Food & DrinkJK Wine

JK Wine: Women in Wine Are Hard to Find

A hand holds two bottles of wine in front of a Chinese food restaurant
Kara and Jerry’s two selections paired with food from China Bowl. (Photo by Kara Daly)

It’s Women’s History Month and we had to work a little harder than we’d like to admit to find a Charlotte wine bar owned solely by a woman. The good news is that our quest led us to a little gem in Dilworth called Mere’s, where Meredith herself took us further into our search for wines made and imported by women. Again, the choices were few and far between, and looking at the wine aisle in terms of gendered leadership was kind of disturbing. 

It’s striking that 59% of wine drinkers are women, yet only four out of 31 Charlotte wine bars are women-owned. Here’s another eyebrow-raising statistic for you: 60% of Viticulture and Enology graduates at University of California, Davis are women, but women only make up 14% of winemakers in California.

What’s more, 80% of winery CEOs are men, and female winery CEOs make 50 cents to the man’s dollar. That’s an average statistic for all women, and we know that women of color make less. The list goes on — not the wine list, unfortunately. 

We want to make something clear: the bottles we chose to write about weren’t chosen for the novelty of the month. We drink these wines throughout the year and look to the people behind them as forces to be reckoned with. And the fact that they’re among the few female-driven finds in one of North Carolina’s fastest-growing cities is perhaps the reason we need a month at all.

The wines

Mary Taylor’s labels are pleasing to the eye. Like a poem that knows exactly what to do with white space, her labels serve an important purpose: to stitch a common thread through the appellation wines of Europe. Her French wines just might be in your budget. Her minimalist labels showcase the names of the place, a hint for the reader that says: what’s inside is about way more than just the grape.

We picked her anjou blanc, a delightful white from the Loire Valley that has us rattling off garden visuals from our childhood…The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland playing croquet, Bambi meeting Flowers.

Also open and decanting on the coffee table is the Red Tail Ridge pinot noir made by James Beard nominated winemaker Dr. Nancy Irelan. Her work in the Finger Lakes region of New York is really exciting to watch and as East Coast dwellers, we should all feel proud to live in the same time zone as her vines. Jerry dubs Irelan’s 2019 Pinot Noir an “encore wine” — delicate at first with a punch of fruit at the end (very Jennifer-Holiday-I’m-Not-Going).

“The best mentors I had, in the beginning, were men,” Irelan says, “because there weren’t any women.”

Irelan began her career working for Gallo wines in 1994 before purchasing a plot of land on New York’s Seneca Lake in 2004. In 2007, she released her first pinot noir. She considers her pinot to be stylistically closer to a Spätburgunder (German pinot noir) than a new world style, due to climate.

“The Finger Lakes is the last cool climate region in the U.S. that presents a new world wine in an old world fashion,” Irelan says. 

A plate of Chinese food next to two bottles of wine
Kara and Jerry found the wines paired well with General Tso’s chicken and crab Rangoon. (Photo by Kara Daly)

To pair with our two wines, we chose Chinese food because…why not? The wines are light, the mood is right, and we might as well have some General Tso’s chicken tonight. Plus, China Bowl on The Plaza makes a bangin’ sesame tofu. People typically go for riesling with Asian food, but why stop there? Asia is vast — the wine pairings should be too. Think about Anjou blanc (alright, we’ll tell you the grape: chenin blanc) in terms of how you might think of a garnish. It offers honeysuckle and fruit to the heat of the General Tso’s chicken. A delicate touch, yet the dish wouldn’t be the same without it. The pinot noir brings a lovely rhubarb flavor to the lo mein and Kara’s favorite: Crab Rangoon.

Some nights, the wine is just a wine: perfect on the couch with Chinese takeout. Other times, wine is a way to notice the world around you.

“Women in wine” is a talking point that comes up all the time … but the numbers still aren’t adding up. So what are we to do about it? If you love wine enough to read about it, you might look up (or ask) who made the wine you’re drinking. Look for the bars, importers, wineries and publications that are run and operated by women, people of color and LGBTQ+ folks. Become interested in their work. Listen to their stories, or just enjoy the drink. Up to you.

Kara Daly is a wine writer and educator who hosts private wine tastings for Charlotte residents. Jerry Chandler is a beverage program consultant for local restaurants by day and a wine bartender by night. JK Wine is the duo’s new Queen City Nerve column, in which they’ll seek out hidden gems in Charlotte’s wine scene and the food that pairs well with each bottle. Follow Kara on IG @wineisconfusing and Jerry @runswithbottles.


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