Women in Wine: Liz Silkman
Liz Silkman is one of Australia’s most highly awarded winemakers. A legend in the Hunter Valley, she has won Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year not once but three times and has a stellar reputation for her work in the industry. She’s also often referred to as the Queen of Hunter Chardonnay, a title well-deserved given her many accolades.
Do you have any role models or mentors who have been an important part of your career journey?
I have had so many role models during my careers from PJ Charteris who gave me my first job in a winery at Brokenwood to Lisa McGuigan who gave me an amazing opportunity at Tempus Two, but the main role model was Sarah Kate Dineen from Maude. She taught me to be focused, to keep the passion while working long hours and to always strive to make better wine. She also taught me that work colleagues can become family.
What are you most excited about in the Australian wine industry right now?
The Australian Wine industry has had a very tough couple of years with drought, bushfires and staffing issues arising from Covid but 2023 has been a fantastic year in the Hunter Valley with stunning wines on their way. I love that we are making different style of wines, closely linked to site and region.
What are some of your favourite highlights throughout your career in wine?
My highlights are always linked to people and crews that I have worked with. 2017 was a favourite year of mine, with the wines being standouts and the year and crew being fun and passionate. Annabel Holland (the winemaker at First Creek behind the scenes that makes me look good) and I always say it was the year that we just let the wines do their thing.
I love my times overseas especially as I get older, I realise how those times were such an amazing opportunity to learn and grow.
What advice would you give to young women just starting out or considering a career in winemaking?
Dive in with everything you have – you will need to give more than the men around you but remember you are stronger and you need to want it more.
How did you get started in the industry and what inspired you to become a winemaker?
I Started in Cellar Door Sales at Pepper Trees Wines while finishing my B. Sc at Newcastle University. I then joined Brokenwood in November 1999 as the Laboratory Technician but loved the look and feel of the winery more, so off I went. During my time at Brokenwood I travelled and work vintages overseas.
Winemaking wasn’t something I thought about as a young person while going through school but I definitely fell in love with it once I was in the industry. The ability to work outside as well as use my creative side and science background is perfect for me.
In your career, which important achievements stand out to you?
A few highlights would be winning Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year three times, and being the only person, not just female, to achieve that. Being awarded Best Chardonnay in Australia for the 2014 Silkman Reserve Chardonnay at the Halliday Chardonnay Challenge, getting 2006 Dux at the Len Evans Tutorial, and at the 2022 Hunter Valley Wine Show First Creek Winery made all the Gold medal-winners across First Creek, Silkman, and Boydell’s Wines.
What qualities do you think it takes to succeed in a traditionally male-dominated industry?
Sadly, to be stronger than anyone around you and to stay to your own path. It isn’t easy (it is getting better) but you have to love what you do as the hours are long, the sacrifice over the summer months is hard, but at the end of the day to watch something you made being enjoyed by people is very rewarding.
What is your favourite wine to make, and your favourite wine to drink?
That’s an easy one! CHARDONNAY !!! And HUNTER VALLEY CHARDONNAY at that! I love that it is so diverse and giving. It tells a story not only of the vineyard that we hear lots about, but also about the winemaker and her passion.