Martha Stoumen, 7.12.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve been in the business since 2006, so 14 years. I started when I was 22, working at an organic farm and learning center in Tuscany where I interned in the vineyard, olive orchard, and small winery alongside an Italian farmer for three months. I loved it and from there worked around the world, apprenticing in winemaking and grape growing for 8 years. In the middle of this hands-on learning stint I went back to school to get my Master’s in Viticulture and Enology. I always worked on the production side of the business, so when I started my own business in 2014, Martha Stoumen Wines, I knew there were going to be a lot of new exciting skills to learn. We are currently a small but mighty team of three at Martha Stoumen Wines. I’m the winemaker and manage operations, Tim Lyons is the Assistant Winemaker, and Lorren Butterwick is the Sales and Marketing Manager. We are based in Sebastopol, CA.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Being in Tuscany, riding my bike through the morning mist to the vineyard or the olive orchard, joking with Angelo (the farmworker I was paired with) in Italian, sitting under the old fig trees and gorging ourselves during a break, and experiencing what an incredible assault on the senses transforming grapes into wine truly is...all of these made me feel like a kid. So when I was 22 I thought, why would I not try to find a way to do this for the rest of my life?
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I absolutely love the challenge of running my own business, but to this day, the thing that I brings me the most unbridled joy is making wine. Harvest starts in mid August and I’m already feeling a little giddy. Winemaking is incredibly creative. Winemaking is always the result of a lot of physical effort exerted by a team of people, and this effort creates a pretty incredible bond. Winemaking asks you to trust your intuition and senses, and challenges your human desire for control (especially natural winemaking, which I started practicing in 2010 under the producers I apprenticed with, and continue practicing today). Winemaking ties you to a place and time, and the seasons dictate your schedule, thus setting a rhythm for your life. No matter how my business grows I will always prioritize my role as winemaker. It would just cut too much joy out of my life to hand this position over to someone else.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I’ve experienced my fair share of men shocked that I can drive a forklift, or lewd comments about my body. I experienced sexual assault in this business when I was very young and just starting. This can be damning and almost uprooted me from the industry before I really even got started.
Lately I feel that our biggest challenge as women in the industry have been prejudices by omission: women in wine being left out of social events, left out of networks, and therefore left out of access to funding, business opportunities, sales connections, and the like.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
I don’t believe these above-mentioned prejudices by omission are intentional, but rather are a result of “like forming clans with like”. Men dominate the industry in numbers, and again, I believe this begins at a social level, where men are pals with other men and invite them to social events first. We all know that the wine industry is dictated by relationships. I think as women we can ask ourselves to take a step back during these moments, these “social crossroads”, and create social events within the industry that are intentionally inclusive of all genders and races. Larger organized events like Wonder Women in Wine and Battonage are great for this, but so are smaller informal tasting groups.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
As we better support women I believe we’ll see more diversity in the types of wine available to us as consumers, and I think we’ll all have more fun in this industry. I’m starting to see a shift from the wine world of yesterday being hidden in a cultish black box, with access granted primarily by males, to a wine world that’s transparent, provides access to anyone excited about wine, and is just more fun to drink within.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I would love to see the number of women head winemakers or business owners match the number of women winemaking graduates.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
It’s so much fun! Work hard and ask for support when you need it, and do not ever stop sticking up for yourself. Allies of all different genders are abundant, so if someone isn’t treating you properly walk away, there is another opportunity waiting.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equal pay for equal work, fair opportunities for progression within the workplace, and of course the end to sexual assault. These aren’t unique to the wine industry though. This is a greater societal hurdle we need to conquer.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Equality begins with fairness. I pay my female employees and contractors the same rate as my male employees and contractors for the same work. I hire both female and male employees and contractors, and aim to keep a balanced mix when hiring.
I am a woman, and I come from lesser economic means than many wine producers in the industry, yet I own my own business, so I hope other minorities coming up in the industry see that it is possible.
I also try to be aware of my daily habits: I make an effort to address both women and men in the industry during a conversation. I make eye contact with both. I ask both women and men for feedback and opinions. All of these small things add up.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
A wonder woman of wine has a dream that she turns into a goal, that she then creates actionable steps to achieve. She sees the long game and is highly determined. She is fair in business and creates allies along her journey. She also understands that to prove herself she does not need to reach this goal alone; blind independence does not equal strength, rather creating mutually beneficial lifelines with colleagues is a necessary part of achievement.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
I admire Jill Bernheimer of Domaine LA for her dedication to the craft of winemaking and the people behind it (and she’s just fun to be around), Deidre Heekin of La Garagista for her bravery to pioneer, her generosity, and her love of the land, Laura Brennan Bissell of Inconnu Wine for her determination and winemaking skill, Marissa Ross for her uncensored voice, and Amy Atwood for her business prowess. The list could go on, there are so many amazing women in our industry!