No longer just a man’s world

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ELENA HERNANDEZ of the Tempore Winery in Spain (R) talks with a guest during the Marketplace by Rustan’s The World of Wine VIP Night on Sept. 28 at the Shangri-La Plaza Grand Atrium.

A SMILE CAN sell, and the wine scene in Manila has seen boatloads of handsome men from wineries promoting their wares. But a woman holding a bottle of wine and telling guests how to savor it may be more rare than several vintages. After all, only “approximately 10% of the wineries have a woman as their lead wine maker,” said a study by Lucia Albino Gilbert, Ph.D., and John Carl Gilbert, Ph.D. from Santa Clara University in California, of a US state with about 3,700 wineries (

“It’s a man’s world, isn’t it?” noted Elena Hernandez of the Tempore Winery in Spain, observing the many wine traders and players, most of them men, at The World of Wine, Marketplace by Rustan’s recent wine fair.

(During The World of Wine, the supermarket released its full arsenal of wines from every wine-producing corner of the globe, and while the fair has since ended – it ran until Oct. 1 – one can still snag bottles at promo prices: this reporter has managed to get a hold of a bottle from Bordeaux for P400.)

Ms. Hernandez works at the Tempore winery as its export manager, under managing director Paula Yago Aznar, a fourth-generation grower. Tempore only started making wines in 2000, and before that, the produce from the vineyards was sold to local cooperatives. Ms. Hernadez went onboard about 10 years ago, when the winery started exporting its bottles. Today, 95% of its production is exported from Spain to most every country, except in the Latin American area. Despite the glamor associated with producing wine, it’s hard, thankless work. A wine maker BusinessWorld once interviewed called his job “glorified farmer.” “We are all together. We go to the harvests, we sample, we taste,” said Ms. Hernandez of the men and women working in the Tempore winery. While her boss Ms. Yago Aznar handles the business side of things, Ms. Yago Aznar’s brother Victor handles the details of the wine production. But, Ms. Hernandez, working in the business side of things as well, asserts her knowledge on the nitty-gritty of the wine business. “You cannot sell something that you do not understand.”

“Things are changing. They’ve been changing for the past seven years, I think. It used to be a man’s world,” said Ms. Hernandez.

In the 1970s and ’80s, coming out of the sexual revolution of the ’60s, gender norms when it came to the workplace were gradually made irrelevant, and more women joined the work force. Still, in 2017, women in top positions are underrepresented. This year’s Fortune 500 only listed 32 companies headed by female CEOs, and that’s rated as an all-time high by The Washington Post.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Ms. Hernandez recalled, “You would not expect a woman to be traveling.” As an export manager for a winery, she travels a lot for her job. “We’ve traveled since we were young. The moment a woman is free to travel, to learn, to do all these things – we are not scared. We’ve never been scared of traveling.

“We are bit by bit getting here, and hopefully there will be more women, to make everything more comfortable for everyone.

“Isn’t it refreshing to see a woman?” she remarked. “Of course.”

In many circles, women who drink are still frowned upon. Well, Ms. Hernandez’s job requires her to drink. “We actually have very good talent in tasting wine. We have very talents in developing wines – and in selling.” While the wine world is dominated by male sommeliers and male wine growers they might have to rethink their hiring strategies: women might be better tasters (and smellers) than men, thanks to genetic and hormonal predispositions wrote Eliza Barclay on NPR.

“We probably are not looking so much to be in the spotlight. Our objective is to work, work, work,” said Ms. Hernandez when asked why women aren’t as visible in the wine industry.

“It’s true that some wineries are still very antique. You have like, the big bosses that they’re very – snobbish – however you want to call it. These are the old wineries.”

As for the newer ones, presumably with younger, more enlightened men on their teams: “I think they find it refreshing to have a girl on the team. They take you in as one more, so it’s great fun. These guys, they love it. They take care of you, actually, and we become good friends after.

“Even though it’s a man’s world, it’s not that they close it. It’s just that we haven’t stepped in. The moment we step in, they welcome us all.”

Her workplace concerns are more universal: the ever-present danger of crime and violence. “The only problem would be maybe, when you go to a dangerous country, to go from the airport to the hotel… instead of maybe taking the taxi, you might take a private transfer.”

Many women climbing up the corporate ladder are sometimes barred by their biology: we talk of course, of motherhood. The pressures of parenthood and the workplace are different, and many people think that a woman may find it difficult to juggle both. “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much,” Jacqueline Kennedy, glamorous former First Lady, jet-setter, and eventual career woman (she worked as an editor at a publishing house in New York) once said. “Not all girls were willing or brave enough to travel,”said Ms. Hernandez. “When you have kids, how much are you willing to travel? How much are you willing to be away from your family? Not your husband – because you probably have an open-minded husband like I do.” Ms. Hernandez herself has two children. “They’re used to it,” she said, citing that she disappears for two to three weeks at a time. “Those kids, my children, have a very open mind as to how women can reach the top, and travel.”

At the end of the interview, Ms. Hernandez handed me her card, bearing her full name, Elena Hernandez Hibbert. Used to Anglo-Saxon naming conventions, this reporter asked if Hibbert was her married name. “In Spain, we don’t change our names [when we marry]. We keep our family names. That is my father’s, and that is my mother’s.” – Joseph L. Garcia