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Wine

Women in Wine: International Women’s Day

Join us as we celebrate International Women’s Day with some of our top women in wine.

Here in Australia, we are blessed with world-class wine regions producing exceptional wines. Traditionally a male-dominated field, the Australian wine industry is now brimming with talented females raising the bar and making their mark. Their wines are enjoyed by wine lovers throughout the world.

The women we spoke with for 2022’s International Women’s Day are not only leaders in their field, they’re bringing innovation and inspiration to the wine industry. And while they are probably too humble to admit it, they also happen to be fantastic role models for the young women coming up through the ranks and those looking to start a career in the Australian wine industry.

We chatted to Sarah Crowe, Gwyn Olsen, Virginia Willcock, and Rebecca and Lucy Willson, five super-talented ladies who make and market world-class wine from diverse regions around Australia. In our Q&A with them, we spoke about getting their start in the industry, standout achievements and highlights, what they’re excited for next, and more.

 

SARAH CROWE – WINEMAKER AND GENERAL MANAGER 

YARRA YERING VINEYARD, YARRA VALLEY, VICTORIA

Photographer credit: James Broadway

Sarah is the award-winning winemaker and GM of Yarra Yering, one of the oldest and most beautiful vineyards in the Yarra Valley. She was awarded Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year 2021, and James Halliday’s Winemaker of the Year 2016, Winery of the Year 2022, and Wine of the Year 2022. Talk about impressive!

How did you get started in the wine industry?

“I started with a career in horticulture, and so viticulture wasn’t too much of a leap of faith. After travelling through France and seeing my first vineyard in all its autumn glory, I thought it might be a nice career side-step.

After a few months working in the vineyard, I transferred into the winery for the harvest and somehow never returned to work in the vineyard. I guess I accidently became a Winemaker and will blame being surrounded by passionate people during this all important and super exciting time. Watching and tasting juice transform into wine was fascinating to me – I was learning new things every day and loved it.”

What are you most excited about in the Australian wine industry right now?

“I think we’re in a discovery phase of what else is out there in the wide world of wine that is particularly suitable to the Australian climate. We’re looking past traditional French varieties, which have served us very well up to now, and wondering what might actually be better suited to our climate and therefore require less inputs in the vineyard, less wine additions to adjust harvest chemistry, and to suit our way of life.”

What qualities do you think it takes to succeed in a traditionally male-dominated industry?

“It is labour intensive work and I naturally have a strong work ethic, so I think that helped me. Even though I wasn’t physically as strong as the blokes, I would still work as hard as I could. Also, it means that I’m quite good at working out better ways to do something that doesn’t just use physical strength – “work smart, not hard” is a mantra I once had on a t-shirt.” 

 

Read more of Sarah Crowe’s Q&A with us here

 

GWYN OLSEN – HEAD WINEMAKER

PEPPER TREE WINES, HUNTER VALLEY, NSW

Pepper Tree’s award-winning head winemaker, Gwyn Olsen, has international experience and a raft of medals and awards to her name, which she has earnt throughout her impressive career crafting diverse, high-quality wines.

What are some memorable highlights in your career in the wine industry?

“There have been many fun times on the highlight reel. A vintage in Burgundy, making Grand Cru Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was exceptional. The owner and winemaker was a young woman, but her elderly father still pottered around in the winery during vintage, stopping for morning tea every day at 10am without fail, complete with salami. The old boys would crack open a bottle or two – always museum wines of great age – and share them around, keen for the younger ones to understand the history and development of the vineyard blocks.”

Do you have any role models or mentors who have been an important part of your career journey?

“Sue Bell, of Bellwether Wines, has been a guiding force for me with great advice and is always available for a chat. She’s a remarkable person. Liz Silkman of Silkman Wines is irreplaceable as the “tell it like it is” voice of reason on the end of the phone. She is always happy to lend a hand and has helped me get out of a few sticky situations in the winery before! She once let me borrow her press at 2am when we had a power failure and I had single vineyard Chardonnay on the crush pad waiting to be processed. Liz Riley from Vitibit Viticulture is another great straight-talking mentor. Her wisdom and knowledge across wine, viticulture, wine industry politics and wine business is always helpful.”

What are you most excited about in the Australian wine industry right now?

“I think the way the wine industry handles the changing drinking habits of younger drinkers will be fascinating to watch. The move towards no or less alcohol in lifestyles is a trend that cannot be ignored, and I hope the wine industry doesn’t get left behind from a health and wellbeing of drinkers’ point of view. Will we see an excess of cheap wine reduced to nothing and a more conscious drink buyer emerge? One that is interested in where the wine came from and how it is made, and is happy to pay a bit more for it knowing that it isn’t from a faceless, overcropped vineyard? Let’s hope so.

I personally would also like to see more wine in cans, and better technology to allow better shelf life in cans. My ultimate would be to have Champagne in cans. Imagine being able to drink a single serve of a great Champagne whenever you wanted, without feeling you had to open and drink the entire bottle!”

 

Read more of Gwyn Olsen's Q&A with us here

 

VIRGINIA WILLCOCK – CHIEF WINEMAKER

VASSE FELIX, MARGARET RIVER, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

One of Australia’s most awarded female winemakers, Virginia Willcock crafts wine for Margaret River’s founding wine estate, Vasse Felix. She was named Gourmet Traveller WINE Australian Winemaker of the Year in 2012 and Winemaker of the Year by The West Australian Good Wine Guide in 2013.

