There’s a renaissance happening in the Italian wine world, and women are leading the way. According to a Wine Intelligence study, women represent 55 percent of the country’s regular wine consumers. But in addition to their buying power, they are also making strides as wine industry professionals. Although only 10 percent of women are involved in production and in the vineyards, according to a joint study conducted by the University of Siena, Donne del Vino, and Unione Italiana Vini, their increased prominence and power in the industry is undeniable.
Earlier generations that knocked down the cellar door not only blazed a path for all women, but also many of their daughters who were inspired to follow in their footsteps. While Italy does not have a monopoly on mother-daughter vintner teams, it boasts some of the most visible and intriguing partnerships. These four multigenerational winemaking teams prove that the grape doesn’t fall far from the vine in Italy.
Anna and Valentina Abbona
“Our winery was born from a great woman,” says Valentina Abbona, export and marketing manager and sixth-generation vintner at Marchesi di Barolo, her family’s acclaimed winery in Piedmont. When French noblewoman Juliette Colbert de Maulévrier married Marquess Carlo Tancredi Falletti and moved to Piedmont, she didn’t wile away her days eating bonbons. “She immediately saw the potential of the grapes which grew in Barolo,” says Valentina. “It was her vision and intuitive understanding of the land that gave birth to what is now considered the king of wines and, not surprisingly, the wine of kings.”
With a history spanning 150-plus years, much of the winery’s modern-day success is attributed to Valentina’s parents, Anna and Ernesto Abbona. “It has always been my dream that one day, my children could continue what my husband and I worked on with so much passion but also dedication, with new energy and a fresher approach. And now, I can’t be prouder,” says Anna. In her opinion, the wine industry has evolved from an exclusive club dominated by a few experts, to being more open and inclusive.
Valentina agrees. “The world of wine has changed significantly over the last few years — it’s much less male-dominated,” she says. “Many more women are venturing into the field and establishing themselves as real experts. Where wine and life intertwine, women are there — balancing daily work with family life while building a legacy for future generations.”
Angiolina “Angela” Piotti Velenosi and Marianna Velenosi
Founded in 1984, Velenosi Vini is a young winery by Italian standards. Yet, thanks to the determination and savvy of owner Angiolina “Angela” Piotto Velenosi, its award-winning wines from Marche are now available around the globe. But it wasn’t an easy road. “When I started my career, I was in a male chauvinist world — shamelessly so. I had to fight to win a respectable position, with many sacrifices,” she says. While some challenges remain, Angela is proud to have paved the way and believes that “everything is possible for women who want to prove their worth”.
Her daughter Marianna works in the role of marketing manager and acknowledges that Angela’s hard work has contributed to a more welcoming and equitable Italian wine industry. “I think that nowadays, there are no limits for women in wine. Forty years ago, when my mother started, that wasn’t the case,” she says. Marianna is not only heartened by the growing number of women working in all aspects of the wine industry; she also touts their spending power. “Today in Italy, wine consumers are mainly women — the number of women has exceeded the number of men regarding regular wine consumption,” she says.
The Velenosi family aims to provide wine for those consumers for many generations to come. For Angela, having her daughter and son take prominent roles in the family business doesn’t just warm her heart. “My children joining the company means continuation and therefore the future,” she says.
Elena, Julia, and Karoline Walch
Born in Milan and trained as an architect, Elena Walch’s career plans hadn’t included gaining global recognition for her elegant and terroir-driven Alto Adige wines. But when Warner Walch hired Elena in the 1980s to restore his family’s 17th- century Castle Ringberg, not only did she land a prestigious project, she and Walch fell in love and married. Elena also became enamored with the estate’s vineyards and cellars. Describing herself as a “total stranger to the wine world,” she savored the challenge “to create a wine with a special identity that was closely connected to the vineyards and the terroir where it was coming from.” That was 35 years ago, and not only did Elena’s dream come to fruition, but today, her daughters Julia and Karoline are leading the business.
Karoline never doubted that wine was her destiny. “My bedroom was just above the barrel hall, so I got used to the smell of wine very early on, and one thing was for sure — I never wanted to miss this,” she says. “Hence, I studied what I would need later: wine and business in Austria and Australia.” Karoline also credits her mother for her early passion, and says she was told from a young age, “Be passionate about what you do, and if you have an idea and are convinced of it, then do it and fight for it.”
Elena’s daughters’ commitment to sustainability encouraged her to make it a core value for the estate — and she confesses that that’s not the only thing she’s learned from her children. “Something I admit I still have to learn from them is the way they are organized and keep calm,” she says.
When asked about what it’s like to work with her mom and sister, Julia replied: “The benefit of working with my mother and sister is that we share the same values and objectives.” As for the challenges? “Sometimes, you know each other too well!”
Giovanna Stianti Mascheroni & Federica Mascheroni Stianti
When it comes to wedding presents, a winery is hard to beat. Giovanna Stianti Mascheroni, owner of Castello di Volpaia in Chianti Classico, received such an extraordinary treasure from her father 50 years ago. More than just a real estate holding, Volpaia became an integral part of her life, and she has passed that same passion on to her daughter Federica. “I always dreamed of giving continuity to a place that we all loved and where we spent our best years,” she says. “Federica gave me the best gift by joining me in our family’s work.”
Federica’s original career plans did not include Volpaia. “At the beginning, I was not ready to work with my family. I followed my passion in art, and I became a restorer,” she says. “But now I feel I’m still in the art business, as working with wine is art.” Although Federica’s primary responsibility is managing the winery’s exports and sales, she says the nature of a family business requires a willingness to take on multiple roles — a fact not lost on her mother.
“Federica is fantastic, and she pushes us forward,” says Giovanna. “She is always ready to update things that will make us better. She works very hard on our social and digital side of things. These days, she has become the mother that teaches everything.”
Both women are optimistic about the future for Italian women in the wine industry. Giovanna praises “the increases in equality between men and women” that she’s witnessed. Meanwhile, Federica looks forward to the day when gender is less relevant. “My hope is that soon, we will not have to think about who is a woman or who is a man in this industry, and that we can all grow in our career based upon our valuable contributions,” she says. “We are in a historic moment where everything, including gender, is more fluid, and we need to forego thinking so much along gender lines.”