This year, for International Women’s Day, we decided to introduce you to innovative, hardworking and fierce female winemakers that run some of our partner wineries.

The Story of the “Yellow Widow”

Madame Ponsardin takes over one of the most important Champagne houses

In the past, female figures from families of winemakers were not even allowed in the cellars and in the working rooms and, of course, were not involved in the winery’s business life. But at the beginning of the 19th century, things started to change. I guess you have all heard about, and maybe tried, the champagne Veuve Clicquot, right? Well, the iconic champagne wouldn’t be as popular as it is today if it wasn’t for a woman, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the actual Clicquot widow. Madame Ponsardin was married to François Clicquot, one of the heirs of the Clicquot family. Unfortunately, she became a widow when she was only 27 but instead of selling the winery, Madame Ponsardin followed her instinct and took over the business, a choice that eventually paid off because in 1810 she delivered the first Veuve Clicquot vintage champagne. The rest is history!

Jo Irvine – The Mistress of Zin

To celebrate female entrepreneurship and the success of female winemakers, we interviewed Joanne Irvine, the owner and winemaker at Lévrier by Jo Irvine, one of our partner wineries in the Barossa Valley wine region in South Australia. Joanne is a passionate winemaker who first got involved in wine production when she was only 7 years old in her father’s winery called Irvine Wines! 

“I used to run around with my Dad from age 7 to 12 before I went to boarding school, I was running around in a winery tasting wines, learning tastes, smells, flavours, sensations, and tannins, so I suppose my learning started early.”

Joanne eventually went to boarding school and served for 18 years as a theatre nurse, before deciding to go back to her family and dedicate herself to winemaking. She earned a degree in Agricultural Science in Australia and then, as part of her practical experience, she participated in several vintages in the US and in Australia before starting as a consultant at her father’s winery. A few years ago, her father sold his business and Joanne could really start focusing on the creation of her own brand: Lévrier.

“It was always a goal to create wines that I like to drink, made from traditional noble varieties in the Barossa, not just Shiraz, so I can help keep our Barossa offering diverse. From all my years working as a theatre nurse, I brought my “attention to detail” philosophy into my winemaking skill set.”

Do you know what Lévrier means? Joanne explained the curious meaning behind this name and why she chose it for her wine business: “Lévrier is part of my history, it’s a French word meaning ‘Greyhound’ and greyhounds have been part of my life ever since my winemaking career started. My first accidental encounter was with “Chilli” the greyhound. Accidental because I was on my way home from the Riverland and picked up an injured greyhound off the side of the road, took him along to the vet, thinking he wouldn’t be around long, but in the end, the vet saved him, and Chilli and I were companions for eight years.”

levrier by jo irvine amazing poster with wine bottle and woman with dog

The passion Joanne has for greyhounds is not a secret and it’s so big that she decided to give part of her proceeds from wine sales to the Greyhound Adoption Program of South Australia, where she has adopted all of her dogs from. Joanne said that this is the reason why “there is a combination of
fine winemaking and history coming together with my Lévrier wine collection as a complete desirable work of art, using the ancient mosaics of the dogs on my labels. My wines are named in honour of these famous dogs: Sorter, Argos, Anubis and Peritas.”

When asked about her fine wine production, Joanne discussed the wines that represent her personality and the personal story the most…and the ones you need to try if you visit her and want to learn more about her!

“Barossa Merlot is a variety dear to my heart, having made so many world-class merlots with my father. I knew when I created my own brand I would have to feature a Merlot and my current vintage is rated 5 stars and top of a category with Winestate Magazine, so I am glad Merlot is getting the respect it deserves.”

But Barossa Merlot isn’t the only variety she cherishes from her own production: “If I could squeeze in another favourite, it has to be Zinfandel, as my first major award was International Red Wine Maker of the Year and Wine of Show at the 2006 International Wine Challenge in London, for my 2003 Zinfandel. Some people call me the Mistress of Zin and my current 2014 Peritas Zinfandel earned me Barossa Zinfandel Producer of the Year at the New York International Wine Competition.”

Vision and determination helped Joanne open the winery of her dreams and her example can be an inspiration for many passionate female wine-lovers, enthusiasts and winemakers to step out and fulfill their dreams. Still today, women in the winemaking industry are less numerous and praised
compared to male winemakers, but thanks to women like Joanne, things might change soon. We asked her about her personal experience in the wine industry, this is what she had to say: “With my small batch winemaking for my clients, I have now experienced many vintages with plenty of different grape varieties from various regions, giving me a huge understanding of how each variety needs to be treated and I believe that’s why I am in demand.”

“During these years, as I have seen new innovation and special circumstances arise, so I have been able to work with locals to create equipment such as tanks with chilling systems to my own design, purposely built for small-batch winemaking. I am very fortunate to have made many great friendships with grape growers, suppliers and so on in our local community and to be a part of this is very special for everyone involved as our region has become so famous.”

Winetourism.com would really like to thank Joanne for taking her time to be interviewed and we invite you to check out her amazing winery Levrier by Jo Irvine and learn more about the Barossa Valley, a sub-region of the South Australia wine region.

Learn more about the winery

Le Donne d’Italia

Lévrier by Jo Irvine isn’t the only female-run winery featured on our website:

Visitors standing on the stairs and posing at Villa s. anna winery

Villa S. Anna is an all-female winery located in Tuscany and run by Simona and her two daughters, Anna and Margherita. The winery has been the property of Simona’s family for about 200 years and now it’s her turn to improve wines, control the quality of the production and serve clients unique Sangiovese and Merlot from the Montepulciano appellation.

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people tasting red wines near Savignola winery building in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

Savignola winery is located in the heart of the iconic Chianti wine region. The history of this boutique winery has always been based on strong female figures that made it the place it is today. Paolina was an innovative figure in Chianti because she was the first woman to bottle her Riserva in a Bordeaux-style bottle. Today, Manuela lives up to that strong female pioneer and produces luscious Sangiovese, Malvasia and Merlot.

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tenute pacelli photo of the amazing building and lush vineyards

Tenute Pacelli is a winery located in the Calabria wine region in southern Italy and is run and managed by women from the Pacelli Family. Clara is the head of the winery and has two daughters in her team, Laura and Carla. These three hard-working ladies produce amazing organic wine, such as Magliocco Dolce, Barbera, and Riesling, together with some very high-quality olive oil.

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The 8th of March is a great day to celebrate women and their achievements, but remember to do it every day!