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Woman in Wine: Hungary

By Elizabeth Gabay MW

The subject of women in wine is often raised in terms of both the personal level of women working in a largely male world, and whether being a woman has an impact on the wine they make. In a round table discussion with four Hungarian women winemakers, Erika Racz of Sanzon, Kata Zsirai, Vivien Ujvári of Barta (all in Tokaj) and Birgit Pfneisl (Sopron), we discussed their work and wine. 

All agreed that with the growing number of women winemakers around, it is becoming easier to break into what is a very male dominated profession with Erika noting that ‘being a woman in the wine industry is not so unique anymore’ and Kata adding that it has become more normal. Vivien commented that seeing good women winemakers around the world has inspired her in her own goals. Nevertheless, first impressions show that many are surprised to see women winemakers. Both Erika and Kata say they are often treated as the marketing or sales girl while Vivien has found people assume she is just the cellar hand and ask who is the ‘chief’ winemaker! However, once people understand they are the winemaker, there is often considerable interest in their work.

Amongst winemakers, Birgit has also found that many men seem more critical of women winemakers, and as such ‘we have to work even harder to get the respect which we should get. But I think this happens to all the women working in a male-dominated job.’ Education, exposure and open-mindedness makes it easier to appreciate women winemakers.

Is it possible to taste the difference? In a blind tasting Vivien is sure it would be impossible to detect the gender of the winemaker, but all felt their contribution to winemaking is more apparent ‘behind the scenes.’ As Erika describes it, their impact is less on the wine style but more their contribution in terms of personality and philosophy. Kata enlarged this idea, describing their personality impacting on the choice of grapes, terroir, equipment and final decisions creating the winemaker’s personal trademark. Birgit expanded this further, feeling that many female winemakers have more respect for nature and the terroir. ‘I like to compare it with cars. Men like big, expensive cars and that is the same with the newest high-tech in their cellars. It makes them proud. Women in my opinion don’t need this so much and I think that helps to make more natural and terroir driven wines. Maybe we are more used to trust our gut instinct.’

So even if you cannot taste the feminine touch, all of these wines include a combination of skill, determination and sensitivity. 

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