Women in the viticulture sector: we interview our oenologist Andrea Obenza

Women in the viticulture sector: we interview our oenologist Andrea Obenza

Being born in the region of O Morrazo is like coming into the world under the influence of the sea: the enormous influence of an ocean, the Atlantic, but also of these inlets, the Rias Baixas, which are so much a part of us. The combined influence of these waters defines our traditions, history, gastronomy, wines, childhood.

Andrea Obenza was born in Moaña, between the sea and the vineyards. Without being aware of it, this is where she began a life dedicated to wine. She watched her grandparents during the grape harvest, treading the grapes, enamoured by the rural environment and nature, and feeling the influence of a culture that was so interlinked with wine.

However, she discovered her passion some years later in another wonderful Galician wine growing location. This happened on the sinuous slopes of the Ribeira Sacra, in its soils, its colours, its aromas. She decided to take up this vocation on a permanent basis and moved to Tarragona to take a degree in Oenology.

But her ties to the Rías Baixas did not end there. Since 2012, Andrea has been the oenologist at Condes de Albarei. She is a pillar in our winery. She supervises the wine-making process, controls the quality of the wines, she manages the crop growing and much more.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we chat with Andrea so that, from her own experience, she can tell us about the role of women in the viticulture sector.

P – Where does your passion for wine come from?

R – Like many people who were born in a rural environment, the world of viticulture and wine is part of our childhood. In my case, we only had grape vines for our own consumption but the grape harvest is part of my childhood memories, as are the good times spent treading grapes in barrels with my grandparents. However, it wasn’t until I started a course on the Food Industry that I discovered that what I really had a passion for was this world: the soil, the vineyard, imagining how the wine will turn out, its evolution over time…

P – When did you decide that you wanted to be an oenologist?

R – The Food Industry degree enabled me to make my first contacts in the wine growing world, to make some trips to wineries and to do some practical work in the Ribeira Sacra. All this allowed me to clearly see my vocation, and that was the moment when I began to look into the studies required to become an oenologist.

P – You are very young and things have been changing over the years but, in your class, were there many women who were training to be oenologists, or were you one of the brave few?

R – In my case, yes. In my Technical Agricultural Engineering, there were very few of us. However, when I got to Oenology, it was mostly women, perhaps some 60%. It was a professional degree which you could access from others such as Pharmacology, Biology, etc., which perhaps, may have a greater female presence.

P – Can you tell us about the traditional role that women have played in the viticulture sector and how this has evolved in recent years?

R – From my point of view, in Galicia the role of women in the viticulture sector has been fundamental, as they traditionally worked the land, taking on tasks like looking after the vines. In fact, it’s not unusual to see a woman of a certain age driving a tractor here, but it turns the heads of outsiders when they see this. Over the years, this role has evolved and has grown. Today, we don’t just take charge of looking after the vines, we have also taken on more varied jobs with much greater responsibility: viticulture managers, wine sellers, oenologists, saleswomen, sommeliers, wine tourism and marketing, management…

P – ¿Do you think that women are becoming more interested in professions linked to the world of wine?

R – I think so; each day we have more women oenologists, winery owners, sommeliers… For example, there is an increasing percentage of women among the people who come to the winery from training courses to do their work experience.

P – Do you think that being a woman has been a handicap to your career development?

R – In my particular case, I can’t be objective, as my first work experiences as an oenologist were always with great women (oenologists, businesswomen…) who had faith in my professional development. Perhaps remarks from outside the companies, but these were more associated with youth than gender… or perhaps a combination of both. At first, these remarks would make you feel insecure, or even make you doubt your abilities.

P – You are now part of the team of oenologists at Condes de Albarei. From inside the team, how is the place of women in the sector perceived?

R – As I said before, at Rías Baixas there is a large female presence within the sector; there are many more pioneering women who have fought to position themselves as equals in relation to developing their career. This is why, today, you can find women in any post within the sector. I can think of women in the general management of companies, businesswomen, oenologists, winery owners, in administration, viticulture, in laboratories, wine tourism, marketing, sales…

P – Do you think that the expanding role of women has brought about changes within the sector and may have had an influence on certain aspects of production, for example, when launching certain types of wines onto the market?

R – I think that changes to the sector are due to an increase in training and information, which makes it possible for us to be better professionals, independent of gender. Then, I expect, as in everything, there are women who have a special affinity that bring something special to the wines. But this does not mean that men cannot have that same affinity. I think that launching one wine or another into the market, or more variety in the way they are made, is more down to knowledge than it is to gender. Tasting, tasting and more tasting of wines from different parts of the world, knowledge of the soil, the variety and possibilities they offer us…

P – From the consumer’s viewpoint, can you identify any differences between men and women when it comes to choosing a wine, or does this have nothing to do with gender?

R – I think that there were differences, particularly in times when women practically abandoned the consumption of wine. Personally speaking, from what I see around me, women consume more and take more chances when it comes to tasting outside their usual brands and productions.

P – What would you say to young women who are fighting to turn their passion for wine into a career?

R – To fight for their hopes and dreams and never to let anyone tell them that they cannot achieve it. To work hard to achieve their goals, but not to do it to make themselves better or worse than anyone else, but to do it for themselves.

P – What do you think that new generations of oenologists can expect from the future?

R – Well, I hope that new female oenologists will not have to do interviews about the role women play in the viticulture sector, that the concept of wines for men and wines for women, etc. no longer exists. That would be the most indisputable evidence that professional equality in the viticulture world has been achieved.

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