Women leaders are so common in the wine world today, one may question the relevance of an article about the subject of women in wine at all. Still, at many multigenerational wine estates where entrenched family practices and old-school traditions long dictated the transfer of power from father to son, women are for the first time taking the helm. Wine Spectator spoke with seven women who preside over their family’s wine businesses to learn about their very different journeys yet many similar challenges, proudest accomplishments and thoughts on future succession planning.
ALBIERA ANTINORI: Marchesi Antinori
Leading a 637-year-old Italian wine empire into a new, more complex era
Albiera Antinori became officially employed at her family’s 26th generation, Tuscany-based wine house when she graduated from high school but, in truth, she can’t recall any one moment when she entered the business; it was always a part of her, dating to the earliest harvests she can remember. “It never had the feeling of work or that I walked through a door; it was just the normal flow, the natural extension of my life,” she explains.
Her childhood was spent between the family’s 15th century Florence palazzo and their Tuscan wine estates in Chianti Classico and Bolgheri. In the 1980s there were few women in the wine industry, but as the eldest of the three daughters of Marchese Piero Antinori, Albiera never felt her gender was an obstacle: “We were always three sisters with no brothers, so that made it easy.”
How does one make their unique mark on a winemaking dynasty that spans six centuries and owns nearly 30,000 acres of vineyards across Italy? For Albiera’s father, it was the foundation of the super Tuscan movement with the creation of Tignanello in 1971, a Sangiovese that includes 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. The birth of Solaia in 1978, which is mostly Cabernet and the first wine to highlight the expression of a single vineyard, was another revolution for Tuscany.
Following in the footsteps of such an accomplished father is intimidating, admits Albiera, who was named president in 2017. She and her sisters, Allegra and Alessia, preside over a business that is far more complex than in prior generations. With 15 wineries across Italy and ventures in Chile, Napa Valley, Hungary, Malta and Romania, Antinori also faces a changing climate and a dramatically different wine market that demands new ways of operating.
“The wine world has become so much larger, and we have to find new ways to connect with wine drinkers,” Albiera says. It’s no longer enough to simply have the “best vineyards in the best appellations.”
Thus, she spends a lot of time developing creative ways to tell the stories of Antinori’s estates and bring people together. Passionate about architecture, Albiera directed the construction of Antinori’s Chianti Classico Cellar, designed by famed Italian architect Marco Casamonti, which opened in 2013. Complete with a restaurant and a museum featuring the family’s centuries-old art collection, it represents the first time the public has been allowed inside the Antinori winery and has become one of Tuscany’s most popular tourist attractions.
Aware of the challenges that women face in the workplace, the all-female led Antinori team began offering on-site day care at their Chianti Classico winery in 2012.
With her sisters and father, Albiera established the Piero Antinori Trust, which will hold all the properties together for 90 years—so that at a minimum, “everything will be kept together for the next three generations,” she says.
Succession for the 27th generation is playing out differently, too. “I didn’t go to university because it wasn’t thought necessary for girls at that time. With my children, I really tried to do it differently, particularly for my daughter,” Albiera says.
After years of required work outside the company, daughter Verdiana, 27, has a degree in viticulture and enology and now runs a family estate in Chianti Classico. Son Vittorio, 29, is the brand manager of Marchese Antinori Tenuta Montenisa, in Italy’s sparkling wine region of Franciacorta. Allegra’s son, Niccolò, 22, works at a family winery in Cortona.
At the heart of every business decision and innovation remains a connection to the land, Albiera maintains: This has been the family’s North Star for six centuries.
“Respect for the land is what I inherited and what we have to teach the next generation. We must take care of it, not exploit it, and we must leave it in a better condition for the next ones.”
CAROLYN WENTE: Wente Vineyards
Keeping one of California’s historic wineries relevant and family-owned
When Carolyn Wente was a young girl growing up on her family’s Monterey wine estate, her father frequently brought home restaurateurs and clients and asked her and her mother—with very little advance notice—to prepare a nice lunch to be paired with their wines. She and her mother would scramble to set the table and pull together a meal for the last-minute guests. “My mother wanted to kill him, but this is where my love of food and wine began,” Carolyn recalls.
