Asian Women Drink Wine for Pleasure and Profession

by Caren on May 7, 2012

Jeannie Cho Lee, Master of Wine

Just a few decades ago, pouring alcohol for a man in some Asian countries was equivalent to selling your body. In those days, the only way for a woman to have a profession involving wine was to either serve it or sell it. But times have changed, and in 2008, three women, including Jeannie Cho Lee of Hong Kong, were the first in Asia to earn their Masters of Wine.

Lee, born in Korea, is a Harvard graduate and now a prominent wine critic. But when she considered a career  in wine, her father questioned her choice and discouraged her, concerned that her chosen career would be viewed as potentially indecent.

But, said Lee in a recent interview on RelaxNews, there is no longer any lingering bias of Asian women working in wine.

“If my daughters wanted to go in to the wine business, I wouldn’t think negatively about it at all,” she said in advance of the Women and Wines of the World conference in Monaco last month, a show aimed at promoting the role of women in the trade.

It’s a mark of the progress women have made in the industry, particularly in Asia. In the last few years, Lee says there’s been an upswing in wine consumption overall in the region, driven also by women.

“A lot of the women wine drinkers I know in Asia are in their late 30s and 40s, many of whom are successful bankers and lawyers,” she told Relaxnews. “Most I know are professional women with families who hold their own in their fields.”

Meanwhile, a survey of 10,500 women in five countries carried out by Vinexpo last year, found that 16 percent of women from Hong Kong said that being seen sipping a glass of wine “helps their image,” perhaps not surprising given the universal presence of status-making luxury brands in the region.

And since women in countries like Japan and Korea are choosing to delay marriage and childbearing in favor of pursuing a career, women are expected to become a powerful market for the industry given their bigger disposable incomes and purchasing power, Lee points out.

Lee’s website, Asian Palate, offers a wide array of information covering the wine world, including pairings–a challenging feat given the myriad of strong flavors in South East Asian cuisine–travel info, trend news, a newsletter and much more.