Their small-production gems include a stunning Sauvignon Blanc, reds such as Cabernet Franc, Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon, and a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc called Casali. She also collaborates with Drew Neiman on Bridesmaid, a line of Bordeaux-style blends.

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Pam Starr | Crocker & Starr, Napa Valley

Megan Baccitich | Paul Hobbs and Crossbarn, Sonoma

A native of Healdsburg, Baccitich grew up literally surrounded by vines. Since 2006 she has worked closely with the legendary Paul Hobbs to produce stellar wines from some of the best sites in both Napa and Sonoma. Both at Paul Hobbs and Crossbarn, she follows the philosophy of careful vineyard management followed by natural winemaking devoid of manipulative techniques.


Lynn Penner-Ash | Penner-Ash, Oregon

Penner-Ash was a trailblazer in the Northwest; after moving to Oregon with her husband, Ron, in 1988, she became the state’s first female winemaker at Rex Hill. The couple launched their own winery 10 years later. They make Viognier and Riesling, but the pride of their production is Pinot Noir, whether using fruit from Willamette Valley, their own estate vineyards, or a cluster of designated sites, such as Shea, Bella Vida, Hyland, and Zena Crown.

Lynn Penner-Ash | Penner-Ash, Oregon

Sally Johnson | Pride Mountain Vineyards, Napa Valley

Johnson fell in love with wine during a college semester in France and eventually became winemaker at Sonoma’s St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. In 2007, she joined Pride Mountain at the historic Summit Ranch on top of Spring Mountain. She works closely with the Pride family to produce powerful, full-bodied wines that display finesse and balance. Pride Mountain is best known for Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Reserve Claret.


Kathleen Inman | Inman Family Wines, Sonoma

Inman describes her role as “grape grower, winemaker, salesperson, accountant, and forklift driver.” She has operated her own winery with her husband, Simon, since 2002, and is beginning to hit the top of her stride. Highlights of the Inmans’ production include a Provence-style rosé made from Pinot Noir, a remarkably well-crafted Chardonnay, and a bevy of Pinot Noirs, including releases from her family-owned Olivet Grange vineyard.


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