Happy International Women’s Day! To celebrate this important and special day, Drinks&Co have interviewed Marie-Caroline Rozier, one of the joint owners of Château des Arras, a female-run winery and guesthouse just outside of Bordeaux.
Discover insights into the (at least for now) male-dominated world of wine, the challenges of being a woman in the wine industry, tips for making it as a female entrepreneur and why having more women in wine benefits us all.
Château des Arras isn’t just a one-woman show, you also work together with your younger sister, Anne-Cécile Rozier. What’s that like?
[Laughs ] Not too bad. It’s getting better and better I think. Anne-Cécile is the winemaker who works in the vineyard looking after the vines, whereas I’m responsible for the commercial side and leading the enotourism tours. We both have well-defined and complementary roles so we don’t step on each other’s toes.
As a woman, how has your personal experience been in the wine industry in a male-dominated field? What struggles have you come up against?
Maybe I’m lucky or I don’t pay attention to these kinds of things but I’ve never had an issue. I started working in the wine industry in New-Zealand, where I never felt like my gender was seen as something unusual or problematic. Despite being fairly new, the men there really respected my judgement because I grew up in a vineyard. I was surrounded by plenty of women in all parts of the business, so this created a really encouraging atmosphere. This was a really positive experience.
As for today, I guess my main concern is what to wear. Women face a lot of criticism from men and other women for what they wear, and it’s really difficult to shake off this fear of judgement. If I dress up too much, I worry I won’t be taken seriously, and if I don’t do enough, I worry that it will disadvantage me.
In fact, my sister has been criticised for a photo of her on Instagram where she is wearing nail polish while pruning. Apparently it’s inappropriate to carry out manual tasks and look feminine at the same time. The really sad thing is that it was a woman criticising her. We all need to stop judging each other on our appearance.
However, I’m becoming more confident as I get older and I care less now about what people think of me. Nowadays I don’t second-guess myself too much. I trust my intuition.
How have things changed, or not changed, for women in your region?
Women have always worked in wine. Historically they were in the vineyards doing the hardest and most thankless tasks, but this work has often gone unrecognized. Even just 20 years ago, my mum, Claudine Rozier (pictured in the first photo), said she often felt like she didn’t have a voice, but the situation is improving.
In our region, I don’t know if anything specific is being done to address the issue of representation. We see more women in wine unions these days, but clearly not 50/50. In my wine union out of around 50 members, there are only about 10 women. Still, I was really happy when my local wine union actually approached me to ask if I would like to join. It shows progress that they are looking for more women.
But compared to other countries like New Zealand for example, I would say in France we are behind when it comes to women in wine.
What do you think should be done to increase the proportion of women working in the wine industry?
I think women should be encouraged to pursue their dreams and not feel like their gender is a boundary. Often, not just in the wine industry but in other industries too, women are made to feel that they don’t have the right to be there. Sometimes women put those boundaries on themselves because of their upbringings. But we do have the right to be there. We can ride a tractor if we want or do the heavy lifting. We can do anything! Our gender does not define what we can or cannot do.
Some concrete things we can do includes continuing to shine the spotlight on women in wine, in interviews like this for example, where the focus is on their achievements and not on their appearance. That’s really encouraging. We need to see images of women working in the vineyards, driving a tractor, and showing that we can lead a discussion about mechanical tools for instance and run the vineyard in all respects, not just being a pretty face for sales or customer services. In fact, if you go back 50 years or so, you’ll see that it was also women doing the hard manual work and looking after the children most of the time.
Also it helps to be honest about the difficulties we can come across, like raising a family and having a business at the same time. This is especially tough in the wine industry where you are at the mercy of nature and need to react quickly to tend to the vines. It’s hard work!
You have a 6-month-old son and a three-year-old daughter. How is it juggling your business and responsibilities as a mother?
At first it was hell. It was impossible to be both a full-time business owner and a mother. It was just so hard and I couldn’t find the balance between the two. Sometimes I was exhausted and it was just so stressful. For the first year of being a mother I was just in survival mode.
But now things are a lot better and having kids has actually given me a better work-life balance. You just have to accept that you can’t do everything, and that’s okay. Don’t set yourself unrealistic expectations.
It’s important to note that women can do anything, but they can’t do everything at the same time without support. Not just support from friends and family, but also financial support from governments.
It’s easy to think of gender equity as simply benefitting women, but there are so many communal benefits. When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we will see from supporting women?
Clearly women have a role to play in any industry. Being open to another way of thinking, of seeing things, is essential for renewal. Women bring a new perception and approach to wine.
Of course, many industries are dominated by white men over the age of 50 and we see that women are not represented as they should be. This isn’t just problematic for women, but also for young people and ethnic minorities, as they are not having their voices and ideas heard.
By having a balance of men and women in all industries, we can all learn from each other’s approaches and we all benefit from an improved working environment.
Do you think women make wine differently or make different wine from men? If so, how?
I don’t think we can say that there are men’s or women’s wines. Of course, men and women may have different approaches to winemaking and may look out for different things, but the end result is the same. It would be impossible to tell if your wine was made by a man or a woman.
Is there one woman, in the industry or outside of it, who has inspired you throughout your career?
There are many of them. I am surrounded by inspiring people in my daily life. Some bring me energy, some allow me to move forward thanks to their support, some inspire me with their ideas. The idea of sisterhood is very important to me and I am very keen to encourage the women around me. It’s so important that women support other women.
My mum felt quite isolated when she was working, so she created an association with some other women working in the local area, to work together and support each other. I have continued this association. Everytime I meet new people or join a group, I always try to encourage them to share their experiences. I recently joined a group where we talk about work, but also about how we feel and our difficulties and it actually helps everyone a lot and we find solutions. So I always encourage women to join support networks like this. I don’t think it would work the same way with men, because I don’t think they would be so open to sharing that they’re struggling.
What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career in wine?
Trust yourself. We have a different way of doing things, of tasting wine. Also don’t think about what a man or woman should do, just do it the way you want to.
What do you see as the future of women in wine?
I see a bright future. There is room for everyone. People’s outlooks are changing a lot. They are much less surprised to see a woman running a vineyard, producing wine, or managing her vineyard. I think everyone is aware that we need more involvement and recognition of women in different fields.
And finally, we have to ask, what are your favourite wines from Château des Arras?
I love our white wine, Château Des Arras Cuvée Gaïa in summer. It’s so refreshing and quite different from other typical Bordeaux white wines. It’s lighter and less acidic.
I’m also a big fan of our Château Des Arras Cuvée Rhéa. It’s very fruity, crunchy and fresh!