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  • Julia Harding MW
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  • Julia Harding MW
13 Nov 2017

September's Australian Women in Wine tasting that I report on today was held at London's Australia House. This imposing building, very close to Trafalgar Square, apparently provided one of the film sets for Wonderwoman (2017). How deliciously apposite. 

The tasting was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by wine writer Sarah Ahmed, who earlier in the day had been awarded the status of 'Honorary Australian Woman in Wine'. Her presentation included some very interesting statistics about women in the wine trade and in wine education. I have reproduced below, courtesy of Wine Australia, the three slides that I found particularly enlightening on the topics of education and women working in restaurants.

These first two slides show the increasing numbers of women successfully studying wine around the world, through the WSET and the Institute of Masters of Wine. The Vintners' Cup, referred to in the first slide, is awarded to the top student in any one year (Jancis and Sarah Ahmed among them).

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The third slide, below, shows the much slower advance of female sommeliers. While part of the survey is UK specific (the UK Sommelier of the Year Award – I wonder what happened in the 1990s?), from what Jancis reported on the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium in New York, the situation doesn't seem much more encouraging there. The number of female Master Sommelier graduates is still relatively low and shows nothing like the same acceleration as other areas of wine education. In the London discussion, Christine Parkinson, wine director for the international Hakkasan group of restaurants, put forward a very forceful explanation: whereas the young men she worked with needed little encouragement to put themselves forward for promotion or greater responsibility, the women needed it in spades.

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Coincidentally, I was sent an email last week from London wine merchant El Vino, now owned by Davy's, announcing their intention to celebrate at their Blackfriars and Fleet Street wine bars the 35th anniversary of a landmark legal case that struck a blow for women's freedom. 

They explain: 'For many years, El Vino had an old-fashioned approach to service at the bar which precluded women from ordering their own drinks. That changed 35 years ago when two women, solicitor Tess Gill and journalist Anna Coote, won a famous legal case in the Court of Appeal which overturned the service policy and created newspaper headlines and national debate.' 

I might have found it hard to believe this was only 35 years ago had it not been for my experience at London's Garrick Club in 2008 when, arriving early for a port tasting, I was ushered away from the (empty) bar before I could commit the indiscretion of attempting to order a drink, though all I desired was a glass of water. 

See the El Vino website for more details of their celebration. Throughout November they will also be fundraising for the Fawcett Society, the UK's leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women's rights.