YOUNTVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Every year for the last 12 years the vineyard workers of the Napa Valley have gathered in the soft light of a mid-winter morning, shears at the ready, game faces on, each eager to prove he's the best man on the job.
But this year, there was something a little different about the Napa Valley Grapegrowers' pruning competition. Some of the contestants lining up to hack and slash at the overgrown vines were women.
"There's been this perennial conversation about, 'Do we include women in the competition?' And the answer's always been, 'Not yet,'" explained Jennifer Putnam, executive director of the group. "This year we looked around the room and just thought, 'Yes, it's time.'"
And it was.
Not only did the newcomers to the event compete hard, posting excellent scores in technique and quality, organizers announced some hours after the event that the women's first-place winner, Celia Perez of V. Sattui Winery, had the highest scores for both men and women.
Talk about a dazzling debut.
The decision to open up the contest to women marks a change in what used to be the nearly exclusively man's world of vineyard work. There are a lot more women to be seen working in the fields, something that accelerated after the 2008 recession swallowed up other jobs.
Meanwhile, the idea of vineyard equality has become accepted as women have progressed, some becoming leaders of "A'' crews, the much-sought after top harvest teams. "The cultural shift has now taken place where we felt like the women would be comfortable enough coming to the competition," said Putnam.
Pruning is an important part of vine husbandry that focuses the new growth on vines and helps determine what the next harvest will look like. Different techniques are used for different grapes and climates, and skill is as important as speed. For the growers' contest, workers are first judged on technique, then winners are ranked by time and the finalists battle it out for first through fourth place.