As the current CEO of the estate—the oldest continuously operating family-owned winery in the U.S.—Carolyn, representing the fourth generation, has made Wente Vineyards into one of California’s most sought-after wine destinations as well as a global brand.
Carolyn knew from an early age that she wanted to join her family’s business, founded in 1883 by her great-grandfather Carl H. Wente with the purchase of 47 acres in the Livermore Valley.
“I’m a farm girl at heart; as a child I spent every minute I could with my grandfather in the vineyards or playing hide-and-seek behind the tanks in the winery,” she admits. “But I didn’t know what my path would be.”
During her senior year at Stanford University, Carolyn’s father died, leaving each of his three children one-third of the business. Brothers Phil and Eric, both older than Carolyn, assumed roles on the agriculture side of the business, while she took a job outside the winery as a financial analyst at California’s Crocker National Bank. “I wanted to go out and earn my own living; I was the kid sister and needed to earn my spurs.”
In the early 1980s, her brothers asked her to return to Wente Vineyards to lead sales and marketing for the growing business, a role she felt entirely ill-equipped for at the time. But Phil and Eric, whom Carolyn calls her “biggest cheerleaders and most important mentors” understood her skill set better than she did. “ ‘Sales and marketing are what you grew up doing,’ they told me. ‘You know how to talk to people and you know all our distributors—dad took you everywhere!’ ”
Carolyn got to work developing the winery’s lifestyle business, first building the Wente Visitors Center in 1986, which hosted concerts by musicians including James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and Diana Krall, and opening the Restaurant. In 1998, she worked with Greg Norman to design an 18-hole golf course amid the vineyards. She also wrote two cookbooks: Sharing the Vineyard Table and The Casual Vineyard Table.
Building the Wente brand’s visibility by finding new ways to connect with people has never been more important, she believes. “We have a solid reputation for high quality wines at affordable prices and a fairly large global footprint, but that’s not enough in a consolidating market. As a medium-sized winery, we must keep differentiating ourselves if we want to stay relevant in the future.”
And the future is something Carolyn spends a lot of time planning for. With the transition of power to the fifth generation well under way—a milestone few New World wineries have achieved—she and her brothers insist that every family member work outside the business for at least five years, and then apply for a role at the company like any non-family applicant. “Grit is a word I think about a lot,” Carolyn says. “Strength of character and an attitude of ‘just roll up your sleeves and go do it’ has been passed down generationally in our family, and I’m happy to see the fifth generation has a lot of it.”
ANNE BOUSQUET: Domaine Bousquet
Building Argentina’s largest organic wine company from debt to prosperity
In order to bring her father’s dream to life, Anne Bousquet had to cross him. Generational transfer in family businesses is often complicated; for Anne, it was downright hostile. “That experience was very hard, but it defines the leader who I am today; I made myself through that process.”
Her father, Jean Bousquet, is a visionary. In the 1990s, he sold his family’s second-generation wine estate and vineyards in Carcassonne in southwest France—where Anne grew up—to purchase land in the remote Gualtallary Valley, a high-elevation district in Uco Valley in Argentina’s Mendoza region. Few believed it was possible to cultivate grapes in this rugged, cold and arid region. Even Anne was convinced her father had made a grave mistake, but after spending a week with him there, she fell in love with the landscape and saw its potential: “The immensity of that land and that sun; we knew we could farm organically at scale.”
Anne had long before walked away from her winemaking heritage and was building a successful career as an economist and executive in Boston. But when her father asked for her help in selling his first vintage of Domaine Bousquet in 2004, she agreed.
When Anne eventually moved to the tiny Argentine village of Tupungato with her 1-year-old daughter, she encountered a business deeply in debt and a father deeply in denial. They were immediately at odds; he felt threatened by her business acumen and ideas.
“There were terrible fights and constant conflict,” and her father eventually forbade her from entering the cellar, she describes. “Those first six months were the most difficult of my life.”
Several years later, Jean agreed to sell his shares to Anne and leave Domaine Bousquet. The father and daughter did not speak for three years.
