Deborah Brenner raises a glass to a future when her services will no longer be necessary. As owner of Women of the Vine (and author of a book of the same name), she advocates for women in the wine industry, raising awareness of their brands, helping them network, and working to attract a new generation of young women to the industry.
“Wine has always been such a boys club,” says Brenner, herself a veteran of another male-dominated industry, technology. For 16 years after she graduating from the University of Delaware, she traveled the world doing marketing and PR for the technology trade. “I would be the only woman in a room of 60 people at conferences. I never had any role models because technology was so male-dominated, and so I became naturally sensitive to women’s presence in different fields.”
In 2003, Brenner broke from the technology biz and began her own Rockland County-based PR firm (born in the Bronx, she has lived in the county since she was a toddler). In 2005 she was approached by a European wine company about marketing their product in the U.S. Not really knowing how the business worked, she began to investigate.
An interesting fact struck her: According to the Wine Market Council, 71 percent of all wine in the U.S. is purchased by women. Brenner couldn’t help but wonder: How much of that wine is actually being produced by women? Is the wine industry a male bastion, too? Intrigued, she took a trip to Napa and Sonoma to learn about the business.
What she found surprised her: Women were working behind the scenes as wine-makers and consultants, but their involvement wasn’t visible. That’s when the idea for the book, 20 interviews with women in the wine field, took off.
“Sometimes you have to let your own curiosity lead you,” says Brenner. “I hadn’t set out to write a book, but then I started the manuscript and sold it to Wiley & Sons. I remember walking out of the publishing house almost in tears because they said they needed it in three months. I had been working leisurely on this book, and suddenly I had a big deadline.”
The book is about celebrating women breaking the glass ceiling. It’s a people story
It was worth the effort. Published in 2007 with a foreword by Gina Gallo of the famous wine-making family, the book was all over the media, including spots on CBS and MSNBC. Brenner has been showered with awards, including the New York Small Business Administration Champion of the Year, and the New York Women in Communications Rising Star Award.
“The book is about celebrating women breaking the glass ceiling,” says Brenner. “It’s a people story, not a wine how-to — though you do learn about wine.” Along the way, Brenner created a Women of the Vine wine brand (now discontinued) that was served at state functions in Washington hosted by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. “It was the first collaborative wine produced by women wine-makers and sold under the collective brand, Women of the Vine Cellars,” she says.
Most recently, Brenner formed an advisory board of industry professionals and is hosting a global symposium in March 2015. “It is the first trade conference devoted to advancing women’s careers in wine,” explains Brenner. “We wanted to have women in all different sectors of the business participate so anyone considering a career could see the options.” The conference is in Napa, but “we’ll be hosting regional events throughout the year, so I will soon have an outlet for including women vintners from the Hudson Valley,” she says. Two years ago, Brenner formed a partnership between Women of the Vine and More magazine; the result is More Uncorked, the first wine club launched by a women’s magazine featuring wines by women vintners. That same year, she joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Agriculture Working Group in an effort to help New York farmers, especially those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s pretty remarkable what’s happening all around,” she says. “Now you can drink local, and that’s opening up opportunities for people that didn’t exist 20 years ago.”