NATIONAL NEWS | fall 2004
|Photo / Tanit Sakakini
“Divas” prove there’s more to wine than white and red.
Don’t call Stephanie Browne , founder of the Boston-based wine club Divas Uncorked, a wine expert. She prefers “savvy” or “enthusiast.” That’s an important distinction, since Browne and her Divas aim to knock down snobbery as they demystify wine.
“[Wine] is a pretty male-dominated world,” says Browne. “If you go back in time, women weren’t even allowed to drink in public.”
Not only do the Divas publicly sip, but they’ve inspired similar women’s clubs across the country. They’re also dedicated to ensuring that the American wine industry considers the tastes (and wallets) of women and people of color.
And the industry ought to listen, says Leslie Sbrocco, author of Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing, and Sharing Wine (Morrow Cookbooks, 2003).
“I would estimate [that] between 65 to 70 percent of wine purchased is by women,” she says, then adds with a laugh, “It’s just fermented grape juice! [Winemakers] need to get out of marketing wine as an ancient precious beverage.”
Five years ago, when Browne formed Divas Uncorked with 11 girlfriends — all African American professionals — their collective knowledge was limited to “red, white and white zin.”
They’ve since improved their wine IQ “a hundredfold,” and found that wine savoir faire is useful and impressive at business events.
“It’s an icebreaker,” says Browne. “You go from an unrelaxed encounter to a relaxed experience.”
This past summer, the Divas visited Northern California’s wine country, where they met with industry professionals to personally introduce them to the new face(s) of wine connoisseurs.
“The reception was wonderful,” says Browne. “They want to be like Spain and France, where wine is the beverage of choice, so they are looking to increase their market share.”
Currently, the Divas are planning their second annual wine conference, “Wine, Women and…,” which will be held at Boston’s Seaport Hotel in early 2005. The first conference featured workshops, tastings and speakers such as Andrea Immer, one of just 11 female master sommeliers in the world.
They’ve also begun a program to annually mentor a young person of color, providing a year’s tuition at a culinary program and access to their network of professional contacts.
“We found a lack of people of color both in the culinary field and in the wine area,” says Browne, “so what better way to give back to the community?”
Nationally, Sbrocco estimates, only about 11 percent of U.S. winemakers are female, but women are coming on strong.
“Some of the most high-profile wine-making consultants are women,” she says, “and more and more women are getting involved at the upper levels of marketing. It’s a great time for women to be in the wine business.”
That definitely calls for a celebration, right off the vine. Browne recommends a little bubbly: “J Vineyards Sparkling Brut goes well with dessert.”
Sarah Gonzales is Ms. book review editor.