Women in Wine: 4 Sommeliers Shaping the Future of Mexico’s Wine Industry

UPDATED: May 3, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 7, 2024
Sommelier in a vineyard holding a bottle of wine exemplifying women in wine

Mexico may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of wine, but a region carpeted in green vineyards and dust roads just two hours south of San Diego has been making a case for oenophiles to get on board. Often referred to as the Napa Valley of Mexico, Valle de Guadalupe is a burgeoning wine region in Baja California, Mexico, that has impressed newcomers like myself and kept its decades long loyalists coming back for more. 

The reasons are plentiful: The region produces two-thirds of Mexico’s wines. Along La Ruta de Vino (The Wine Route), there are over 120 wineries to enjoy–from hilltop Bordeaux pairings at Monte Xanic, to experiences housed under recycled fishing boat materials at Vena Cava. Add to this appeal growing sustainability initiatives, including El Cielo Resort & Winery becoming the first winery in Mexico to use solar panels in its winemaking process. 

I checked into the resort just last year for a weekend stay in one of their luxury suites spread about a bucolic vineyard. There, I met Gina Estrada, a sommelier and deputy general manager of the vineyard and powerhouse wine brand’s labels that include G&G by Ginasommelier. She is one of a growing number of female winemakers in leadership positions in Mexico, particularly in an industry with an overwhelming number of unequal gender representation worldwide.

“Historically, the wine industry has been male dominated globally, but there has been a noticeable shift toward gender diversity and inclusivity in recent years,” Estrada says. “This shift is also evident in Valle de Guadalupe, where women are increasingly being recognized for their contributions and leadership in wineries, vineyards and other related areas, and the industry is becoming more inclusive and diverse.” 

Women in wine

Organizations like Mujeres in Taninos, for example, first started in 2020 as an effort to help Mexican women interested in the wine industry to receive training, professional and legal support. Today, the association has over 100 members that network and create job opportunities for women winemakers in the region. Bibiana Parra, co-founder of Mujeres in Taninos, says that female winemakers play a significant role in promoting Mexican wine both nationally and internationally. 

Participation in events, trade fairs, tastings and marketing activities help promote wines produced in Mexico while strengthening their position in the industry. 

“These positive changes represent significant progress toward inclusion and gender equality in the Mexican wine industry, although there is still work to be done to ensure that female winemakers have equal opportunities and recognition at all levels,” she says. 

Read on to learn more about a few women trailblazers in Mexico’s wine industry. 

Gina Estrada

Sommelier Gina Estrada exemplifying women in wine
Photo courtesy of Gina Estrada

Sommelier and deputy general manager of El Cielo, vice president of the Association of Mexican Sommeliers

It was Gina Estrada’s father who first sparked a deep connection to wine that has carried her into positions of leadership throughout Mexico today. “He lived in Europe for many years, and after he married my mother, our table was always well-stocked with wine, bread and cheese,” Estrada says. 

In 2000, Estrada took the first Diploma for the Formation of Sommeliers. “During one class session, I noticed several classmates were absent because they were applying at Le Cirque Restaurant, and the restaurant’s quality and fame at the time caught my attention, so I also went to apply,” she says. “Out of more than 50 applicants, there were seven sommeliers hired, including myself, and it was my first professional job in a restaurant with more than 800 labels in the world. 

“Those years were filled with a lot of learning, during which I discovered that the world of wine was a profession and a passion I wanted to pursue.” 

That commitment has led her to gain impressive titles including the ambassador for Cognac LOUIS XIII for more than 16 years, educator for the wine course programs at Academia Mexicana de Sommeliers and CEO of her own personal brand, Ginasommelier 2010. 

Today, she and her husband Gustavo Ortega head El Cielo Resort & Winery, which encompasses 219 acres with plots that include malbec, tempranillo and chardonnay. Twice a year, the vineyard resort becomes home to a diploma course in wine for the training of sommeliers endorsed by the Mexican Academy of Sommeliers, the academic arm of the Mexican Sommeliers Association. Sixty percent of El Cielo’s past participants in the program have been women. 

“At El Cielo, we seek leadership in all areas and offer women the same opportunities as male employees,” she says. “I am proud that El Cielo has very talented women such as Mónica, Ana and Paola, our architects, Luisa as the head of Wine Tourism, Martha as our marketing director and Elena leading in the orchard, among other women that work hard every day and contribute their passion and knowledge to the development of El Cielo.” 

Lulú Martinez Ojeda

Sommelier Lulu Martinez Ojeda exemplifying women in wine
Photo courtesy of Lulú Martinez Ojeda

Sommelier at Bruma Valle de Guadalupe winery and villas in Baja California

Visit Valle de Guadalupe on any given night at Fauna and its on-site winery, Bruma, and you’ll feel the pulse of the region. Here, winemaker and sommelier Lulú Martinez Ojeda creates bottles of her popular Plan B and Ocho Tinto bottles. I had the pleasure of meeting her during my visit, and you can instantly feel her passion in her convivial spirit.

