The Role of Women in the Sustainability of the Wine Industry: Two Case Studies in Italy

Graziella Benedetto and Gian Luigi Corinto

Abstract The chapter aims at analyzing whether female entrepreneurs have some distinctive capacities than men in managing business within the Italian wine industry and if these skills are useful for the sustainability of their farms and the whole sector. After the sketch of the women situation in the Italian agriculture and in the wine sector, we have analyzed two case studies located in two wine regions, Tuscany and Sardinia, by having meetings and interviewing two wine women. The two regions are quite different for the general condition of winemaking and for the internationally perceived image. Furthermore, the two informants have different family histories and manage different dimensioned farms. Our findings are that these two female entrepreneurs, even starting from different general conditions, have been able to use their own leading capabilities in the improvement of business and in collective regional and national initiative of wine promotion. Basing economic decisions on formal and/or contextual training, they have introduced innovations in farming, winemaking, and marketing in a specific way. We can say they have been someway slower, less hasty, and even more effective than men in involving collaborators with a charismatic heading and attracting other entrepreneurs in doing business. The role of women in farming has been too long underrated by society and the policymakers, who, on the contrary, should provide more specific attentions to the female capacity to foster the sustainability of their own farms and the wine Italian industry.


Even recent researches (Piacentini 2013) show persisting gender differences in labor market all over the world. Entrepreneurship is the dimension where gender differences are the most marked, and still today, business women are much less than men, and their ventures are usually small and operate with little capital. Italy is not an exception and not the Italian agriculture.

For decades the increasing presence of women in the Italian agriculture has been interpreted as a signal of loss of competitiveness since the term “feminization” has been often used in combination with the “senilization” (aging) of farmers indicating the weakening of entrepreneurial capabilities within the farmers (Bandini 1967). The traditionally underrated role of women in farming has been determined–– among other causes––by the hereditary system of land property that privileged the masculine line and even more by the social role of raising children and preparing and serving food, usually performed by housewives (Mennell et al.1992; Couniham 2004). The large diffused mezzadria, i.e., the sharecropping land tenure, underlined the dependent role of rural housewives in the household economy, with a clear division between male and female duties, and otherwise it was also the basis for extensive socioeconomic mutations (Ciuffoletti and Contini 1994). In Central Italy, farming systems and the landscapes are strictly intertwined, and both refer to a particular organization of the agricultural habitat within, with functional relations between housing and farming, settlement and the countryside, and houses and cultivated fields being detectable (Polidori 2013). The specific objective of this kind of land tenure was to have enough foodstuffs both for the farming family and the landowner and his family. Indeed, the middle-upper class of landlords aimed at living “off one's own means,” and thus, the overall land tenure was oriented to self-consumption (Jones 1980). The role of women was clearly subordinated, both in working class and in landowners.

The traditional role of rural women faced a striking change in the half of the twentieth century, when masses of rural people abandoned farming employment and rural residences (De D'Attorre and Bernardi 1994) to live in cities and work in nonagricultural industries following the general social mutation of the Italians (Corinto 2014). The agricultural and rural exodus interested both men and women, regarding younger and more skilled and willing to risk people, being agriculture clearly viewed as a poor sector for weaker entrepreneurs and workers, i.e., women and the elders (Bartoli et al.2011).

According to Barberis (1963), the feminization of agriculture, already started in the 1950s and 1960s, is to be considered as the factual emersion of the female selfemployed farming, a phenomenon previously near invisible. At the end of the past century, in 1997, the European Commission (Commissione Europea 2002) showed the highest percent of female farm managers was localized in the Southern Italy (Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Basilicata, all ranking between 28 and the 41 %). In particular, in Sardinia, the female emancipation has a long history, due to the centuries-old absence of male shepherds (the husbands) from the family house and the subsequent establishment, as a matter of fact, of a matriarchy and a female mayor propensity to training studies (Barberis 2009).