With full ownership, Anne and Labid al Ameri, her husband and business partner, grew Domaine Bousquet tenfold over the following decade, becoming the largest organic wine producer in Argentina. The winery also provides much-needed jobs in this poor, rural region. “Economic prosperity for our community is a crucial pillar to our sustainability philosophy, just as important as farming organically and reducing our carbon footprint,” she explains. Domaine Bousquet will soon be certified as a B Corporation, a title awarded to companies that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance.
Anne’s future goals are not modest: She plans to double Domaine Bousquet’s production in the next few years to reach 1.5 million cases of 100% organic wine annually.
Years ago, Anne reconciled with her father, who still lives on the Domaine Bousquet estate happily tending his own small organic vineyard. The passage of time has allowed him to acknowledge his daughter’s tremendous achievement. At a New Year’s lunch in 2020, he told her, through tears: “ ‘I am proud of you; you’ve built something incredible,’ ” she recalls. “I had stopped waiting for that recognition, but it did feel good. My father had an amazing vision, and we are united by our love for this terroir.”
SAMANTHA RUDD: Rudd Estate
Transforming her father’s Napa winery into a more profitable and community-first business
Samantha Rudd is a self-described indecisive person, yet there are two things she has never questioned: Her decision to marry her husband and her lifelong desire to live and work at Rudd Estate, the Napa winery her father founded in 1996.
Successful entrepreneur Leslie Rudd moved his family to the Oakville estate when Samantha was 8 years old. “We moved around a lot; one reason I’m so committed to the winery is because it was a place of consistency and comfort that I had never had,” Samantha shares. “I still get choked up when I drive off the property for any length of time.”
Though her emotional connection to Rudd Estate was never in doubt, her inheritance of the property was not a foregone conclusion. Before he died in 2018, Leslie structured his estate so that Samantha had five years to hit financial benchmarks to prove the business was viable—or else she would lose the winery. She wasn’t surprised: From tasking her with vineyard work at age 9 to sending her to boarding schools run by ex–Navy SEALs, her father went to great lengths to instill grit in his only child.
“My father believed that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, and he never wanted anything to come too easy for me,” she explains.
He also believed that if you only work for your family, “you will never really know success and you will never really know failure,” so Samantha took a job as the general manager at Clos Pegase Winery, followed by a stint at Château Margaux in Bordeaux. She returned home in 2017 as her father was battling cancer; he died the following year at age 76.
Samantha vowed to honor the generational promise she had made to her father years earlier: Do better than the previous generation. For her, this meant being a different kind of leader: “My dad’s era was all about top-down management, but I put our people first and the personal connection I have with our team is very different.”
Samantha has a strong intuition and quiet confidence that guide her decision-making. She has moved Rudd further down the path of organic and biodynamic viticulture, eliminated the role of vineyard manager and reintroduced the estate’s second label, Crossroads. “It enables us to use more of our estate fruit; our ‘elegant leftovers.’ Why would I want anyone else to bottle it?” she says. Two decades ago, her father planted vineyards on Mt. Veeder, from which Samantha crafted an inaugural red, naming it Leslie’s Blend.
To realize her vision for Rudd as a more open, welcoming place, she launched an Unlikely Collaborators program to bring together geologists, musicians, chefs, ceramicists and perfumers to create and connect at the Oakville estate. “Once we hosted a choreographer and we were all dancing in the vineyards—it’s a sight my father could have never imagined.”
As for those year-five benchmarks her father’s estate plan mandated? She hit them in fewer than 18 months. Between the increase in production and sales, as well as the robust growth in wine club membership under her direction, Rudd Estate is in better financial shape than ever.
“I wish my father could be here to see how well it has worked out,” Samantha reflects. “I’ve learned so much about Napa as a community since losing my dad. He always told me he wanted me to have all of his friends and none of his enemies, and that has really come to pass.”
SARA LECOMPTE CUVELIER: Château Léoville Poyferré and Château Le Crock
Switching careers to lead one of Bordeaux’s most prestigious estates
Helming one of the most historic estates in Bordeaux’s St.-Julien region was not always Sara Lecompte Cuvelier’s life plan. A Paris-trained human resources executive working and living in Lyon, at the base of the French Alps, Sara was the only person in her family not working in the wine business.
