Winning Australian wimmin in wine

This morning the Australian Women in Wine Awards were announced in London, live-streamed to the Australian evening with much whooping and emotion from the biggest-ever group of Australian wine producers (of any sex) ever to have gathered together in London. Brian Walsh of Wine Australia presented irrefutable evidence of the value of these awards: apparently only about half of female wine graduates join the wine industry when they qualify – and by 10 years later, the proportion of them employed in wine is under 10%. So there really is a need to raise the profile of Australian women in wine and to celebrate their not inconsiderable achievements. Read the hugely impressive bios below. (The hour-long video of the awards event can be seen here.)

Apparently the energetic founder of the Awards, Jane Thomson of The Fabulous Ladies' Wine Society in Australia, has been abused and trolled for her trouble. This I find truly horrifying and depressing, and learnt of it within an hour of reading that the BBC's extremely smart political commentator Laura Kuenssberg, the first woman to occupy this role, has been so vilified that she has been assigned a bodyguard. Clearly, although at last several of the most significant British wine companies now have a woman at the helm, there are many obstacles still to be overcome before we achieve true equality.

We are delighted to announce that the award we sponsored, Owner/Operator of the Year, went to Sarah Collingwood of Four Winds Vineyard of Canberra (pictured here with Julia and me). You can read just how deserving she is in this rollcall of bios of the shortlisted nominees (winners are asterisked). 

RESEARCHER OF THE YEAR sponsored by Inkwell Wines

*Christine Böttcher, CSIRO Agriculture and Food
Since 2008, Christine has been working as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Scientist within a research group at CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Waite Campus. Her research looks at innovative solutions to the effect on climate change on the Australian wine industry and an in-depth investigation into grape berry ripening. The latter has resulted in the development of methods to manipulate grape berry ripening that will improve fruit and wine quality and resolve some climate change-induced harvesting issues. Her work has been published in 12 peer-reviewed papers and she is now involved in a range of studies taking place in commercial Australian vineyards.

Dr Kerry Wilkinson and Dr Renata Ristic, Adelaide University
Kerry is the Associate Professor of Oenology and Renata is a Doctor of Philosophy and a senior research fellow. During the last five years they have worked together to apply their expertise in analytical chemistry, sensory science, viticulture and winemaking to a range of grape and wine projects, none more important than their research into the impact of bushfire smoke on wine grapes, known as smoke taint. The duo has developed methods for the detection and quantifying of smoke taint in grapes and wine. They have co-authored almost half the peer-reviewed journal articles published on smoke taint worldwide (19 out of 40 papers since 2007) and are rightly regarded as the go-to experts on the subject.

Patricia Williamson, Australian Wine Research Institute, Adelaide
Patricia is a senior sensory scientist responsible for research in wine quality and consumer preferences projects. In the last five years her work has concentrated on comparing Chinese new-to-wine consumers with Australian wine drinkers. It is believed to be the first cross-cultural sensory preference study published in wine. She has also been involved in collating wine terms relevant from a Chinese language and cultural perspective. Her work gives the Australian wine community an important understanding of the drivers of consumer preference in China.

CELLAR DOOR PERSON OF THE YEAR sponsored by Platinum Bags

Janine Carter, Voyager Estate, Margaret River
The wine experience at Voyager Estate comprises a wine room/restaurant/direct sales all of which is directly overseen by Janine. In 2012, the wine room was refurbished to incorporate seated tastings. People now pay to sit down with themed flights of wine: self-guided or with a staff member. In 2014, a six-course Discovery Menu was offered in the restaurant. Last year, another big step was taken: a tasting fee was introduced on every wine tasting with three flights of wine offered accompanied by wine-friendly shared plates. This innovation now allows Janine to introduce museum wines for tastings.

*Jasmine Morgan, Caudo Vineyard, Riverland, South Australia
Jasmine believes the cellar door wine tasting experience should be not only informative and educational but fun and relaxed. She is involved in every aspect of the Caudo Vineyard cellar door and encourages wine lovers to discover more about the vineyards, the source of the wines they are drinking, leading them to a look-out point with a 360-degree view of the site. Born and raised in the Riverland, the country’s largest wine region, she is committed to showcasing not only the wines of Caudo but the region itself. The company collaborates with many regional food and beverage bodies to offer more options and assistance to cellar door visitors new to the Riverland.