During the 1990s, feminization of agriculture “became a female sound presence in the guide and proper managing of the farm with several innovative characteristics” (Tazza 2010, p. 119). Today this “feminizing” trend continues, and women are more numerous than in the past, both among workers and farm owners and managers. Recently, a study performed by the Italian Minister of Labor enlightened some general traits of women entrepreneurs: “it emerges a model of a female entrepreneur/manager that mainly privileges a cooperative network system that includes business, community and family, fostered by the relational skills typical of women. Female entrepreneurial styles are characterized by flexible solutions in relation to the different phases of the woman's life and the difficulty of the diverse works and private/family timing of tasks, especially when women have kids. Otherwise, there are still copious facts that hinder the women/labor-market relationship, regarding women both entrepreneurs and workers” (Unioncamere 2011, p. 13).

An important point to underline is the generally stronger capacity of the female enterprises to face the current economic crisis. “At the national level, the increasing number of female enterprises […] during the crisis has more than balanced the decreasing of the male ones” (Unioncamere 2011, p. 13).

Women have different skills than men in terms of perception/sixth sense, or in organizational jargon “emotional intelligence,” and in managerial jargon “multitasking” abilities due to the daily necessity to face simultaneous different responsibilities (Goleman 2001).

According to Rea (2009), a “women diversity” actually exists, stated in managerial studies and social psychology (Piccardo and Baiunco 2007; Piccardo et al.2008) that have put in light the female diversity in comparison to the male leadership. The female leadership shows “communal” features, such as cooperativeness, generosity, and empathy. The male leadership shows more “agent” features, such as self-confidence, assertiveness, and control.

A recent study (Rea 2009) realized that the distinction between “transactional and transformational leadership” (Burns 1978; Bass 1985) fits well for analyzing the female entrepreneurship. Indeed, women show a “transformational leadership” oriented to the commitment and creativity of collaborators, while men more frequently act as “transactional leaders,” willing to correct/reward/punish collaborators in relation to the obtained goals (Rea 2009). The transformational leadership could be the expression of a “soft-power” (Nye 2004), while men, performing a “hard-power,” actually use a top-down management. Moreover, Arlenghi (2014) reported the soft aptitudes of women are most wanted by modern companies, organized in reticular and less hierarchical schemes.

Then, our case studies aim at analyzing the role of women managers in the Italian winemaking sector, focusing in their innovation capabilities and the effects on sustainability as stated even in the Europe 2020 strategy and in particular in the Italian wine industry.

In Italy, the Italian Association Le Donne del Vino (The Women of Wine) was born in 1988 aiming at gathering all women committed to the realm of wine. They are female winemakers, marketers, managers of wineshops, sommeliers, restaurant owners, journalists, academicians, and researchers on the wine sector. From the origin up to today, the number of women of wine has increased from 8 to 800.

Five years ago, a dedicated study on the female perception of wine consuming behavior modifications has been performed (Rea 2009), just using the “universe” of the Women of Wine association. This study enlightened the female tendency to use the marketing leverages of communications and events organization, within the singular farm and involving the territory (Rea 2009).

We have adopted a different research perspective, more focused on the nexus between female entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainability.

Therefore, the chapter reports results of two case studies, performed by deep face-to-face interviews to female entrepreneurs acting in the Italian wine industry. We describe and interpret the ongoing role of women in the wine sector, giving some enlightenments on economic and social reasons of the importance of women as wine entrepreneurs.

The rest of the chapter is organized as follows. Section 2 reports the overall situation of farming, winemaking, and rural tourism, even sketching the presence and role of women and female entrepreneurs. Section 3 reports background literature and research focus, questions, and method. Section 4 reports the narrative of the two case studies, the Fattoria del Colle and Tenute Olbios, respectively located in Tuscany and Sardinia, as resulted from the interviews. Section 5 is dedicated to discuss our findings and Sect. 6 gives the conclusions.

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