Yet after accepting a position on the board of her family’s Château Léoville Poyferré in 2011, which brought her to the Médoc four times a year, she began to feel the emotional pull of the region where she had spent childhood vacations—and the calling of her family’s century-plus winemaking heritage.
When her cousin Didier Cuvelier prepared to retire as director in 2014, it was Sara who the family tapped to run the business. “It was very important to my cousins to choose a family member,” she explains. “But the more I learned about wine, the more I realized how much I still had to learn.”
Leading an estate with a past as rich and storied as Château Léoville Poyferré’s would intimidate even the most seasoned wine professional. The Cuvelier family purchased Château Léoville Poyferré in 1920, but its history dates to 1638. Once the largest estate in the Médoc, it was joined with Château Léoville Las Cases and Château Léoville Barton (they were divided during the French Revolution) and was named a second-growth in Bordeaux’s original 1855 Classification.
Sara credits her husband for encouraging her to take the leap: “It was a total change of life; leave Lyon, sell the house, go back to university to learn wine!” She enrolled at the National School of Agricultural Engineering, Bordeaux, to study enology and viticulture. Other women leading famed Bordeaux estates, especially her neighbor Lilian Barton-Sartorius at Léoville Barton and Véronique Sanders-Van Beeck at Haut-Bailly, have provided friendship and mentorship on her journey. She trained under Didier in the cellar in 2017 and the next year was officially in charge.
Working alongside winemaker Isabelle Davin and consultant Michel Rolland, Sara stays true to the Léoville Poyferré signature style: A decidedly modern, polished Cabernet-based grand vin aged in 80% new oak. She has been pushing the farming in a more sustainable direction at Léoville Poyferré as well as two satellite properties: Château Le Crock in St.-Estèphe and Moulin Riche in St.-Julien. “I have a big mission to move us toward more organic viticulture and reduce our overall impact on the environment,” Sara says.
There have been low points—on her second day as managing director, there was a huge fire at Château Le Crock that destroyed 300,000 bottles and three tractors—but many high points, too. Léoville Poyferré celebrated 100 years of Cuvelier family ownership in 2020, and it has received critical acclaim for recent vintages (Sara’s first vintage, 2018, was named No. 7 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2021).
“Our wines have reached a good level, even in difficult vintages,” Sara says. “Now my role is to better communicate our story to the world.”
FEDERICA BOFFA: Pio Cesare
Balancing innovation and tradition while plotting her own course at a Piedmont icon
As the fifth generation to lead her family’s Piedmont winery Pio Cesare, Federica Boffa, just 24 years old, has a lot to live up to. “I have a big challenge. I’m the first woman in my family to lead, and wine lovers are expecting a lot from me,” she says. “People are waiting to taste the first vintage of Pio Cesare without my father, so it’s incredibly important to maintain the same high quality we are known for.”
Federica stepped into this role much earlier than expected. Her father, larger-than-life Piedmont patriarch Pio Boffa, died from complications of COVID-19 in April 2021 at age 66—just before the celebration of the estate’s 140th anniversary.
Although Federica feels the weight of high expectations, she is not crushed by it. “My father spent years preparing me to lead,” she shares. “He was a very Piemontese man; really old style and traditional. But he was also forward-thinking and let me speak for our wines at a very young age. He was building a place for me in the wine world.”
Pio was a force, a legend in his own time for his innovations in Piedmont and tireless pursuit of world-class Barolo and Barbaresco. In 1985, he pioneered the concept of single-vineyard wines in the region with his Barolo Ornato and later Barbaresco Il Bricco and Barolo Mosconi, and he was among the first producers in Italy to make a barrel-fermented and -aged Chardonnay: Piodilei.
Determined to transition Pio Cesare to entirely estate-grown fruit, he began acquiring premier vineyards in the 1970s; the final acquisition was the Mosconi vineyard on his 60th birthday.
He demanded a lot of himself—and of his only child. Federica traveled the world with her father from a very young age, perfecting her English and meeting clients and distributors. She began working at the winery as soon as she graduated from high school and throughout her time at university, coming on board full time in 2019.
