Women of Mallorca take the helm in the wine industry
After years of taking a back seat in the island’s winemaking industry, a new and powerful generation of women has come to the foreArticle from Diario de Mallorca published in March 2013. Author: Magdalena Serra
They are a generation of women aiming for the top and unafraid to win. With determination and a passion for their work, they are challenging established traditions to pursue their dream of conquering the world of wine – a traditionally male preserve in which you could still hear the old prejudice being articulated until quite recently: “This is something that only men can do.”
Pilar Oliver, Bárbara Mesquida, Maria Antònia Oliver, Araceli Servera, Catalina Ribot y Esperança Nadal are just a few of the names behind the current revolution and the rising reputation of women in Mallorca’s winemaking industry. In each case, their dedication can be traced back to a family tradition from which they have inherited their passion. Without the family connection, though, it seems difficult to make a breakthrough into the industry. In Mallorca, there are no women holding a managerial position in a bodega who are not a member of the proprietor family. Although there is a slow but steady trend towards women taking on an active role, their numbers are still around the ten percent mark.
Two of the early entrants who grappled with this problem were Maria Antònia and Pilar Oliver. Pilar realised that it would not be easy for her as a woman to get established, so she first acquired some work experience in France.
“Knowing that I wouldn’t be hired when they saw I was a woman, I used my surname Oliver, as this is quite a common first name in France. When I arrived for work on the first day and they saw that I was a female, it was apparent that they didn’t want me, but I succeeded in convincing them of my abilities and they even recommended my services to other vineyards”
Maria Antònia says that it was difficult at the beginning because of jealousy in the industry: “But I knew what I wanted and, with my honest endeavour, I made progress in my career, even though it was difficult to be valued as a woman and I was constantly having to prove myself.” One of the examples she quotes is the situation at international wine fairs where she was regularly treated as a hostess at the trade stand rather than a winemaker in her own right. Maria Antònia and Pilar were pioneers in this respect, and women who have since joined the industry no longer encounter opposition for being females but have instead had to deal with some prejudice for being young. Araceli Servera , oenologist at Bodegas Ribas: “Initially, they look at you with a degree of suspicion, but then they see that you are well qualified and know what you’re talking about, and from then on, it’s business as usual”.
Champions of equality
They are champions of equality and maintain that the mere fact of being a woman does not make them a better winemaker or grower than a man – the determining factors are the character and the skills of the individual. However, the experience of motherhood has convinced Pilar Oliver that that these qualities can be enhanced by personal circumstances:
“The two best vintages we have had at our bodega coincided with my two pregnancies; while I was pregnant, my wine tasting sensitivity increased and I detected things I had never been aware of before or have been since”
The women we spoke to say that one of the most difficult aspects of their career is reconciling family and work life, especially when the harvest begins, but maintain that a balance can be found with sufficient organisation. They do not give up work to raise a family, as their children will later become part of the enterprise. “My daughters as well as my sisters enjoy being at the bodega,” says Esperança Nadal. “We teach them everything we know, and if they wish to, they can help to shape the future.”
Pilar Oliver has broken many taboos; she still remembers the first time she gave a wine tasting course accompanied by her son in a baby carrier:
“The first reaction was one of surprise, because the people there had never experienced a similar situation, but I did my job perfectly without having to break off. At the end of the course, many of those present congratulated me”
As with most family businesses, the women recognise that they have to set limits for themselves because switching off from work is not easy. “Although I try to stop myself, I start to mentally review everything I’ve done during the day when I get into bed,” says Catalina Ribot. “More than once, I’ve had to get out of bed and go back to the farm to check that everything was in order or to finish off something that I was in the middle of.”
Well qualified and prepared
One factor that all these women winemakers have in common is that they have undergone professional training and have introduced significant changes that have added value. Maria Antònia Oliver is a true pioneer, being one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) Binissalem and the first person to combine the Prensal Blanc grape with dry ice. Pilar Oliver worked hard to establish Bodega Oliver on the international market, increasing exports and launching new wines. Esperança Nadal boosted the public profile of the family-run estate by staging music concerts. Inspired by her mother, Araceli Servera now holds the reins of the Ribas estate, increasing exports and quality by the careful selection of grapes. Like a breath of fresh air, Barbarà Mesquida is revolutionising the industry with her commitment to biodynamic agriculture; she is establishing her own bodega, modelling herself on the example of Catalina Ribot who founded Galmés i Ribotin together with her parents ten years ago.
Despite the major impact these women have had in recent years, they maintain that Mallorquín wine is enjoying a resurgence not because of their efforts but because of the great job done by their parents and grandparents and the drive for quality that began in the 1990s. They see themselves as continuing the work of their ancestors and are proud of their roots.
“For me, there is nothing more rewarding than using the land that belonged to my grandparents to make a product that we can offer to people while caring for the legacy of our ancestors,” says Catherine Ribot.
The women agree that the key to future success is in producing affordable, quality wines, giving prominence to local varieties.