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Femmes Du Vin: Changing the Wine World

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Not being a ‘journalist’, most of the stories I write are exactly that — stories and profiles of people and issues I find intriguing or important. This article ticks both those boxes and talks about one of my favourite topics: equality.

Falling into the wine world really by accident, once I was exposed to it I was hooked. The rest, as they say, is history. Or should I say ‘herstory’ since this article is about an organization working to advance the voice and careers of women in wine?

The organization is Femmes du Vin (FduV), a not-for-profit founded by Toronto-based Advanced Sommelier, Emily Pearce. She studied political science at university and likes to joke that a tedious job working for the government drove her to drink. The truth is that she’s always been very passionate about food and wine and took a few culinary courses at George Brown College that fanned the flames of that passion.

During a course on French cooking where the instructor was talking about bouillabaisse, “how it came from a specific place and a specific time, and the story of the fishermen coming in and you could smell the smoke, it was so romantic to me this idea…of a certain people and place”. It made Emily think of wine that goes well with the food, so she began taking some WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) courses and started moonlighting at a restaurant at night while still working for the government during the day.

When her contracts with the government came to an end she decided to follow her passion for wine and says she doesn’t’ feel like she’s worked a day since. Rather, “I truly believe I wake up excited and blessed to do what I love.” She has dabbled in various aspects of the industry as a sommelier, writing, judging, being a wine agent but is very happy where she is now—working on achieving her Master of Wine and Master Sommelier certifications.

In 2016 she founded FduV to create a safe and inclusive space for conversation, for growth and for collaboration to help women find their path and succeed in their goals. She had no intention of starting mentorships or scholarships, it was, as she says, just an ‘acorn of an idea’.

Emily began hosting casual get togethers. “I always thought it would be really cool to have people starting out in the industry, students, and people thinking about going into the industry having a glass of wine with a Master Sommelier or a Master of Wine or someone who’s been writing or judging for a long time. What have their journeys and paths been, what is the wisdom they can share?”

That acorn began in 2018 as a gathering for women in the Greater Toronto area where Emily and some early members would “set up a tent in her backyard and roll vegetarian sushi in the kitchen because it was y’know, cheap and plentiful.” In 2019 they moved to a more structured event with a series of in-person seminars. Previously attended by upwards of 230 women in the industry, this year’s session has gone virtual due to COVID-19. What began as a challenge quickly turned into an opportunity as it allowed FduV to go global in both its speakers and its attendees.

British wine critic Jancis Robinson MW, joins an all star list of speakers, sharing her experience in the wine business and her climb to the top of what has always been a club for predominantly elite male players in a traditional industry. Other speakers span the world, from New Zealand to the USA, and from South Africa back home to British Colombia.

“Our seminars will cover deep, thought-provoking and educational discussions with some of the best in the industry, including Jancis Robinson MW, Julia Coney, Pascaline Lepeltier MS, June Rodil MS, Elsa Macdonald MW, Elyse Lambert MS, Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly and so many more,” said Jennifer Huether, Canada’s first, female Master Sommelier and Director of Education for Femmes du Vin. “This group of speakers has never come together under the same program and by using a pay-what-you-can approach for attendance, we’re able to ensure it is both inclusive and enlightening.”

When asked if being a woman has impacted her career either positively or negatively, she pauses before wondering aloud whether her demand to be ‘perfect’ in her job is a result of having been passed over for promotions by lesser-qualified men, to not having her voice heard and to having to prove herself two, three times over. “Maybe if I was a man I wouldn’t feel like I have to do my job perfectly…or is that just who I am? I grapple with that idea. And then I wonder, has it been easier for me being a white woman in a sea of white faces…what if it was harder?”

For complete transparency, I am the Director of Inclusion for the organization and it was their focus on equality even and especially among women that piqued my interest. Mentorships and scholarships are such an integral part of FduV. “We want to create space for all women in wine, inclusive of age, race, background, ethnicity and orientation,” says Emily. “We want to see tangible, constructive change and we know that we can be a driving force behind that change.”

With a rock star lineup that is one of the best ever for a single conference it is plain to see that change is coming, and it’s coming faster with Femmes du Vin in solidarity all across the globe.

For more information about the Harvest Seminars, please visit
femmesduvin.org/our-events. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and proceeds will be put towards funding for education, scholarships and mentorship programs for the 2020/2021 season.

By the time you read this the season of Harvest Seminars will have started, but sessions run each Monday until November 2nd.

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