Without men, it’s no skin off their grapes.
by Erin McWhorter . photos by Rimas Zailskas and Matt Rose
They heard it through the grapevine. Or maybe they heard it from Jessica Gualano, owner of Asheville’s Wine Studio and an 11-year wine industry veteran. Her increasingly popular Girls on Grapes group, which she started in 2008, is just one example of a burgeoning national and local trend—pairing women and wine.
Gualano, 31, believes women are interested in wine groups because they can learn about a traditionally male-dominated subject in a pressure-free atmosphere. Not that wine is so macho. But it is one corner of the gastronomic universe that’s long been populated by men. Just try to name one famous female wine critic. (See?)
Gualano may not be a household name—yet—but she is a certified wine specialist with the American Society of Wine Educators, and she’s getting a degree from London’s Institute of Masters of Wine, a distinction only four American women have earned. Her expertise is in wines from France, Italy and Spain, and she has traveled to all three. Next month, she heads to France to help harvest grapes at a small Rhone Valley vineyard, Montirius.
Girls on Grapes started with just a dozen women meeting once a month. Now, around 30 women meet three times a month. Her largest gathering ever—a lesson on French Beaujolais nouveau—drew 93 women. “After that, I thought—we’re really onto something if we can reach this many people,” she says.
Girls on Grapes meetings get geeky at times, with Gualano venturing into history and botany lessons. But not all wine meetings are like class. Karen Weihs started Asheville Women on Wine in January 2008 as a way to make friends after she and her husband moved here from Charleston. Now, she donates proceeds from her monthly events to charity. “It’s not just about wine,” says Weihs. “Women on wine can mean women on wine, food, community or friendship.”
Whatever you do, don’t feel that you have to spend a lot on wine, says Ariel Glassman. She and her partner Lawrence Kobesky opened the wine bar Vue last January, hoping to bring some awareness of Old World wines and smaller vineyards to downtown Hendersonville. In her opinion, price is almost never an indicator of quality when it comes to wine, and neither is a high ranking from Wine Spectator. “A lot of wines here—you’ll never see ratings on them,” she says, reeling off a few of the bar’s more unusual bottles, like a Greek wine from Domaine Skouras. This summer, she’s drinking a rosé from Chateau Peyrassol. While some wine connoisseurs might turn up their noses at a rosé, it’s hard to beat in the hot summer months. Always do what your taste buds tell you, she says. “If you want to drink a big cab with scallops, drink what you want to be drinking.”