This is the third in a brief, informal series about women in the wine industry at the end of the 19th century. Click here for part 1 and click here for part 2.
I found out about a trio of enterprising women in the Sonoma, CA area in the 1880’s that found themselves in charge of large vineyard and winery operations. All three had husbands who had died or were too ill to take care of the winery/vineyards that they began. Thus, these women stepped up to the wineglass and took on the challenges of winery and vineyard ownership.
Ellen Stuart’s husband Charles purchased a large piece of property he originally named Glen Ellen after his wife in 1859. He and Ellen planted vineyards and generally did their best to tame the wilds of Glen Ellen. When Charles died in 1880, Ellen took over and supervised 32,000 gallons/year of wine production for next 10 years.
Meanwhile, a man named William Hood purchased a 20,000 acre ranch in 1858 (Los Guilicos Rancho), but due to land disputes ended up with just 2000 acres in 1866. His wife, Eliza returned from Europe at this time, and they decided to plant orchards, vineyards, and begin a winery. In 1877 after defaulting on a loan, it appears that William lost the fortitude to keep going, at which time his wife Eliza stepped up and took over all operations on their ranch by 1878. She hired a winemaker to make wine from their 100 acres of vineyards while she supervised her successful ranch operations until 1891.
Finally Kate Warfield was known as ‘the lady vineyardist’ and was a neighbor of Ellen Stuart. Kate took over vineyard and winery operations at Ten Oaks Winery when her husband, Dr. J.B. Warfield died in 1877. Kate not only had to supervise & compete with men, but she also had numerous legal battles to fight just to keep her property.
All three women banded together at one point to petition the courts in California to allow them to be ‘sole traders’. This designation meant they could operate their businesses under their own names instead of their husbands’. Despite their legal battles and heart-breaks, these three women persevered and began a long legacy of quality Sonoma wines. What great inspiration!
Here’s a picture of Kate Warfield’s old Ten Oaks ranch house in 2007:
It’s been fun to read and learn about the contributions that women made to our industry. I’m glad we are celebrating National Women’s History month so I could be spurred into learning more! I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief series about a few of the historic women of wine.