Breaking Through At Brokenwood
Brokenwood’s Kate Sturgess, on the women who shaped her own story as a winemaker.
Brokenwood’s resident winemaker Kate Sturgess is having a real moment. A homegrown Brisbanite, Kate fled that sun-drenched city to act on her ambitions to join the wine industry. Her determination gained her a Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Adelaide, before developing her skills further across a string of wine regions – including time at Culmina Estate in Canada. Today, she’s the woman of the hour, and is rapidly becoming a household name in her adopted home of the Hunter Valley.
Joining the Brokenwood family in 2015 as Assistant Winemaker, Kate quickly climbed the ranks to Winemaker, kickstarting her reputation as one of Australia’s top up-and.coming female winemakers, winning a spate of wine awards and achievements along the way – and the accolades only continue to accrue. For Kate, none of it would have been possible without the mentors that continue to help shape her personal direction as a winemaker.
LEANING IN TOGETHER
“I’m very lucky to have some incredible women in the Hunter Valley as role models,” says Kate. “You can’t be what you can’t see, right?” Asked about the women that have helped her rise to where she is today, Kate comments on the power of visibility and mutual flourishing.
When you have women in charge, filling those managerial roles, it’s much more common for them to want to give the same opportunities to other women. Women see the value in it. We value our own work and understand just how much other women can bring to the table.
Kate mentions the incredible female winemakers and viticulturists who have inspired her, crediting them for their influence and adeptness in navigating the industry’s shifting tides. She recalls Brokenwood alumni Samantha Connew, now founder of Stargazer Wine, giving her some telling advice.
“When I was starting out, I remember Sam saying to me, ‘What do you want to do? Well, you need to put the effort into doing it!’” laughs Kate. “She basically told me to apply for every job out there, to put my name down for everything I could, to get in people’s faces. I learned pretty quickly that having an end goal and working towards it is a major driver for success in winemaking.”
Relaxing with a glass of Brokenwood Rosé
Picking grapes for winemaking
Among Kate’s other mentors in the Hunter region is Sarah Crowe, another Brokenwood alumni and current winemaker at the Yarra Valley’s Yarra Yering winery. Liz Silkman also makes the list. Widely regarded as the best white winemaker – if not the best winemaker – in the Hunter Valley, it’s no surprise that Kate and so many others look up to Liz.
Kate also mentions Liz Riley and her incredible work not only in viticulture, but in fleshing out the information and knowledge base the Hunter has to rely on for growing grapes. “She does an excellent job representing New South Wales in a generally South Australian-dominated industry,” says Kate.
As for what’s currently occupying her attention, Kate speaks of the latest range release from Brokenwood. “I’m really excited about Twenty70 – it’s a chance to have a bit of a play away from the traditional Brokenwood winemaking style and experiment and have fun with making some yummy wines.”
With figures such as Kate and the women who have encouraged her continuing to refresh and refine Australian wine, the face of the industry is looking more inclusive – and vibrant – every day. Now that’s something to raise our glasses to.