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Wine and Gender ©John Axelrod 2016

So much talk has been made this past year about gender in politics which inevitably leads to gender in music, particularly conducting, in that conductors are often reflections of leaders. When there are dictators in the world, there are dictators on the podium. When there are African-American and other minority and female leaders, so too we see both color and women on the podium. Today, Mirga is the name on most people’s minds, and Barbara Hannigan stretches the scope of conducting by both singing and directing.

Is there a difference between male and female conductors? Plenty of controversy has been raised, particularly by chauvinist comments made by certain male conductors about the distraction a female makes on male players, never mind how a good looking male conductor might distract female players? In my opinion, there are no distractions, only distinctions. There are no male and female conductors; only good and bad conductors. Same for players in an orchestra. The paravan may blind jury members during an audition to avoid discrimination, but in the end, everyone is seen as they are: a good musician or not. This is not a new phenomenon: Women have been conducting since the institutionalization of the orchestra. And Marin Alsop, JoAnn Faletta and others have helped to permanently break the glass podium. What Mirga and Susanna Mälkki have today certainly has been helped by those who paved the way.

Thus, it might be fashionable to focus on women conductors, but highlighting their gender only isolates their identity and emphasizes the differences. Maybe it has been a male dominated orchestra world, but today more women play on average in orchestras than men (exception the Vienna Philharmonic, who only recently has hired female players). Maybe women offer more maternal nurturing or feminine essence to the music making, but that does not make it any better or worse.

Better to focus on quality, on substance and professionalism. A good musician makes good music, regardless of their gender. Same should be said about wine and food. There has been many women winemakers over the years, some more celebrated than others. But they too have had challenges to be accepted in the male world of wine and spirits. And many have gone on to great success, known for the best quality. One wine in particular, the Foradori, by Elisabetta Foradori, is an elegant wine, full of red berries, flowers and mint, with uplifting aromas and an amazing structure and saline backed minerality. If you always wanted to know what the Teroldego grape from the North Italian Alto Adige of Trentino tastes like at its best without spending a fortune – then this is the bottle for you.

Foradori is one of the many top winemakers who just happen to be a woman. Her top wine, Granato, is arguably the top Teroldego wine in the world – it is a deep, dark, concentrated wine made only from her best grapes. However, because she is a woman, her wines are described in feminine terms: elegant, finesse, gorgeous, sumptuous, and so on. I think its better to just let the tastebuds do the talking.

Or let others. I found it helpful to share some published thoughts by some of the leading women winemakers. The parallels between orchestra life, whether a conductor player, and wine making are many.

In Glamour Magazine, Pauline Lhote, winemaker of Domaine Chandon has said: "The wine industry still remains a male-dominated environment, and as a woman you need to feel comfortable with and get used to it," says Lhote. "As a woman, I feel that you need to be a lot more convincing and persuasive to have people adhere to your ideas and vision, so it just takes a little more effort.”

Karoline Walch, chief winemaker at Elena Walch (Alto Adige, Italy) says: "I think the most important thing for being successful in this industry—whether male or female—is to really have a good understanding of wine, and show that you’re knowledgeable," says Walch. "Be confident in yourself and have a true passion for what you do. Those are very powerful tools for changing people’s perspectives and making inroads, whether in wine or any industry.”

Dominga Cotarella; the Deputy Director of Falesco (Montecchio, Italy) shares: "I believe the most fundamentally important thing for working in the wine world—whatever the personal challenge is—is to be credible. Know what you want to accomplish and know your stuff. The results will follow."

That is what every conductor, male or female, should do: Know thy stuff. No one cares if you’re a man or woman if you cannot give an upbeat or explain an articulation. But are there things a woman can do better than a man?

Cristina Ziliani, the Owner and Winemaker of Guido Berlucchi Wines adds another element: “While the world is still very masculine, women offer creativity and emotion, which without, the wine cannot be made—the technique, it’s not enough. Women also have a better olfactory capacity and can identify perfumes better than men.”

Do women have a better auditory capacity or, from maternal instincts, a better ability to nurture the music?

Women certainly know more about wine today than they did. The thesis of Felicity Carter, Australian-born editor-in-chief of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine, was that women are already the most powerful economic force in the world's wine market. As she pointed out, the US is the world's biggest consumer of wine and here women constitute 59% of all regular wine purchasers and 50% of occasional wine purchasers. She also reminded us that according to research company Nielsen, roughly seven bottles in every 10 sold in Britain's omnipotent supermarkets are bought by women. The same is true in Germany, the UK's rival as major European wine importer. So, the message is clear. Don’t ignore the ladies. It doesn't work in wine. It doesn't work in music. And it doesn't work in love. We should celebrate what a woman brings to all relationships, musical or otherwise.
Roberta Bianchi, Winemaker and Director, Villa Wines (Franciacorta,Italy) says the final word. "We added a woman’s touch—a woman who offers a warm welcome, enjoys making guests feel comfortable and believes in teamwork. Time is the main ingredient for the perfect recipe for a family company such as ours. You cannot become a businessman or businesswoman in a day. Instead you need to learn day by day, during every stage of life, sharing your father’s passion, love, work ethic. Each generation can and must do more to appreciate and build on the past, interpreting the company in a personal way, to move with the times. Generation agreement is always remembering that passion, respect, love, honesty, will remain the engine for the future. As I always say, 'From the vineyard to the cellar, the only possible way is the heart.’"

My teacher Leonard Bernstein had something similar to say: From the pen of the composer to the performance on stage, the only possible way is the heart, though love.

Maybe a bit more love, and a good glass of Foradori is all that classical music needs?