Interview with a Female-only Wine Competition Organizer: Didier Martin of Feminalise
Didier Martin is the French founder of a French wine competition that has been running for over 10 years, and is now growing international.
There are hundreds of wine competitions judging and awarding wines all over the world.
So what’s special about Didier’s wine competition?
The Feminalise World Wine Competition is only judged by female tasters.
And there are so many wines entering the competition now waiting to be judged (more than 4000 of them are submitted by wineries from many countries), that the event has to find and gather more than 700 wine-expert women in one single place for the occasion.
While males are allowed around the competition to help with the pouring and the organisation (with Didier Martin leading the troups for it), no man, not even Didier, is allowed for judging the wines or even during the event’s lunch.
I have caught up with Didier to learn more about the man behind this successful and original wine competition.
For the background info reading, you can learn more about this event at Feminalise World Wine Competition – Wines Judged by Women.
Q: Every wine professional, or every wine lover more generally, has his/her own intimate story with wine, what is yours, how does it start for you?
Didier Martin: My grand-mother had some vineyards in Mercurey she sold during the war. I used to go to restaurants and enjoy great meals paired with wines but I was not into this business, my first profession was in construction! Then I started to work for a regional wine bureau that promotes local wines, but as a construction painter… There, I met wine growers and wine lovers. I discovered and learnt about wine thanks to them.
While painting and renovating their building I was watching them organizing a wine competition. With the vigor of youth – I was then 22 years-old – I told them they didn’t do a good job! They told me “Since you are that smart, you will be in charge of the next competition”. Challenge accepted!
That was my first competition…
Q: When did you first have the idea of a wine competition judged only by women, and what is the inception of this idea in your mind?
Didier Martin: More than 20 years ago! After renovating work, I was hired by the same people to sell their wines – large domains in Burgundy and I kept organizing wine competitions. While selling wines I realized that 8 out of 10 times when a couple arrived the woman was deciding. So why not do something for them?
Q: What happened between the idea and the implementation? When did you actually start the Feminalise competition? Was it difficult to get it going?
Didier Martin: I needed to wait for an evolution of mentalities and… Funds! 20 years ago, it was almost taboo to have a competition with only women tasting. And I had to wait for a while to get enough funds, only from my pockets! With the help of partners such as a printing company etc.
Apart from waiting for mentalities to evolve, it was not difficult. I didn’t even hear all the people who told me “it won’t work” – “only women, it’s just a joke…” thank god I was not listening! Now, they register their wines.
As for finding the right judges, that was easy: I was experienced and had the contacts but above all they are passionate about it.
So no real difficulties…
Q: What have you learnt during the more than 10 years of Feminalise Awards?
Didier Martin: Nothing surprised me. I was sure I was doing the right thing.
Q: Is the competition better today than it was 10 years ago?
Didier Martin: Yes, of course because we improved it. Not the tasting system. Still the same, it’s a concept: women are tasting wines in different places, wines served by the glass at the right temperature.
But we went from 1200 wines tasted to more than 4000! We had to become more professional about it. Whether it is in the event coordination, in the preparation, follow up, promoting the winning award wines etc. throughout the year.
Q: So you’ve seen female wine professionals tasting for 10 years. How differently do women taste from man?
Didier Martin: Generally speaking, when a woman does something she does it thoroughly. Men… a bit less!
Men will hunt for the faults in the wine. Women are usually fast, efficient and go straight to the point… when it comes to wines!
But basically, I don’t think they are any differences.
Q: So why a wine competition for women then?
Didier Martin: So they can have their own place in this wine industry. Also because they are taking a more and more important role. Also… I must love women! 30 years ago during my first competitions there were no women tasting. Hopefully, it evolves too.
The Feminalise competition is also a networking opportunity for the female tasters. They come from 18 different countries and exchange their experiences and points of views. This is a paradox indeed because only women are allowed so they can express their tasting abilities without being judged about their professionalism! Even the seasoned oenophiles are incredibly fantastic tasters. And we need them in our competitions because they are the trendsetters and they buy the wines!
Q: What wines do you think female appreciate best?
Didier Martin: Honestly, none. And I am certainly not the right person to tell you!
We are talking about individuals, above their gender. People tend to think that women like sweet wines… cliché! They also like harder wines like Cahors or Pommard as only a couple of examples.
Well, consuming habits change anyway. Many many years ago, it was common knowledge that women preferred white wine because it would not stain their teeth! Not entirely wrong but the role of women in society has changed and they drink red wines as well… even more.
In the end, there is no wines for women! They are open to all sorts of wines.
We also need to consider here that all the countries are not the same in these social and economic evolutions. It is not always that easy to generalize. Between Germany, France, or Asia there are significant differences!
Q: The concept of Feminalise seems rather universal. There’s women buying and enjoying wine everywhere. Do you think the wine competition will expand further outside Europe?
Didier Martin: Yes, that’s the goal! It is not easy as I said that are differences in mentalities because some areas can still be macho. Let’s say it!
In order to expand even more, we will move the competition from Beaune to Paris to show that we are international and global – hopefully 😉
Q: Finally, and to finish on a personal touch, what are your favorite wines?
Didier Martin: My favorite wines?… ALL of them! From the entire world!
Well, of course I have a thing for Burgundy wines – it’s my native region!
I am also mad about Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Australian wine, Californian, and Austrian too… They have fantastic wines.
In each region or country I go to, I always buy and taste award-winning wines (any competitions) and I am never disappointed. Just one thing: always pay attention to the year of the competition. Wines change with time as we all know. Indeed, if you buy now a wine that had an award in 2010…. This wine has nothing to do with the wine the tasters judged.
So in the end…. A competition is very simple to understand: it’s the instant picture of a wine at a precise moment by a human being. They are not machines they have their own mood too! That’s also why we think that by separating them it’s fairer for the wine.
Q: And do you let your wife pick them for you at the shop?
Didier Martin: She always picks the wine! In restaurants as well… like that… I am not taking any risks! 😉