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International Women’s Day 2024

Fridays are always worth celebrating, full stop. The weekend is on the horizon, long days of sitting at desks make way for long walks on the Downs for the next couple of days and the wine rack is made that one bottle lighter as dinner hits the table.

However, this Friday 8th March is even more cause for celebration, as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2024, applauding and admiring the women who work tirelessly to grow, make and market wines and beers that we all so heartily enjoy on a regular basis.

IWD has a longer than expected history, starting back in 1911 with over a million supporters back then. However, when it comes to booze, women’s involvement stretches all the way back to the ancient civilisations of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, where the Egyptian goddess of Fertility (Hathor) and the Greek goddess of agriculture (Dionysus) were worshipped for giving wine as a gift to humanity. The Romans celebrated women as winemakers, with the Roman author, Columella writing in his book that women’s hands were better suited for delicate tasks in the production of wine, such as pressing of the grapes.

As the centuries moved on, just as many women were excluded from working life and were made to live in the shadow of their male counterparts, there are inspiring stories of women grasping the mantle and changing the world of wine production entirely. Take Madame Clicqout Ponsardin, who bravely took over her deceased husband’s Champagne production outfit in 1805, revolutionising the way our favourite sparkling wine is produced by creating techniques like riddling (turning the bottles ever so slightly to move the sediment from secondary fermentation to the neck of the bottle) and creating the world’s first vintage and blended rosé wines, earning the nickname ‘La Grande Dame’.

In more modern times, women have taken on greater roles and responsibilities in winemaking families and carved out a path for others to follow, with role models like Gina Gallo, vice president of winemaking with the global behemoth and family business, E J Gallo; and Cristina Mariani-May, CEO of one of Italy’s biggest producers, Castello Banfi leading from the front.

Look closer to home, and Sussex itself is leading the way in showcasing what talent we have here on these shores, with Cherie Spriggs, Head Winemaker at Nyetimber making the shortbread-laced and floral-fragranced Nyetimber Rosé sparkling wine, available in our shops at £54.95; Cara Lee Dely, Head of Winemaking, Production and Operations at Bolney Wine Estate, who helps to create the exotically aromatic Lychgate Bacchus, on our shelves at £19.95; and Tamara Roberts, CEO of Ridgeview Wine Estate, who are behind the fruit-forward, and elegant Cavendish NV Blend sparkling wine, great value at £36.95 a bottle in-store.

We love to support interesting and fresh-thinking wine producers, regardless of their gender, but if you want to show your support for the rise and rise of women in the alcohol industry, here are our choice picks from the South Downs Cellars shelf:

Rosso di Montalcino 2021, Caparzo - £24.95 a bottle

Made by Elisabetta Ghudi Angelini, this is from a progressive winery based in Tuscany, started back in 1970, but bought by Elisabetta in 1998. Rosso di Montalcino is essentially a ‘Baby Brunello’, made from Sangiovese, but aged less to create a lighter, fresher, more approachable style. This top-notch example is crammed full of cherry, leather and warming spice, with a dry, balanced finish.

505 Malbec 2020, Casarena - £12.95 a bottle

From a winery in the heart of Lujan de Cuyo, winemaker Martina Galeano is a master of making different profiles of Malbec from different soils, altitudes and ageing techniques. Violet aromatics, with a spicy, full palate, this really is great value.

Cryo Session IPA, Pressure Drop Brewing - £4.50 a can

This is a craft brewery in its purest form, as it started in a shed in Hackney! Head Brewer Katie McCain has created a cryo-hopped, flavoursome bomb of a beer, but with a light touch level of alcohol at just 3.2%, making this a characterful, yet eminently sippable brew.

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