Sharyn Stagg, Josef Chromy Wines, Relbia, Tasmania
Sharyn is a trained wine professional who ensures that visitors to Josef Chromy, many of whom are from interstate or overseas, have the opportunity to learn about the producer. Visitors are seated overlooking the vineyards, tastings are offered for a small fee, and wine lovers are invited to taste five estate wines or they can choose other wines off the list. The Josef Chromy is a member of Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia highlighting great winery experiences, whether it’s fly fishing with lunch to follow, or a one-hour winery tour guided by Sharyn called ‘Go Behind The Label’.

VITICULTURIST OF THE YEAR sponsored by Wine Australia

Brooke Howell, Yalumba
Brooke is the Technical Manager for Yalumba and Hill-Smith Family Vineyards in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, looking after the health and welfare of 185 separate blocks of vines. Fascinated by organic and biodynamic viticulture, she continues to lead in this area, and in 2015 received the silver award for Young Organic Leader (under 30) in the Australian Organic Annual Awards. Her current work is focused on addressing the likely effects of climate change and a drier future for grape growing.

*Jennifer Doyle, Jansz, Coal River Valley, Tasmania
The long-time viticulturist for Frogmore Creek vineyard, Jennifer stayed on when Hill-Smith Family Vineyards bought the property and re-named it Jansz Parish Vineyard. Shortly after the ownership change, in 2013 she embarked on a major vineyard programme, one of the most extensive viticultural works undertaken in Tasmania in recent times. The original 62-ha site was redeveloped and a second vineyard, 42 ha at Forcett, was planted. Local Bhutanese refugees make up the bulk of the Jansz skilled workforce, and Jennifer speaks proudly of her involvement in their education and training. In 2012 she was awarded the Dr Don Martin Sustainable Viticulture Fellowship.

Melissa Brown, Gemtree Wines, McLaren Vale
Gemtree vineyards comprise 124 hectares. Wine is made for the Gemtree label and the company also supplies fruit to nine companies including Pernod Ricard and Angoves. Melissa liaises with all companies to meet their specific fruit specifications and grades of quality. In 2007, despite opposition and scepticism from some colleagues, she converted the Gemtree Vineyards from conventional practices to biodynamic. Today it is one of the largest certified organic vineyards in the country. She regularly participates in scientific research projects, and her vineyard has been the site for what is believed to be the largest project of its kind in the world, a six-year trial comparing organic, biodynamic and conventional viticulture.

WOMAN OF INSPIRATION sponsored by Irvine Wines
This new award is designed to recognise a woman whose contribution and achievement has had a significant impact on the Australian wine community. There was no entry required as the award recipient *Sue Hodder of Wynns, Coonawarra, was decided by the AWIWA advisory board.

Outlining the award, Jane Thomson reminded us that Sue Hodder was distinguished because she listens, inspires and empowers. ‘With her viticultural and winemaking team, she is working to answer some of the biggest questions in the Australian wine industry today, questions to do with sustainability, climate change and protecting the health of the land for future generations … and that includes future viticulturists and winemakers.

‘And then there are the big questions closer to her home. She lives in the deep red centre for the Cabernet Sauvignon grape in Australia:Coonawarra. How does she continue to engage and astound wine consumers around the world with the great beauty of Cabernet Sauvignon, when it is under threat from so many sides? With patience and attention to detail. Our Woman Of Inspiration is quiet, almost to the point of shyness, but looks can be deceiving.

‘Raised in Alice Springs, she originally studied agricultural science at Roseworthy College between 1981 AND 1983. Her thoughts moved to wine when she accepted a Penfolds scholarship in 1984 to study and review the vineyards of the Kaiser Stuhl growers in the Barossa Valley. Then her path to winemaking took a circuitous course, from wine retailing with the Oddbins chain in London, to working vintage at Fetzer Vineyard in California. She was employed at Penfolds in Nuriootpa making sparkling wine under the Seaview label, and in 1988 became sparkling winemaker at Seppelt Great Western. Since 1992 she has lived and worked in Coonawarra. Her first job was as assistant winemaker to Peter Douglas at Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate. In 1998 she moved into the top job. She continues in that role today.

‘Possibly her strongest winemaking statement, the one that wine drinkers around the world appreciate, is Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a timeless quality. Last year, she and fellow Wynn’s winemaker, Sarah Pidgeon, were jointly named Winemaker of the Year by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology.’

