Mind the gender gap

Taking a bottle of wine from a rack

Women have long collected art, they are also eminent collectors of luxury accessories and certainly of fashion, but what about wine? For the longest time, female wine collectors were the exception that proved the rule. Finally, though, women are breaking into this rarefied world. While progress is slow, there are clear reasons for this – not least psychology, wine styles and generational change.

A very male past

Serena Sutcliffe MW. Credit: Sotheby’s

‘The collecting world is the auction world,’ says Serena Sutcliffe MW, who started working at Sotheby’s in 1991 and rose to become global head of the auctioneer’s wine department until she retired from the role in 2015. She puts it succinctly: ‘Female wine collectors, a rare breed indeed.’ She notes: ‘The collecting world was 99% male when I started at Sotheby’s and has virtually remained the same. There have been very few women who built up wine collections in my entire auction career – a few powerful Asian women come to mind.’

Yet change is afoot. While Sotheby’s does not reveal figures, its press office notes that: ‘In 2022, Sotheby’s Global Wine & Spirits experienced year-on-year growth in lots purchased by women. This was driven by women collectors most prominently in North America, followed by Europe, then Asia.’

Figures from rival Christie’s show how small the female share still is and reveal different regional realities. In 2022, 10% of Christie’s bidders in wine were female, up from 8% in 2018. When weighted regionally, the west lags behind. Just 6% of buyers in the Americas and European markets were female while the figure for Asia-Pacific was 18%, despite 41% of global wine buyers now being below the age of 40 – a figure that climbs to 47% in Asia.

Véronique Saunders, president of Château Haut-Bailly

Experiences on the producer side were similar. When I ask Véronique Saunders, who became president of Château Haut-Bailly in Graves in 1991, how many wine dinners and promotional events she attended where she was the only woman, her answer is clear: ‘Hundreds of them.’ While this may differ in countries such as Japan, she agrees the wine-collecting world was almost entirely male in the past, but concedes ‘the feminisation of the wine world, at increasingly high levels, is a tangible reality, and it’s high time’. When I ask when female collectors first emerged, she counters: ‘Have they emerged yet? It is not obvious when you attend a collectors’ dinner. But if women are not yet collectors, we are seeing more and more women who are wine lovers.’

Tracking change

Queena Wong

There is increasing evidence, too, that the emergence of first Burgundy and then Champagne as much more coveted and collectible wines than they were 10 years ago has boosted female interest in the field. UK fine wine retailer Jeroboams reports that when it ran a campaign in partnership with Champagne Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle through dedicated, personalised tastings in late 2022, a third of the 32 guests were women who were already collecting wine. London-based wine collector and activist Queena Wong, who started collecting in the mid-2000s, believes that ‘the accessibility of Champagne to purchase, and as a wine about joy, has encouraged women into wine – it definitely was the first arena in which I personally felt I was welcomed as an equal’. She makes this point because her experience of the social world surrounding fine wine collecting is mixed: ‘In some (not all) circles there were feelings of intimidation, marginalisation and occasions of sexual harassment. If I didn’t have strong foundations in wine, I would have been convinced that I was unable to do it.’ Have we not all been there?

Michele Munro, wine collector and co-founder of the wine-centred private members’ club 67 Pall Mall, feels differently: ‘There are certainly more men than women who collect wine, but I can count my experiences of prejudice on one hand. They…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/mind-the-gender-gap-509751/

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