Last week I walked into what I believe, Heaven would look like.
A big, dimly lit room filled with inspiring women, happy chatter, Harbour views, and perhaps the largest slabs of cheese anyone has ever encountered. And there was wine, so, so much wine.
Meet the Makers, hosted by Cellarmasters gave thirsty Sydney slickers the opportunity to meet some of the wine industry’s most established women. Women, who have pushed through male-dominated ranks to emerge pioneers in their field.
Take for instance Kathleen Quealy who, in 2016, became the first female ‘Legend of the Vine’ awarded by Wine Communicators of Australia. She went on to study viticulture and winemaking under the tutelage of Pinot Gris advocate Max Loder, before cultivating her own reputation for a new variation (never before seen in Australia we might add) Pinot Grigio.
Despite her own mammoth success, Kathleen concedes that winemaking is not always the easiest industry for women to excel. “Of course the ego of a man is attracted to this role like bees to honey,” she jokes. Her advice to aspiring women though, is straightforward: “be educated, informed and innovative.”
“To achieve your winemaking goals requires resilience and most important, you must support and encourage the growers, the cellar hands, the sales and business people around you that let it all happen,” she says.
Julie Montgomery, another fierce winemaker from Avon Brae, Eden Valley celebrates the fact the industry has changed so dramatically from when she started out.
“The Wine Industry has long been a male dominated environment, at times gaining it a reputation for being a bit of a boys club,” she says. “But our culture is definitely changing and so is the industry. A lot of businesses today are looking for diversity in their teams and there are certainly more opportunities for women.”
“I think the modern consumer appreciates good wine, regardless of who makes it. At the end of the day, our goal is to make great wines for the customer to enjoy.”
Sarah Pigeon of the renowned Wynns Coonawarra Estate has a different take. She agrees things have changed but thinks there’s still a long way to go before winemaking is gender balanced and equal.
“Women I’ve talked to who started with winemaking and then move out of it cite various reasons, many of which come back to thinking it’s too hard to stay with it,” she says.
During her career, Sarah has faced plenty of conscious and unconscious bias which she believes is commonplace for women pursuing careers in winemaking. Along with this, Pigeon believes female winemakers come up against a number of emotional obstacles which often result in them leaving the industry prematurely. She encourages women to push through these fears.
“Don’t give up your career, it’s worth it, you’re worth it,” she says.
She also advises women considering a career in wine not to overthink the future and family. “This is the #1 cited worry and reason for women thinking it’s too hard to remain in winemaking,” she says. “Historically men don’t think about this at all. They spend that mental time thinking about their next career/wine move and then making it.” Women should do the same.
Janelle Zerk, a fifth generation winemaker from ‘Z Wine’ in the Barossa Valley agrees that focus and ambition is the key to success.
“My advice would be to focus on your own projects and what you want to achieve, run your own race and don’t worry about anyone else around you (male or female),” she says. “Let the wines you have created speak for themselves.”