“For me, wine and food equaled festivities, family, joy, sharing and all over good times. I found it magical to be able to actually be behind a product that could generate such profound interactions,” she says.

Ojeda grew up surrounded by her great-grandmother’s vineyard in Ensenada. She went on to study enology and viticulture in Bordeaux, where she would work for 10 years before arriving back in Mexico to create wines for Bodegas Henri Lurton, and now, at Bruma. Her bottles have been sold in acclaimed places like The French Laundry in Napa and Topolobampo in Chicago. She says that Mexico’s close-knit community and location is what makes the wine produced in the Valle so special. 

“We are still small, and owners, winemakers, chefs are still very hands-on,” she says. “We all run our businesses and are here day in and day out. It’s still a family thing, you can feel it. There’s soul and heart in what we do. And the fact that we have amazing sea products, gastronomy, architecture on top of amazing wines, makes it a unique experience, it’s much more than just great wine.” 

Ojeda is part of Mujeres in Taninos, and she says she has made it a priority to be more involved with initiatives to support young women in wine just starting out.  “Today, as a young industry free of historical patriarchal weight, in Mexico we have a lot of women in production and business,” she says. “The second generation of winemakers and business owners in Baja are largely women. I have seen that what our peers struggled to build is now much more organic and seems less of a battle and more of a natural progression. 

“We still have to conquer the heads of associations and government boards, but we will get there,” she adds. 

Sandra Fernández

Sommelier Sandra Fernandez exemplifying women in wine
Photo courtesy of Sandra Fernández

Sommelier and maestra tequilera, founder of SFG Estrategias en Vinos y Destilados, a consulting firm for the wine and spirits business in Mexico 

It’s impossible to speak of women winemakers in Mexico and not include Sandra Fernández, who, with over 20 years of experience, is considered one of the most influential figures in the industry. The sommelier and owner of SFG Public Relations for Premium Wine & Spirits was named the most outstanding figure by the Association of Mexican Sommeliers and one of the 25 most important and influential wine leaders by Líderes Mexicanos magazine. Her passion for wine was sparked under the tutelage of Karen MacNeil at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. “She taught me that wine was a possibility of being a profession in my life; that wine, in addition to geography, history, winemaking techniques and viticultural management, brings together an elegant and deep coexistence between people,” Fernández says. 

She credits Mexico’s geographic diversity and more than 9 million people becoming of legal drinking age every year as part of what makes the country’s wine industry so attractive. With many women also making the decision on which bottles to buy for the home, there has also been an increase in women becoming a part of the wine world. “The industry is buoyant and more women are betting on it,” she says.

Today, her consulting firm SFG advises hotels, restaurants, wine and spirits collectors. “In my office, we are all women, and my people are educated in the world of wine. When projects arrive that don’t fit in my office due to time or other reasons, I always try to hand them to other female colleagues,” she says. “I will try to do business with my gender but will never discard male talent. My feminism does not mean discarding gender, it means integrating them to support you, to collaborate together.” 

She adds, “The wine industry in Mexico has not been immune to this inequality, but curiously enough, the leadership of the industry is being dominated by more women in terms of proportion against outstanding men, which obviously do exist, but in a smaller proportion.”

Fernández is currently working on an experiential project alongside two other women called Winefullness, which will use meditation as a tool to learn how to taste wine. 

Romina Mendoza

Sommelier Romina Mendoza exemplifying women in wine
Photo courtesy of Romina Mendoza

Sommelier, co-founder and educator at the Cavalier Wine Society in Tijuana

For sommelier Romina Mendoza, her career launching point started with a wine education class at San Diego University. “This class made me realize that wine was much more than just a beautiful drink that made me feel special when dining,” she says. “Wine makes you be present, be in the moment while tasting and discovering aromas and structure. It makes you forget about whatever happens outside for a minute.” 

Mendoza has nearly 10 years of experience as a wine specialist and holds several certifications in wine, including Certified Sommelier by The Court of Master Sommelier and French Wine Scholar by Wine Scholar Guild. Today, she is co-founder and educator at Cavalier Wine Society, which educates students with classes and tastings in Tijuana, Mexico.

“Women are more immersed in wine studies than men, participating in more classes and certifications that globally validate wine knowledge,” she says. “I think that is because it is a male driven industry and, like most, we need to work harder to be heard. I believe that in Mexico, women are working in higher positions with strong networks to help the younger generations gain experience and knowledge. Some examples of women that inspire me in Mexico’s wine industry are: Keiko Nishikawa (sales), Rocío Amador (Guía Peñín), Sandra Fernández (consultant), Lulú Martinez (production), Shyntia Perez (education).”

Mendoza is part of the Women’s Wine Alliance and Campestre Mag and says that her door is always open to women interested in learning more about the wine industry. “I believe that humans are meant to share experiences and knowledge for the next generation to be better. I want to see more women in the industry in top positions,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Lulú Martinez Ojeda