MU researcher helps pair women and wine

Connie Liu, left, a Grape and Wine Institute research specialist at MU, and Megan Wasielewski, a Food Science graduate student, are members of a group encouraging women to enter the wine industry. Courtesy of CARNRnews.com
Connie Liu, left, a Grape and Wine Institute research specialist at MU, and Megan Wasielewski, a Food Science graduate student, are members of a group encouraging women to enter the wine industry. Courtesy of CARNRnews.com

Surveys show that the cultural environment for winemaking in the United States, from wine tasters to wine makers, has been dominated by men. Only 21 of the 140 Master Sommeliers are women, and in California, the leading wine producing state, only 10 percent of California wineries have women as their lead winemaker.

Women who do research related to the wine industry are also part of a small minority in the scientific community — only 21 percent of science professors are women, according to the National Science Foundation.

With this inequality in mind, Tammy Jones, program coordinator of the University of Missouri’s Grape and Wine Institute, helped established the Women Viticulture and Enology Network this year.

“The idea is for it to be something organic, something that gets people talking, something that helps new researchers feel supported and so they can really form those essential relationships with one another,” Jones said.

The other founding researchers are Patricia Skinkis of Oregan State University, Jodi Creasup-Gee of Kent State University and Hildegarde Heymann from the University of California Davis.

The wine science network had its first organizational meeting in June at the American Society for Enology and Viticulture convention in Austin. Since then the group has connected via email and Facebook, with plans to meet up at national and regional conferences.

“We hope to find ways to drive more people in and let them know that it exists,” Jones said. “We don’t want to make it so formal that it’s intimidating.

Women are already holding their own at the Grape and Wine Institute at MU. The two viticulture and enology research specialists are women. Also, of the four graduate students within the viticulture and enology emphasis, three of them are women.

But Jones believes the network will be particularly helpful for incoming students. “Certainly at one time or another we’ve all been a newbie to something,” Jones said. “I thought — how can we help our students not feel like the kid in the corner?”

“There’s also a number of very well established female researchers that really didn’t know each other as well as they should, and I was astounded by that,” Jones said. “So I thought, what can we do to bridge this gap and maybe create better avenues for students to plug in to the knowledge and the research that they were interested in. Make it easier for the kid in the corner to feel like you’re a part of everything.”

MU food science graduate student Megan Wasielewski is completing her second year of studies under the viticulture and enology emphasis. This past summer Wasielewski worked with Heymann, a renowned enologist and sensory scientist who taught at MU before going to the University of California-Davis.

“It’s a cool way to meet people, to network,” Wasielewski said of the group co-founded by Jones and Heymann, who is now on her research committee. “She used to be here at Mizzou,” Wasielewski said, “so it wasn’t just through the women’s science group that I found out about her, but that definitely kind of weaves us together in a stronger way.”


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