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A Conversation With Margaret Duckhorn

 | Published on 1/20/2010

Margaret Duckhorn, co-founder of Duckhorn Vineyards, is the Honorary Chair of the upcoming 2010 Grand Event.  In an interview with Carolyn Kourofsky, Margaret looks back on the founding of Women for WineSense and what’s happened in the wine industry over the past twenty years.


CK: What was the inspiration for starting Women for WineSense?

MD: Twenty years ago in the U.S., wine wasn’t seen the same way as it was in Europe, where it is part of the culture, part of family life, and served with food. There was a strong neo-prohibition movement that lumped wine in with all alcohol, as a drug. Many women whose family business was winemaking found that teachers were asking them not to drink a glass of wine in front of their children, implying that they were modeling drug abuse. The women of Napa got together and said:  “We need education, and an emphasis on moderation.”


To get past the negativity, we started going into schools to teach how vines are grown and grapes are cultivated. Then came the famous 60 Minutes program, about the French Paradox. Research suggested that moderate wine consumption was actually good for your health. That piece really turned things around. We could focus on the benefits of responsible consumption, and on the cultural aspects of wine as food, as part of life. The focus turned to education about wine, and into networking opportunities for women in the wine industry. As more women joined the industry, the organization grew.


CK: What’s changed for women and wine in the 20 years since the founding of WWS?

MD: Women have always played an important role in the wine industry, because so many wineries were family-owned.  As part of a family business, we were naturally very involved in every aspect of wine, from getting permits and planting vines, to harvesting and winemaking, to production and sales.  Today, we see more women winemakers, vineyard managers, owners, and CEOs.


The biggest changes for women have been as consumers. I can remember when restaurants never brought the  wine list to a woman. Women never chose the wine. That’s definitely changed. Today women are knowledgeable and feel more confident about selecting the wine.


CK: Why is Women for WineSense still important?

MD: Being involved in an organization like WWS gives you an opportunity to learn more about this complex industry. There are so many parts to this industry—agriculture, production, and sales and marketing. WWS helps develop knowledge, both for those in the industry and for women who just want to learn more about wine. Also, this industry has always been about relationships, and WWS offers great opportunities for networking.


CK: What would you advise a woman today to do to learn about wine, and about the industry?

MD: Wine is much like food: when you want to learn more you start focusing on ingredients, experimenting to find out what you like. You start reading, and talking with other people who have the same interest. And like cooking, you learn by doing.


If I were beginning in winemaking today I’d first want to learn where I’m going to get good ingredients, and that means getting to know people. I’d learn where to get good vines to plant. I’d develop a relationship with a grower, I’d develop a relationship with a distributor. I would stay small initially, and build relationships in the market.


CK: What challenges, and rewards, are part of the wine industry today?

MD: Many are the same as they were 20 years ago. It’s never been an 8 to 5 job. The growing part is expensive, and so is production, and packaging—barrels, bottles, cork, labels, and the costs of marketing and selling. And it’s not like making widgets, where you can produce 50 one year and, if demand takes off,  you can produce 1,000 the next. Mother Nature has the final say on how much you can produce. The growth of the entire industry is also challenging—now our competition is truly international.


But it’s also the most exciting, varied industry you can be in. You get to work with such interesting people. You get to share your product with people in a special way. You can enjoy nature, working outside in the vineyards, you can enjoy the process of winemaking, and you can share your wine at a meal. I’ve been able to travel and share my wine with people all over the world. I’ve been blessed to be involved in this industry.

Carolyn Kourofsky is WWS National Director for Newsletter and Website Content, and president of Excelsior Editorial Consulting freelance copywriting services in Rochester, NY.