Wine is perhaps the most culturally symbolic beverage in recorded Italian history. Inextricably linked to Tuscany’s genetic makeup, the drink is one of the region’s oldest businesses, an industry recently subject to somewhat of a Risorgimento. In the last decades, international world-class varieties (especially French) have shared the limelight with traditional local grapes. In this shifting environment, new generations of winemakers have turned to alternative and innovative production methods, their focus set on sustainability and on reviving indigenous varietals.
Yet despite apparent advancements and the maturation of values, industry professionals have also faced a grim reality: though no other business has permeated Italian culture and identity with such consistency, it is also true that no other industry has excluded the presence and leadership of women for so long. In Italy, “women winemakers have always been viewed with something between suspicion and amusement” wrote Ann B. Matasar in her 2010 book Women of Wine: The Rise of Women in the Global Wine Industry. That wariness extends far beyond women oenologists and to women throughout the wine sector. It’s this inequality that heralded the birth of a groundbreaking organization 30 years ago: Le Donne del Vino, an association that is slowly but surely overturning male dominance in wine.
Le Donne del Vino was established in Florence on March 19, 1988, a group of roughly 70 women led by one of four original associates, Elisabetta Tognana. In what was then an even more male-dominated industry, the women officially presented their association at the 21st edition of Verona's wine trade fair Vinitaly. The act of female solidarity “roused smiles,” as current president Donatella Cinelli Colombini recalls, “as if to say, what could these women possibly be?” A model for the surfacing of similar organizations all over Europe, today Le Donne del Vino is the largest women’s wine organization in the world.