MARKETER OF THE YEAR sponsored by Brown Brothers

*Ebony Tinkler, Usher Tinkler Wines, Hunter Valley
Having noted a difficulty in attracting a new and younger audience to the Hunter Valley – in part because she saw the traditional marketing emphasis had been on the wines alone – Ebony Tinkler decided to take a different approach. She wanted to create a wine tourism experience that would put a face and personality to her family’s wine brand. She wanted consumers to be able to explore wines in a social setting with good food, all of which gave rise to her new marketing credo: ‘Usher Tinkler Wines – Born for Sociability.’ With her husband, Usher, the original Pokolbin Church, built in 1905, was bought around 18 months ago and renovated with seating inside and out and a kitchen. Locally sourced foods showing the depth of the Valley’s resources were made available to wine tourists and new wines such as the Hunter’s first Prosecco were produced by Usher Tinkler Wines.

Imogen Hayes, Handpicked Wines, Sydney
Imogen has embarked on an ambitious Direct To Consumer marketing strategy for Handpicked Wines. In November 2016 she launched the first Handpicked Urban Cellar Door in Chippendale, building a experiential venue destined to become a tourism destination in Sydney. It incorporates fine wine retail, wine tastings, corporate meeting spaces, a wine and cheese lounge and events area. It caters specifically to a local corporate market and inbound tourist market offering a three-hour wine delivery service to the Sydney metropolitan area, a China-based home delivery service with WeChat pay and Alipay, and a female-focused events calendar together with wine and yoga, native food workshops, wine education and wine classes in Mandarin.

Trish Barry, Mastermind Consulting , Sydney
Mastermind Consulting specialises in digital, content, social media and direct marketing and in the last 18 months, Trish has specifically reached out to smaller wineries, helping them to build strong digital and direct-to-consumers sales platforms to reach wine consumers. Her online work for clients reaches out to more than 1.8 million wine lovers within Australia, with 328,000 people commenting, liking or sharing content.

Mastermind specialises in Facebook and Instagram advertising and over the last 18 months has worked with 14 Australian wineries on their social media advertising, managing the campaigns on a daily basis.

OWNER / OPERATOR OF THE YEAR sponsored by JancisRobinson.com

Cassandra MacDonald, eBev, Sydney
Cassandra has worked in the wholesale wine industry for the last eight years and in October 2015 led a start-up technology business called eBev where wine buyers for restaurants, venues and wine bars meet, communicate and transact with wine suppliers. It is an online marketplace capable of disrupting the wine industry’s traditional way of doing business and changing the way wholesale wine business is done in Australia. There are now has more than 2,000 venue/wine buyers in New South Wales and Victoria with registered eBev buying accounts, 260 suppliers and more than 26,000 wines on the eBev database. Since June 2015 eBev has facilitated the delivery of more than 80,000 cases of wine.

Emma Raidis, Raidis Estate, Coonawarra
Emma Raidis with her husband Steven runs Raidis Estate vineyard and cellar door in Coonawarra. Her story is true for many women in wine. At first, sales doubled year on year. Production increased to meet the demand. And then their first child arrived. ‘We lost our whole sales staff – me!’ said Emma. Unable to be on the road in every state, sales dropped as their family increased. Emma says she had to get serious and work smarter. Her story is an inspiration to other women coping with similar demands of family and work.

Ironically, the best results we’ve had came at a time where I took more days off', she says. ‘Time out is key for both sales achievements and mental wellbeing.’ Emma is also chair of the marketing committee of Coonawarra Vignerons.

*Sarah Collingwood, Four Winds Vineyard, Canberra Region
Sarah is co-owner of Four Winds Vineyard and under her guidance the producer has embraced change with gusto with new packaging for wines, a new distributor and breaking into the highly competitive Sydney market. The new packaging was immediately successful winning two international design awards in 2016/17. The Four Winds cellar door has been awarded the Canberra and Region Visitors’ Experience Award for three consecutive years – 2013, 2014, 2015. Sarah is treasurer of the Canberra District Wine Industry Association, a member of the Yass Valley Council Development Committee and this year was selected for Wine Australia’s Future Leaders Programme.

Her leadership potential was on display when in 2015 she conceived and managed the Four Tonne Project that turned tour tonnes of surplus grapes from three wineries into wine, raising more than $46,000 for asylum seekers and refugees living in Canberra.

HONORARY AUSTRALIAN WOMAN OF WINE sponsored by Wine Australia UK

This award is a judge’s choice award presented to a woman in the UK trade who has made a significant on-going contribution to Australian wine. No entry was required and the award recipient was decided by Wine Australia and the Australian Women in Wine Awards Board.

This award went to wine writer, The Wine Detective *Sarah Ahmed of London who specialises in Australia and, inter alia, was a hugely helpful consultant for the Australian section of the latest, seventh edition of The World Atlas of Wine.

