The whole process of winemaking, wine tasting and talking about wine is a very man thing based on years of a tradition which in many instances excluded women.
Two new findings made people think again. Firstly, some serious studies proved that women are in fact better tasters than men. They have better natural palates.
Secondly came the realization that women purchase most of the wine in supermarkets, which is most of the wine full stop!
The breakthrough in the United States really began nearly forty years ago, to an extent that the exclusion of women is no longer an issue. In Israel things have taken longer. The hardest nut to crack was that of winemaking. Women are generally unlikely to take part in the actual winemaking in a kosher winery, as usually it is only orthodox men who are involved during the production process. However they could be active in the vineyards and take the same managerial role in a winery like any winemaker of a kosher winery
The pioneer in Israel was Tali Sandovski, who became a winemaker at the Golan Heights Winery in 1986 and then studied at UC Davis. She is the winery’s longest serving winemaker and for many years was the one and only. She is part of chief winemaker Victor Schoenfeld’s much valued team.
In the last fifteen years, other women were to pick up the winemaking route, each following their fathers into the wine trade. For instance, Naama Sorkin studied in California and Australia before taking over as winemaker at Dalton Winery, in the Upper Galilee, in 2002. Her father, Beni Sorkin is a very well respected viticulturist, who worked for the Golan Heights Winery for many years.
Another is Irit Shank Boxer, who is the sixth generation in a family of agriculturists and vineyard owners. She studied oenology at the Adelaide University in Australia and works at Barkan Winery at Hulda, which is the second largest winery in Israel. She finds herself working for her father, Shmuel Boxer, who was the founder of the winery and is the current managing director.
Roni Saslove has been participating in the harvest since she was a mere 14 years old. Her father is Barry Saslove, one of Israel’s leading wine educators and founder of Saslove Winery. In 2002 Roni joined her father at the winery and in 2008 she studied Oenology and Viticulture at Brock University in Canada. She inherited her father’s talent for communication and his passion for all things vinous.
The late Tsina Avidan of Avidan Winery was a wonderful person and a talented winemaker, who founded the Avidan Winery to fulfill a personal dream. Sadly, she passed away before her time, in 2012. However her memory remains in the quality of the wines she made, in the highly original names she chose for the different labels and the stylish look of the labels themselves. She managed to achieve some great scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, which is the ultimate recognition. Tsina Avidan, z”l, was an inspiration to women in every walk of life, but particularly to those making their way in wine.
Woman also broke into management of the larger wineries. The first was Carmi Lebenstein was firstly sales manager and later marketing manager of Carmel Mizrahi in the 1990’s. The first women CEO of a top ten winery, was Ronit Badler, who managed Galil Mountain Winery in the 2000’s. Today, two of the largest three wineries in Israel, are managed by women. Anat Levy has been the managing director of Golan Heights Winery since 2008. In addition there is now the recently appointed Dalia Sonnenfeld Mandelman, ex Strauss – Elite, who was appointed CEO of Carmel Winery in 2013.
One of the most prominent women in wine in Israel is Orna Chillag, not because the size of her winery, but because the size of her personality. She was the first owner-winemaker of a winery and always sees herself as a role model for women, representing women.
Mira Eitan was the first women wine journalist. For many years she was editor of the magazine Wine & Gourmet. Now she works at Carmel responsible for press and media communications.
Thankfully women feature strongly in all aspects of Israeli wine these days. The wine trade here is more complete because of their presence & expertise.