Wine has an important place in Australian culture – it’s a feature of celebrations, of special occasions, and also just of a good night in with a delicious dinner and excellent company.
And Australians are incredibly lucky – we’re home to some of the most lauded wine in the world, with some of the very best grown and produced in the Barossa. Every second year, wine enthusiasts have the chance to experience the excellence first hand at the Barossa Wine Auction, and this year is particularly special, with women at the front and centre of this hallmark event of the wine calendar.
‘Mistress of Ceremonies’ at the Auction, Jane Thomson, has been raising the profile of female wine makers and consumers for years now, through The Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society, and she thinks most Australians would be surprised to know that the wine industry is unfortunately not immune to the gender parity issues faced by other sectors.
Over the phone, Jane’s enthusiasm for the wine industry is palpable through her voice. She grew up in the industry through her father’s vineyards in the Hunter Valley.
“I think once you’ve got the wine industry in your blood, you might disappear for a while, but it’s such a beautiful industry to work in that I couldn’t wait to come back,” Jane says. “I started The Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society in 2012, as a way to better communicate the joys and the intricacies of wine to female consumers. And I really did want, as part of that, to champion women in the industry and provide a platform to introduce them to female consumers. Because there’s nothing like getting the sisterhood to work, right?”
“I think once you’ve got the wine industry in your blood, you might disappear for a while, but it’s such a beautiful industry to work in that I couldn’t wait to come back,”
But what Jane didn’t realise at the time was that in reality, women make up a relatively low percentage of wine makers in Australia.
“When I started to dig around into the statistics a little bit, what I found was quite shocking. 50 per cent of graduates coming out of things like wine making and viticulture degrees are female. So we have no problem attracting women into the industry,” Jane says. “What happens though, is that in a few short years in the industry, those figures plummet drastically to less than 10 per cent.”
What was causing this drop in female participation? According to Jane, it’s a mix of a few things, including a ‘boys club’ culture that still permeates the wine industry, as well as more structural issues around workplace policies that don’t necessarily account for the needs of women who might be parents or primary carers.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Change is coming, and Jane is leading the way with the Australian Women in Wine Awards, which she set up in 2015. The awards champion women wine producers, and raise their profile in the industry.
And this year at the Barossa Wine Auction, women in the wine industry will be front and centre, with Jane as the MC and Tamara Grischy, Head of Wine Auctions at Langtons, as the joint auctioneer on the day. Tamara was the winner of the Woman of Inspiration – Australian Women in Wine Award in 2018 and has been working in the wine industry for over two decades.
For her, wine is not just a beverage, it’s a lifelong passion.
“I love wine and the industry, as it is a social lifestyle and is an infinite journey of learning. A bottle of wine changes throughout its life as it gets older and I love this. Wine can be complex and intellectual and it can also be simple and just about the enjoyment,” she says.
In her time in the industry, Tamara has seen the trade change and grow, and one of the most positive transitions she has witnessed is the move to actively address gender equality outcomes.
“Diversity empowers organisations – this is a fact, and today’s workplaces must reflect our demographics. [Langtons] has made a conscious effort in promoting women. We know we need to be more vocal and talk about gender status within our industry.”
This ethos is filtering through the industry, and excitingly, 17 of the 60 wineries participating in the Barossa Wine Auction this year have women in lead positions, which is the highest representation at the annual event to date.
For Jane, it’s very heartening to see a premier event like the Barossa Wine Auction take the lead in raising the profile of women.
“The Barossa is arguably one of Australia’s most internationally recognised wine regions. It doesn’t just have the eyes of Australia on what’s happening in the Barossa, it has the eyes of the wine world,” she explains. “So, when the Barossa Wine Auction decides to have a focus on women in wine, hallelujah, because we know that the world is watching what the Barossa does, every step of the way.”
And the commitment to gender equality is really just the cherry on top of what is a fantastic day out. The Auction takes place over the course of a day, with wine tastings in the morning followed by a luncheon where guests can meet and talk to the producers who have wines in the Auction.
“So, when the Barossa Wine Auction decides to have a focus on women in wine, hallelujah, because we know that the world is watching what the Barossa does, every step of the way.”
“They’re all in the room with you. It’s a fantastic chance to meet the person behind the product, to hear from their own lips their story, their history, their passion,” Jane says.
“And if you’ve never been to a wine auction before, oh my goodness, it is so much fun. You’ve got people getting really swept up in the moment, I guess you get carried by the stories. And also, you want to be able to lay your hand on some things that you literally cannot get anywhere else.”
Guests are able to bid for wines that have been carefully selected by producers for the day, and that are often not available any other time. It’s a not-to-be-missed opportunity for the wine enthusiast.
“Putting women who produce wine together with women who drink wine is a magical combination”
At the end of the day, wine is about community – it’s about bringing people together, sparking conversations and acknowledging important moments in our lives. For Jane, it’s this human side to the business that keeps her motivated to contribute to the industry she loves.
“I love the human stories. I love being able to work with women in wine and introduce them to female consumers and allowing that dialogue and that relationship to flow. And again, as I said at the beginning, putting women who produce wine together with women who drink wine is a magical combination.”
The 2019 Barossa Wine Auction opens for online bidding on Friday 5 April, closing on Sunday 5 May. The top lots are being auctioned at the Live Auction and Lunch on Friday 26 April. Gather your friends for a delicious lunch, join the fun in bidding at the live auction and celebrate some remarkable women making waves in the industry. Register to bid www.langtons.com.au and get your lunch tickets here.