A respected authority on Margaret River winemaking and a sought-after regional wine show judge, she aims to express the regionality and unique characteristics of this pristine, world-class region in the wines she makes.

What are some achievements that have been really important to you in your career?

“Getting the job at Vasse Felix is definitely right up there. I never thought I’d be able to get a job at such an incredible estate with such amazing vineyards – you don’t become a great winemaker without great vineyards! You have to either plant that vineyard or wait for an opportunity with a special vineyard, and those opportunities don’t open up often.”

What are you most excited about in the Australian wine industry right now?

“Australians are drinking more premium wine. Their palates and understanding of winemaking has become more sophisticated than ever, and this is really exciting as a winemaker.”

What are some memorable career highlights throughout your career so far?

“I had a lot of fun working in Italy as a young winemaker in Trentino, Sicily and Abruzzo, it was a great experience. Two wines that I feel are the most exciting achievements for me are the Heytesbury Chardonnay, to see it develop since 2009 into what that wine has become, and creating the Tom Cullity from Margaret River’s oldest vines.”

What advice would you give to young women just starting out or considering a career in winemaking?

“Be ready to sacrifice three months of your life every year for vintage, but with that, comes the creation of beautiful wine – a raw product from the land – so the rewards are absolutely worth it!”

 

Read more of Virginia Wilcock's Q&A with us here

 

REBECCA WILLSON – WINEMAKER AND GENERAL MANAGER and LUCY WILLSON – MARKETING MANAGER 

BREMERTON WINES – LANGHORNE CREEK, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Rebecca and Lucy Willson are not only sisters, they’re the driving force behind family-owned Bremerton Wines. With a focus on high quality and individualistic wines, the highly-awarded duo have taken Bremerton to become one of the best-known brands from the Langhorne Creek region.

What are some achievements that really stand out in your careers?

Rebecca

“A particular ‘moment in time’ that has played a huge part in my winemaking and wine industry involvement was being given a scholarship to attend the Len Evans Tutorial in 2004 – this was a pivotal moment for me. I’d also count being a finalist in the GT winemaker of the year, what a fun and fabulous way to be recognised by the industry! Having our Old Adam poured on Qantas international flights and winning Producer of the year at our Local Langhorne Creek Wine Show are also right up there. There have been many achievements for Bremerton over the years, every one registers no matter how significant. I feel blessed to work in a family business.”

Lucy

“It would definitely be the success of the initial branding and repackaging launch we did to move Rebecca and I to be the faces of Bremerton. It was so exciting and nerve racking all at once. It was such a big investment for the business and we were so young, but it was the best thing we ever could have done!”

What are you most excited about in the Australian wine industry right now?

Rebecca

“I’m most excited about the diversity of wines, regions, and people. It’s a great industry to spend your life in. I’m loving the explosion of non-traditional varieties and wine styles into the market place and having the opportunity to work with them in Langhorne Creek.”

Lucy

“Wine is exciting in itself – yes, it is just a beverage, but the diversity of styles and the diversity of consumers means an ever-changing landscape that we get to explore!”

What are some memorable highlights from your career in the wine industry so far?

Rebecca

“I would say my overseas vintage in 1996 at Geyser Peak Winery, Sonoma Valley California is right up there as a highlight. I still have close friendships from that time away. Travel in general has been a highlight, often with my sister Lucy. We have been to all corners of the globe selling our wine and working with our wine distribution partners. I was always driver and she was navigator! Back in the day we did a road trip around the USA with a bus load of Aussie winery owners and winemakers… what a hoot. What happens on tour stays on tour!”

Lucy

“Travel! We have seen some amazing places, eaten mid-blowing food and met wonderful people on promotional wine trips. Another highlight would be our recent cellar door expansion. Having been in the pipeline on and off for about 12 years, it was amazing to see it come to fruition! And becoming the first sisters in Australia to own and run a winery was pretty fulfilling! The Bremerton team we have built – the team we have within our business are like family, we know we couldn’t do it without them and they make it all so much more enjoyable.”

What advice would you give to young women just starting out or considering a career in winemaking?

Rebecca

“I would suggest you get as much practical experience under your belt as you can. Get on the cellar floor, get in the vineyard, hands-on learning, absorbing what’s around you. Witnessing winemaking in action first-hand is the best education and gives an opportunity to really open your eyes to the diverseness of the industry. It’s Vast.”

Has there been any challenges that you’ve faced in your career that you’ve had to overcome? If so, how did you overcome these?

Lucy

“We, like most businesses, have had many challenges. The most recent being COVID-19. We took a big leap of faith in redeveloping our cellar door in 2020 in the face of the unknown, but it has paid off. We have had distributors go bankrupt, grape prices bottom out, and mother nature ruin crops. We have just knuckled down, made changes where we can and have kept putting one foot in front of the other.”

 

Read more of Rebecca and Lucy's Q&A with us here

 

AWESOME AND INSPIRING

It is an honour to celebrate International Women’s Day by sharing the stories and insights of Sarah, Gwyn, Virginia, Rebecca and Lucy. The best part is, they’re not alone – they represent an ever-increasing and impressive female community of winemakers and businesswomen who are pursuing their dreams and accomplishing greatness in the world of wine. The future sure is looking bright!

Wine
Published on
8 Mar 2022

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