Eva Kaneppele

The World of Alto Adige Wine Becomes More Female

Women Make Their Mark on What was Once a Male Domain

For generations, the Alto Adige wine industry was nearly exclusively a male domain – in vineyards and wineries, in functions at and committees of cooperatives. For several years now, though, the picture has been changing, with more and more women making their mark on the wine industry and showing that the world of Alto Adige wine also has a female face. And for the first time, it is one that shows itself to the outside world.

“Women have always been involved in agriculture, but they have always remained in the background,” explains Elena Walch, one of the pioneer women and today probably the best-known female face of Alto Adige wine. But the fact that they worked for years only at a secondary level had nothing to do with a lack of competence. Rather, it was self-confidence that had been missing. “They would have been able to replace their husbands if they had trusted themselves,” Walch is convinced.

Eva Kaneppele, business manager of the Ritterhof Winery in Caldaro, has a similar view. Since time immemorial, she says, behind businesses run by men there has also been a woman. “In recent decades, however, something has changed, women are stepping forward to lead and represent companies,” Kaneppele says. “Not because they have to, but rather because they can and want to.”

Elena Walch was one of those who were instrumental in this development. She was someone entering from the outside in three different ways into the Alto Adige wine world: as a woman, as an architect, and as a city dweller, she was hard to swallow for the conservative wine industry of the early 1980s. “In the beginning, people already looked at me askance, asked me stupid questions, and looked to see where my husband was,” Walch recalls. Her response was, “I’ll handle it on my own, time will tell.” And she did that by bringing in new things: a new understanding of quality, a new philosophy, a new way of training grapevines. And in the end, she turned the Elena Walch winery into one of the most remarkable in Alto Adige.
So it is also thanks to Elena Walch’s groundwork that a winemaker’s standing in the world of Alto Adige wine is not a question of gender anymore, but rather one of competence. “Like everyone else, you first have to prove yourself in order to be taken seriously,” confirms Magdalena Pratzner, who took over her parents’ Falkenstein winery in Naturno in 2019. “But I have always been treated with respect and openness.”

Before that, she was able to collect experience around the world as an oenologist. “During two of my stops, in Australia and in France, I was the only woman in the winery,” Pratzner recounts. The pressure of expectation is always great, but it comes less from outside: “You want to prove to yourself that you do the job just as well as your male colleagues,” says Pratzner.

Alexandra Erlacher, sales manager at Cantina Andriano, also confirms this. “Men often have it easier, not least because they have less self-doubt,” she says. “They don’t think about: ‘Am I up to this, can I do this?’” The problem, she says, is that pay is still lacking. “Our male colleagues usually earn more than we women do, and in the same positions,” Erlacher says, demanding, “That has to change.”

While this problem needs to be fixed, there are hardly any others anymore when it comes to dealing with male colleagues. Of course, there continue to be macho men who have problems with having a woman ahead of them. “But that’s not the case only in the wine world,” says Eva Kaneppele. “Women in other sectors are also familiar with such situations.” She herself approaches male colleagues confidently and quite firmly. “That’s how I create my own place in the world of men.”

“In the end, everyone realized: it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman. What matters is what’s in the bottle.”

Elena WalchElena Walch Winery
Erlacher, who thus far has never had any problems with male colleagues, also views things similarly. “The interaction is for the most part very respectful,” she says, although she adds: “What sometimes bothers me is a hint of paternalism. But women have to get through that.”

Despite all the equality (which has now apparently been achieved), the question remains: is there a female view of wine? The answer from all of the women who were questioned is a clear “Yes and no.” As a product, there is no difference with the wine, regardless of whether it is made by men or women. “It is always a group product anyway,” says Walch. In the reception, on the other hand, there are definitely difference. “Women approach the subject more emotionally, men more rationally,” says Erlacher. And Pratzner seconds that. “The female brain seems to have a greater affinity for aromas, flavors, and above all else their various nuances.”

Kaneppele also attributes more intuition to women, and not only for the wine – in the form of a more pronounced ability to empathize with customers. “Women are also even better at teasing out the emotions that the product wine embodies.” In the end, though, the new, different perspective is an enrichment, Erlacher finds. “Some things are simply more exciting when viewed from two different angles.”

We leave the closing words to Elena Walch – not only out of respect for having paved the way for women in the world of Alto Adige wine, but because she brings the gender issue to a simple point: “In the end, everyone realized: it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman,” says Walch. “What matters is what’s in the bottle.”
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