There is another reason Pio pushed her so hard: “My father was always very afraid he would die, and he was terrified it would happen before he had taught me everything I needed to know.” She often resented his forceful style, and their relationship was not always good—especially when she was a teenager and wished to simply spend time with friends—but she is now grateful and feels a strong passion for wine. “It was not my father that brought me closer to wine, but wine that brought me closer to my father.”
Federica’s strength of conviction belies her young age. With impressive confidence, and the help of her cousin Cesare Benvenuto, she is executing many of Pio’s unfinished projects. There is the plot of land he purchased in Tortona to grow Timorasso, a white grape he believed had potential for tremendous complexity, which Federica just planted in June. She’s also starting to cultivate Nebbiolo in the high-elevation Alta Langa region: “We believe we can soon produce Barolo from high-altitude exposures. It is the future in our changing climate.”
She’s charting her own course, too. “We’ve been working with no chemicals for years, but my father never believed in attaining any sustainability certification. I’m working with an agronomist to achieve this goal. It’s very important to me.”
Like her father, Federica intuitively walks the line between honoring Pio Cesare’s past and injecting new ideas to ensure the winery’s future vitality.
“Remaining a traditional producer and loyal to our style is my most important mission; our heritage will never be a burden, but it will always be a starting point,” Federica says.
GAIA GAJA: Gaja
Leading the way as a global ambassador for Nebbiolo at a famed family winery
“There are two ways to travel,” Gaia Gaja explains. “One way is to get on a plane to the other side of the world and experience a new culture. The other is to focus on a piece of land and the universe that is inside: the grass, the insects, the biology and the philosophy of the terroir.”
At 42 years old and the fifth generation to lead her family’s famed Italian winery, Gaia spends her life in both forms of travel. Born in Piedmont’s Barbaresco, the eldest of Angelo and Lucia Gaja’s three children, Gaia grew up in the winery. Her childhood memories are marked by smells—the “perfume of the glue” then used to affix labels on bottles, the chalk with which she drew pictures on wine barrels, the ink on the vineyard maps her father gave her.
She is as obsessive as her legendary father when it comes to balancing meticulous attention to farming and winemaking with her role as the global ambassador for Gaja’s wines, and for Italian wine overall.
Angelo Gaja is considered one of Piedmont’s leading lights. As a young man in the 1960s, he recognized that his country’s winemaking needed to evolve. He cut yields in Gaja vineyards, switched entirely to estate-grown fruit, introduced French oak and international varieties and worked to tame Nebbiolo’s burly tannins to craft more accessible wines.
In the 1990s, he expanded the Gaja empire to Tuscany with the purchase of Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino and Ca’ Marcanda in Bolgheri.
For more than 50 years he has traveled tirelessly to elevate the image of Italian wines on the world stage. In 1997, Angelo earned Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award.
Angelo’s pedagogy is proudly nonconformist, and he instilled in Gaia and her siblings the same fiercely independent spirit and restlessness. “My father has always pushed us to think differently and do things our own way,” says Gaia, who traveled the world and lived in San Francisco before returning to run the family business with her sister Rossana and brother Giovanni. (Angelo is “stepping back.” “Do not write the word ‘retire,’ he will never retire!” she says.)
Though father and daughter do not always agree—he “actually keeps a list of all the things we do wrong,” Gaia shares, laughing—he has truly empowered the next generation to lead. “My father is not despotic; he has an open mind and lets us take charge and that is brave.”
Gaia has reevaluated every aspect of viticulture. “We need to always reapproach everything we do in a new way because we have a new climate—the vineyard can’t be rescued by us as easily as [in] the past. The weather is more unpredictable so our work is more unpredictable.”
She works to bring more biodiversity and microorganisms into the vineyard, and she is exploring higher-altitude sites in Montalcino and Piedmont—particularly for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In Bolgheri, she is experimenting with Mediterranean grapes more suited to warmer temperatures, such as Fiano.
Currently she is overseeing the construction of a new winemaking facility in Piedmont’s Alta Langa subdistrict, dedicated to white wine production, which will be fully operational in 2023. “I’m lucky because I inherit a winery that does not need a revolution,” Gaia says. “The way we handle the imperfections is what defines us. There is never a perfect vintage or perfect vineyard. My job is to constantly strive to create wines that are more precise, vibrant and alive.”