Shining a light on Sonoma’s women-owned wineries

Woman-Owned Wineries of Sonoma County ( lists more than 40 producers who meet the criteria of having a female-identifying owner who plays an active role in the business.|

“During the eight years that I was helping to operate a boutique winery, I witnessed hardworking women throughout the industry being marginalized every place from sales meetings to the cellar floor,” says Amy Bess Cook. “I wanted to do something positive to celebrate their work.”

To that end, Cook has created a new website that aims to make it easier for wine consumers to find wines from woman-owned establishments. Woman-Owned Wineries of Sonoma County ( lists more than 40 producers who meet the criteria of being located in (or sourcing their fruit from) Sonoma County and having a female-identifying owner who plays an active role in the business.

The site was created by Cook, a wine industry veteran who helped operate a boutique winery for eight years. Its data is drawn from Cook’s own research, as well as that of others working to promote women in wine: Megan Glaab, winemaker and co-owner at Ryme Cellars; and Lucia and Jack Gilbert, professors at Santa Clara University.

According to extensive research conducted by the Gilberts:

Of the 4,000-plus wineries in California, only approximately 10 percent have a woman as their lead winemaker.

Of those wineries, a significantly smaller portion of female (4 percent) than male (47 percent) winemakers are also owners of their winery.

In California, the Sonoma/Marin/Napa area has the highest percentage of women lead winemakers (12 to 14 percent) while Southern California has the lowest (4 percent).

Proportional to their representation in the field (9.8 percent women, 90.2 percent men), more women lead winemakers (23 percent) than men (14.1 percent) are listed in the acclaimed wine reference book “Opus Vino.”

Clearly, it’s time to draw more attention to woman-owned wineries, says Cook.

Cook said that Cindy Cosco at Passaggio Wines on the Plaza has been very helpful in these early days of the WOW project.

“I think that what Amy is doing is incredible and valuable in that she is getting us noticed,” said Cosco. “I am particularly interested in her ideas about established female winemakers mentoring younger women who are starting out in the industry.”

“Women business owners are statistically more likely than men to face challenges in business endeavors,” said Cook.

Cook hopes that consumers will seek out new wines to try when they see the names on the WOW list.

“By putting your dollars toward their projects, you are helping to level an unbalanced playing field,” she says.

Up next for Cook is a subscription program celebrating female-owned wineries.

To fund the first phase of the WOW Sonoma County wine club, Cook is using the platform iFundWomen. “This program was begun by Karen Cahn when she experienced firsthand that women are grossly underfunded in venture capital circles,” explained Cook.

WOW Sonoma County’s crowdfunding project launches on March 1, aligned with Women’s History Month.

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