WORKPLACE CHAMPION OF CHANGE sponsored by the Winemakers Federation of Australia

This award is open to both women and men and recognises exceptional championship of gender equality and diversity in the workplace.

Carissa Major, Claymore Wines, Clare Valley
Carissa is responsible for all operations of this 35,000-case brand including 48 hectares of estate-grown Clare Valley vineyards and barrel store, employing 10 staff. The workforce comprises 83% women. Parents – male and female – are encouraged to take time off when their children need them, weekends are considered sacred and work hours are flexible. Carissa says, ‘The ability to offer flexibility and acceptance of what parenthood or life entails without judgement or reprisal has been the key in attracting good people.’ She also engages in informal health checks to monitor stress levels and potential problem areas.

*Professor Eileen Scott, Adelaide University
Professor Scott is Deputy Head of the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine and the Faculty of Sciences Deputy Dean for Gender Equity and Diversity. The role was established in response to a review of the Faculty which identified a lack of female academic staff at senior levels.

Her work has included establishing travel awards to support those with children to attend conferences. She has developed a best practice in gender equality and diversity, setting out the responsibilities of the university’s senior management group from the Vice Chancellor on down.

She says her approach to teaching has been profoundly influenced by a woman who successfully completed honours under her supervision. She said she did not intend to pursue a career in the wine sector because of the sexism she had encountered during the work experience component for her Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology.

Kendall Clements-Virag, Technical Analysis Manager, Pernod Ricard
Pernod Ricard is the second biggest wine producer (by revenue) in Australia. Over the last 24 months a female support network has been established within Pernod Ricard to drive awareness around gender diversity. Kendall oversaw the creation of the network which included offering programmes to tackle barriers, and to increase demand for women in leadership roles through education and sponsorship programs.

She developed the business case and gained support from senior management on the value of the company’s LIFT – Lifting, Inspiring, Females Together – foundation group, improving flexibility and cultural change. She also initiated a Parents @ Work programme with improved flexible working conditions and support.

WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR sponsored by Wine Ark

Jo Marsh and Alex Phillip, Billy Button Wines, Alpine Valleys, Victoria
Jo Marsh is the former winemaker at Seppelt Great Western and Feathertop Wines. Alex was dux in the winemaking course at Stellenbosch University in 2013. Billy Button Wines was started by Jo in 2014 and Alex joined in 2016. They make up the entire winemaking/ cellar/laboratory team, processing the fruit, managing the ferments, monitoring maturation, blending and bottling – quite a formidable duo! This year they processed 115 tonnes of fruit into 115 separate batches; 53 tonnes of red grapes were hand-plunged, 53 individually-bottled products resulted.

While Billy Button Wines is having significant impact on the quality of the wines of the Alpine Valleys, the duo also make wine for six of the 13 region’s growers contributing a major positive influence on the entire wine region.

Shavaughn Wells, Saltram Wines, Barossa Valley
Shavaughn is Saltram’s ninth winemaker since its establishment in 1859, and sees her role as balancing her own expectations of quality and consistency with those of generations of Saltram wine lovers. One aim is to demonstrate the diversity of the Barossa region to produce world-class Shiraz and, with that in mind, she was behind the introduction of single-vineyard Shiraz wines to the Saltram portfolio. Importantly, the Saltram vineyard is now being used to trial new and emerging varieties in the Barossa Valley, to discover what they can offer the future of the region impacted by climate change: grapes such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Fiano and Montepulciano. Last year, Shavaughn was named Winestate Magazine Australian Winemaker of the Year.

*Virginia Willcock, Vasse Felix, Margaret River
Virginia Willcock is the long-time winemaker at Vasse Felix in Margaret River, a noted specialist in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 2010 she has been engaged on a programme to improve wine quality, namely looking at the contribution that natural fermentations bring to wine. Her results have been positive, indeed far better than she had expected. By 2012 all premium blocks were fermented naturally. Today, all levels of reds are now fermented without cultured yeasts leading to, according to Virginia, wines finer in expression with complexity and finesse. With Chardonnay, the winemaker has introduced a new style, one pushing the boundaries of early picking, high solids/sulphides, taut acidity with fruit power. She believes the resulting Chardonnay – not the fat style of old nor the super skinny – offers a Chardonnay of power and complexity, one that has been missing from our wine diet.

Look out for my forthcoming report on a fascinating tasting of Vasse Felix wines presented by Virginia in London last week.

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