Book Review: “Women of the Vine”

Women of the Vine” promises to “connect with today’s women in the wine industry, whose passions dictate how they lead their lives, how they fight adversity and conquer gender stereotypes in an often male-dominated workplace.” By presenting 20 women involved in the wine industry, author Deborah Brenner had a golden chance to paint a clear picture of their struggles.

Instead, the overwhelmingly positive spin she puts on the women’s stories leaves readers wondering how much “adversity” her subjects have actually faced.

The author’s 10-page profiles of female winemakers, marketing directors and sommeliers are far too brief to fully illustrate each woman’s character, personal challenges and opinions. The chapters read like fluffy magazine articles, and after a dozen or so, the stories start to sound the same.

Lack of geographical diversity in Brenner’s interviewee choices can certainly be faulted here. Despite the book’s call to take us “inside the world of women who make, taste and enjoy wine,” all of the women in the book work in the US wine industry — and all of the winemakers in California.

On the positive side, Brenner does make a sincere effort to engage her readers’ interest in wine and winemaking. Her 14-page introduction, “From Wine to Vine,” defines winemakers’ jobs clearly and concisely, and the 7-page glossary will be useful to those unfamiliar with wine terminology.

She also clearly believes in drinking and reading, which we can all agree is preferable to drinking and driving. By the end of the first chapter, the reader has already been encouraged at least four times to enjoy a glass of good wine while perusing the pages. Feel free to chalk up any incoherency in this review to my having taken her sound advice!

Seriously, while examining Brenner’s 20 upbeat success stories, I wondered if she had unearthed any less-inspiring tales. Where were the women who had fought tooth and nail to break through the glass ceiling? Where were those who had faced blatant sexism? Although some of the women interviewed admit to keeping an eye out for stereotypes, they appear to have rarely — if ever — suffered from them.

Rather than bringing any depressing negativity into her book, Brenner prefers a chirpy, “you can do it,” tone, and goes so far as to emphasize insipid details which, ironically, could be construed as sexist. Thus we learn, in a sidebar, how winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett dresses for work and her attitude about make-up. ” ‘We…need to look good because we are women. I usually wear lipstick,’ Heidi laughs. ‘I do!’” Should we care?

If reading a book about successful women in the wine industry will “empower” you to drink or buy more wine, you are clearly part of Brenner’s target audience and this could be the book for you. But if you are looking for an in-depth analysis of gender issues in the wine industry, skip “Women of the Vine.”

This book was sent to the writer as a review copy.

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Reader Comments

Louisa Thomas Hargrave, founding mother of the Long Island (NY) Wine Country, wrote a wonderfully frank and, sometimes, painful memoir about her efforts. “The Vineyard: A Memoir” tells it like it is - there is no fluff here.