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This Ballerina Left The Stage For A Most Unusual Second Career

Business

Until I was 21 years old, ballet was my life, with ambitions and a determination to stay on stage. I could have never imagined that my career would turn and rewardingly lead me to a wine cellar.


I became a professional dancer, after many years of training, when I was a teenager and I collaborated with different dance companies based in the city of Florence, Italy. The life of a dancer isn’t always the easiest, it takes a lot of passion as well as sacrifices. While still dancing, I started to study winemaking at university. I found out that the other students were getting together after classes to taste wine, eat good food and spend some time talking about it. Being a dancer meant that I wasn’t allowed to do those things, and my life was so busy that I never had the time to do it anyways. I gradually started to realize that winemaking was becoming more important for me and that I wanted to have more time to share this new interest with other people. It was at that point that I made up my mind and decided to quit my dance career. It wasn’t easy at first, because dance was the only natural thing to me.

Naturally, I had doubts and fears but luckily the wine world came up so interesting that I was confident about my decision, becoming more aware that art can regenerate itself into new disciplines, and can keep on transforming you, if only you are able to listen.

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What came after was the beginning of an inspiring new journey, just as complicated and fulfilling as ballet had been. After graduation, I traveled to different countries outside Italy, following harvests across the globe. After a few years, I started to feel the need to go back to Italy, missing its tradition. I started to look for a good opportunity to move back. I got in contact with Frescobaldi, one of the oldest growing wineries in Italy, and when they offered me to join their team, I took the chance to be part of this amazing company.

Winemaking is a blend of art and science. It takes passion and a good number of hours spent studying but also making attempts, finding new solutions, new ways of expression and harmony.

Lucia Minoggio at Tuscan winery Frescobaldi.

Winemaking is indeed a very practical job, so it is necessary to gain as much experience as possible on the field. I have operated in many different sectors of production throughout the cellar and the lab, to understand what it takes to make wine. I traveled a lot because it proves to be useful to know how in different places people can solve the same problem or reach a good goal in a completely different way compared to the one that you always used. I think it is important to be curious without forgetting the technical knowledge that is at the base of this job.

Frescobaldi has a very long history in the wine world and to me the challenge here is to be able to use my curiosity about what’s new, to blend it in a harmonic way with the tradition. There they gave me the chance to believe that even in the “old wine world” there is the chance for a woman to become a winemaker, even if agriculture is still mostly dominated by men. For this reason, I admire women like my friend Priyanka French - she’s an awesome winemaker who comes from India and works in California- and my mother who were able before me to make their way in this field giving me the passion and the strength to believe that I could do it as well.

I understand that for men who find themselves having a woman as a cellar master for the first time, it isn’t easy. It is something new and different compared to how it used to be for decades before.

It takes time to begin a new adventure and we don’t always choose who our traveling companions will be.

To face the journey as a team gives confidence to everyone, including the person who has to show the way to others. I empowered myself trying to share with my team the reasons why I take my decisions, listening to their suggestions and trying to solve problems quickly.

It is always very important to keep a high level of attention in the cellar, because many things happen at the same time. It can be challenging sometimes to trust your own decisions when you are in a rush and you make them just based on what you can smell or taste. Although working in the countryside means that it is possible to enjoy every day the amazing view of the hillside, the harvest is such a busy time that during those weeks life outside the winery doesn’t exist anymore. In the meantime, it is very satisfactory to taste a glass of wine being able to remember the day when the grapes where picked. During the year the wine evolves, just as one’s tastes and desires do; thus, it is important to develop the ability to understand what it needs and to always take care of every single barrel in the cellar.

Wine puts people together and, realizing that you are the winemaker who made it. It’s a feeling that doesn’t compare to anything else. In my opinion, it is important to keep in mind this feeling to be able to succeed. Similarly, when you are on stage: You are presenting yourself to an audience and all that you want is that audience to be united under the same intense emotion.

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.