Women are highly visible in the wine trade these days, yet they still remain remarkably under‑represented in UK wine clubs. London’s exclusive 67 Pall Mall claims (I think a bit optimistically) to have a female membership of around 30 per cent, while Jancis Robinson tells me just 15 per cent of her website subscribers are women. Women buy the lion’s share of wine in supermarkets, but you just need to look around any tasting in St James’s to see that most fine wine is still bought by men.
I’ve never been a fan of women-only events – many years in the trade have got me inured to being outnumbered. But a couple of recent experiences made me wonder if a few gender-specific gatherings might have a role to play in bringing more wine lovers out of the woodwork.
The first of these was a dinner at 67 Pall Mall organised by Magnum, an all-female club of 40 top winemakers, wine critics, importers and industry CEOs from around the world. The theme that night was women in leading business positions, so the guest list also included several high-flying oenophiles from the City, as well as a smattering of people like Sandra Taylor, a former head of corporate social responsibility for Starbucks now consulting for the wine trade.
Oiled by a splendid array of magnums from the members’ own cellars (Magnum events are strictly BYO), the dinner was lively, opinionated and fun, with a good dose of networking too – there were a lot of business cards flying around. I started to change my tune.
A few weeks after that, I attended one of the Women’s Wine Club dinners organised by the Stannary St Wine Co. Held in a private room at the stylish Cabotte in Bank, and guest hosted by Jancis Robinson, this intimate dinner for 16 required each guest to bring a bottle on the theme of Old World v New World. The stellar line-up of meursaults and Californian Pinot Noirs that resulted was served, over dinner, in a series of tasting flights designed to highlight varietals, styles and terroir. For a bit of playful jeopardy, some of them were also tasted blind.
As I chatted to my fellow guests over the preprandial champagne, it became clear that most of them were already in possession of pretty formidable cellars. They had strong opinions about what they liked, went to the occasional tasting, but didn’t consider themselves part of the “wine scene”. It made me wonder if what I was witnessing wasn’t the emergence of a new way of talking fine wine to women, but to people generally. Next year Stannery St is planning a series of all-women wine dinners, but mixed after‑work drinks too. However you identify, I’d suggest you pop along.