[Duncan Garrett Photography]

Since Mary Ann Graf became the first woman in the United States to earn a degree in fermentation sciences (at University of California at Davis in 1965), women have been steadily making inroads into the once male-dominated wine industry. In the decades since Graf’s milestone, a host of fantastic women winemakers have added their names to hers in the history books, including Zelma Long, Barbara Lindblom, Merry Edwards, Sandra Belcher, Milla Handley, Eileen Crane, Alison Green Doran, Julianne Laks, Cathy Corison, Carol Shelton, Jill Davis, Julia Iantosca, Christina Benz, Margo Van Staaveren, Heidi Peterson Barrett, Kristin Belair, Celia Welch, Mia Klein, Melissa Stackhouse, and Alison Crowe.

Many of the women from that (admittedly truncated) list are still actively making wine—and winning awards. Among them at this year’s Women’s Wine Competition were Crane, who earned her master’s degree in the mid-1970s. After stints at Domaine Chandon and Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, she was named founding winemaker and CEO of Napa Valley’s Domaine Carneros in 1987, where her career continues today. Her 2015 Brut Rosé was awarded Best of Class and Best of Show Sparkling wine at this year’s competition, and her 2014 Estate Brut also scored a Best of Class award and 97 points.

[Duncan Garrett Photography]

Shelton gained her fermentation science degree at UC Davis in 1978. She made wine at Windsor Vineyards prior to establishing her own label; Carol Shelton Wines’ 2017 Wild Thing Chardonnay earned Double Gold at this year’s competition (96 points).

The above captures just a portion of the talented women winemakers who’ve broken through the glass ceiling over the years, and that list continues to expand in the 21st century. By this decade, nearly 50 percent of UC Davis wine studies graduates were women.

Women are making strides in the wine-judging arena as well, perhaps due to studies concluding that, compared to men, women possess a more evolved level of perception for aromas, flavors, and wine defects.

At the 2019 International Women’s Wine Competition, which took place in May in Sonoma County, Calif., 27 professional women judges swirled, sniffed, sipped, spit, and scored more than 1,035 wines. They awarded an impressive 44 Best of Class (BOC), 53 Double Gold (DG), and 171 Gold (G) medals. Wines judged were crafted by both women and men winemakers from around the globe.

[Duncan Garrett Photography]

Navarro Vineyards in California’s Anderson Valley AVA hit a grand slam with four prestigious Best of Class awards, two of which (2018 Gewürztraminer and 2018 Late Harvest Riesling) went on to take Best of Show honors in their respective categories. Navarro’s 2018 Pinot Grigio took home a Double Gold and Best of Class award, and its 2018 Muscat Blanc earned a Gold and Best of Class award. Additionally, Navarro’s 2018 Pinot Noir and 2018 Edelzwicker earned Gold medals. Husband-and-wife team Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn planted vineyards and established Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley in 1974, and next-generation family members Aaron and Sarah Cahn Bennett are now intimately involved with the family business. Skillful winemaker Jim Klein has been crafting impressive wines at this scenic property for more than 27 years.

The Woman Winemaker of the Year award was bestowed on Jamie Benziger of Imagery Estate Winery in Glen Ellen, Calif. Imagery’s 2016 Barbera took Best of Class and Best of Show red wine awards (scoring 97 points), and her 2018 Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Riesling captured Double Gold and 95 points. After achieving her degree in marketing and wine business, Benziger acquired a wealth of knowledge from her winemaker father, Joe Benziger (who established Imagery Estate Winery in 1986), gained valuable industry experience, and followed dad’s footsteps to become winemaker at this family winery in Sonoma County.

[Duncan Garrett Photography]

Acquiesce Vineyards & Winery in Acampo, Calif., captured four Double Gold medals (including two Best of Class) for its Ingenue (BOC), Clairette Blanche (BOC), Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc, all vintage 2018. Hats off to co-owner and winemaker Susan Tipton and co-owner husband Rodney. In the Rhone White Blend category, their winning 2018 Ingenue is a crisp blend of grenache blanc, clairette blanc, bourboulenc, and picpoul blanc from the Mokelumne River AVA (within the larger Lodi AVA in California). It’s beautifully balanced and well-structured, with green apple, a splash of citrus, stone fruit, and fresh crushed herbs swirling on the palate. Bracing acid

ity keeps it vivacious, and the finish never seems to end! DG, BOC (97 points)

Here are some of the other top winners:

[Duncan Garrett Photography]

Best of Show Sparkling

Domaine Carneros 2015 Brut Rosé; Carneros, Calif. This sparkling gem, a savvy blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, is magnificently floral with enticing yeasty notes on the nose. Showcasing a pinpoint bead, it captures the eye and is bursting with flavor on the palate. Rainier cherries, brioche, quince paste, lime zest, crisp apples, and leesy notes intertwine—wow! Complex and dazzling through the long-lasting finish. BOS, BOC, DG (97 points)


Best of Show White

Navarro Vineyards 2018 Gewürztraminer; Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, Calif. Expressive aromas of florals and spice waft from the glass with this extraordinary Gewürz. Classic flavors of orange blossom, lychee, Crane melon, honeysuckle, and a hint of gingersnaps come together like a fine-tuned orchestra. Brilliantly crafted, complex, and nuanced, with an extended finish that transports you to another world. BOS, BOC, DG (97)

Best of Show Rosé

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, Calif. A salmon colored hue and alluring aromas of summer berries capture the senses with this exquisite dry rosé. Vivid layers of fresh sun-ripened strawberries, a touch of spice, raspberry sherbet, and orange-scented berry compote; simply delectable on the palate. Bright and well balanced with a lip-smacking finish. BOS, BOC, DG (95)


Best of Show Red

2016 Imagery Estate Winery Barbera; Sonoma County, Calif. This provocative Barbera opens with a berry-scented aroma and juicy entry. Filling the mouth are rich and pure layers of Satsuma plum, boysenberry jam, baking spices, and integrated oak. The mouthfeel is velvety, tannins are gentle, and brisk acidity keeps it vital as it slides across the palate to a smooth and persistent close. BOS, BOC, G (97)

[Duncan Garrett Photography]

Best of Show Late Harvest/Dessert

Navarro Vineyards 2018 Late Harvest Riesling; Anderson Valley, Calif. The irresistible aroma is just the beginning of this spectacular late harvest wine. It’s all the dessert you’ll need! Mouth-coating flavors of honeyed apricots, peach sorbet, lemon curd, blanched almonds, and candied orange peel fill every corner of the palate. Richly textured with perfect balancing acidity from the engaging start to the glorious, dream-inducing finish. BOS, BOC, DG (98)


Best of Show Cider

Gowan’s Heirloom Ciders NV Heirloom Gravenstein Heirloom Cider; Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, Calif. Imagine sinking your teeth into a fresh, crunchy, Gravenstein apple: The truth is in this glass. Notes of citrus, subtle dried herbs, mountain strawberry, and Crenshaw melon join delicious lemon-flecked, juicy apple flavors invigorating the palate. Clean and satisfying with a creamy texture through the crisp finish. BOS, BOC, DG (95)

Congratulations to these winners and all the medal recipients of the 2019 Women’s International Wine Competition. View the complete list of award winners here.