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Culture

Women, wine and winning in business: Giovanna Neri’s ‘bottled creatures’ @Montalcino

02.01.2019 | By ELENA LONGARI

The world is always a better place if you have a good glass of red wine warming you up, a gentle cuddle to unwind, a treat to flavour in your 10 minute ‘notification’ detox time. The world would be even a much better place if the whole ‘leaning in’ matter proclaimed by Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO – would be able to encourage women to enter sectors considered ‘taboos’ for them. The wine industry is, believe it or not, a male dominated field, but Giovanna Neri’s drive to make it and mastery have made the idea of an ‘equal world’ more plausible.

Strolling the hills of Montalcino, the bucolic scenery you only see on postcards from Tuscany, the sunny sky and the flourishing land are where to find Giovanna Neri’s office: her job is to lead the way at Col di Lamo, looking after the production of the Brunello di Montalcino. Hers is a feminine touch, a dedication she compares to the one ‘only mothers have for their children’.

Inspiring and motivating, Giovanna tells me how she, one day, gave up her career as a lawyer to become the predecessor of all those millennials who eschew office jobs for getting their hands dirty on ‘actual’ fields.

For grabs Giovanna did not have ‘any’ fields, but the most stunning type of land sending out a loud and clear call to her: it has been the hills, the sun at dawn and at dusk and innate love for Tuscany, she says.

Not just that, nature in these lands offers the most stunning marvels, the real joys of life, and it is all for free!

In an attempt to create something ‘she would be remembered for, a second child’ Giovanna had also to come to terms with being a woman and establishing a name in the industry:

‘There are zero advantages in being a woman and working in wine industry, I can tell you that. Let’s not forget that up until 50 years ago only men could access ‘jobs’ in the wine industry, so the efforts for women are definitely more considerable. Believe it or not even to date I receive letters addressed to Gianni, they people think the ‘a’ in Gianna must surely have been some sort of typo.’

 

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On top of the irresistible appeal of Tuscany’s beauty, Giovanna describes the link to the land as rooted in her childhood memories, to the families of farmers in the country who would live on a podere and have their children sharing fun time altogether entertained by what the surroundings had to offer’

She says her choice of turning her life around came in 1997:

My dad was already a wine producer and I started collaborating with his company already when I was a young woman. After several familiar ‘divisions’ and after I completed my Law studies, I felt the urge to be with the land. I then took on setting up Col di Lamo in total autonomy, as at the beginning I didn’t even have a place where to make the wine: I started using the cellar of a friend of mine! With a lot of efforts and dedication I then managed to realise my dream and establish my stunning cellar, an architecture that totally blends in with the natural slope of my vineyards of Brunello’

In an era of feminism and #metoo is there still such a thing as a stereotype on ‘women shouldn’t be drinking alcohol’, and we are thinking of Italy mostly as in other European countries such as the UK and Scandinavian countries are well over this stigma. I couldn’t refrain from asking Gianna if that is still the same, even in a land where wine is rooted deep down in everyone’s culture.

‘I’m not a feminist and I think women and men are different but complementary: I know plenty of women with a passion for wine and that write about it too. The difference between men and women towards wine is only in the fact women have a different approach to it, a different sensibility towards wine. Generally speaking I believe wine consumption has considerably decreased today, and who does drink wine looks for quality more than quantity.’’

Gianna’s daughter is following her footsteps and is studying to be a communication expert in the wine industry, but will she as Giovanna one day feel the ‘call from the land’ and eschew a 9 to 5 job for the blissful magic of the vines?

I highly doubt she wouldn’t.