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3-course interview: Leora Madden on Women in Wine

A wine education series at Pearl Wine Co.

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Pearl Wine Co. (3700 Orleans Ave., Suite 1C, 504-483-6314; www.pearlwineco.com) kicked off its Women in Wine education series Jan. 24 with Kristina Shideler of Arrowood Vineyards. Twice a month, Pearl Wine presents classes featuring female winemakers, retailers, distributors and importers. Leora Madden, who opened the Mid-City wine shop and wine bar in 2013, spoke with Gambit about women and wine.

What gave you the idea for the Women in Wine series?

Madden: Pearl always has had a focus on women in wine. It's something that's inherent for me because of the way my mother raised me. She was a baby boomer who really broke the norms and broke the molds in the '70s in her own right. I grew up being taught never to take no for an answer. Always stand up for yourself, no matter the situation.

  The idea behind Pearl was that I wanted to create a space where a single woman felt comfortable going to a bar and having a glass of wine by herself. That has been my goal.

  Last year, we had the (Wine Enthusiast's) Winemaker of the Year at Pearl doing a seminar. Her name is Andrea Mullineux, and she was born in New Orleans, raised in Palo Alto (California), went to UC Davis and makes wine in South Africa. I met her four years ago on my first trip to South Africa, and I was blown away by her. There are a lot of female winemakers that I'm blown away by, but she and I just clicked. Meeting her and understanding her weight — not only in the South African wine industry but in the wine industry worldwide — just knowing her inspired me.

  The third part is that I tend to surround myself with strong females in terms of my employees. I pretty much always have a female sommelier and a female bar director, and it's not on pur- pose. It's just that I think our values and our palates are similar. I think that having a large wine selection curated by females is unique. When I opened Pearl, I found myself favoring wines with a female palate or (from) a female winemaker.

What defines a female palate in wine?

M: Simply put, there's a bit more softness and elegance to it. It's not right or wrong, it's just a preference. The palate is a real thing, and I don't think people always take it that seriously. I think the majority of residents in the neighborhood and most of our sales come from women.

  I was in wine school the day it clicked for me that I needed to be in the wine industry. It was the day I learned that 72 percent of the wine consumed in the U.S. was consumed by women. That hit me like a ton of bricks. For our industry to continue to be market-driven towards men is not smart.

How are women progressing in the industry?

M: Traditionally, there have been a majority of men in the business. If you look at the publications currently in the wine industry, the majority (of people covered) are men. Only in the last couple of decades have women really started to come to the forefront.

  Right now, there are a few restaurants in New York — and I think there might be one in San Francisco as well — where the entire wine list is from all female winemakers. That's just happened in the last couple of years. On that side of the business, people have started to take note. I think on the distribution and importing side of the business, it's still incredibly men-driven. We're still outnumbered in retail ownership. We're still outnumbered in winery ownership. We're still outnumbered as winemakers. But people are starting to take notice of the differences and the nuances of female winemakers. I think it's a great time for women, particularly in the U.S., to say, "Hey, we need to just recognize how far we've come."

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