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Women in Wine: Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018

Join us as we celebrate International Women’s Day with some of Australia’s top female winemakers.

It takes a lot hard work and skill to make it to the top ranks of Australian winemaking but that’s exactly what Janice McDonald, Liz Jackson, Louise Rose, Marnie Roberts, Nina Stocker and Callie Jemmeson have done. In what is a traditionally male dominated industry, these super-talented ladies, and many others, have shown they have the goods to make and market world-class wine.

Marnie Roberts and Carrisa Major – Chief Winemaker and General Manager, Claymore Wines

The formidable duo of Claymore Wines’ chief winemaker Marnie Roberts and general manager Carrisa Major, make Australian wine rock.

Under their leadership, Claymore Wines produces outstanding Clare Valley wines that are playfully named after popular song titles including Purple Rain Sauvignon Blanc, Joshua Tree Riesling, Skinny Love Summer White Viognier Whole Lotta Love Rosé, Dark Side of the Moon Shiraz, and Bittersweet Symphony Cabernet Sauvignon.

Carissa began her career working for Clare Valley industry leaders including Tim Knappstein and Andrew Hardy after taking a gap year. “I really got sucked in by wine and found this amazing industry that brings people together while opening up the world,” she says.

Marnie says her passion for wine and the craft of winemaking goes back to her childhood. “Growing up on a block in Mildura that went from citrus to dried fruit to wine grapes, I have always had an appreciation for the fruit. The love of wine was the next step,” she explains.

“I remember one night, when I was around 19 or 20, going to a friend’s house who was studying to be a winemaker and he opened a 1994 Lindeman’s Pyrus. A wine from Coonawarra that is a Cabernet Sauvignon /Merlot and Malbec blend. IT WAS MASSIVE and I thought wow, I need to try more wines. It really blew my socks off as I hadn’t tried anything as big and succulent as that before.”

She says she loves the winemaking process and the chance to follow it the whole way through. “From the vineyard basics of pruning and harvesting to ferment to batching to oak to tank to bottle to mouth….it’s an amazing journey that I get to guide these babies through.”

Further reading: Meet Carissa Major and Marnie Roberts of Claymore Wines

Nina Stocker and Callie Jemmeson – Chief and Assistant Winemakers, In Dreams

It’s a case of double girl power at In Dreams, where Nina Stocker and Callie Jemmeson have teamed up to create superb Yarra Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Born and raised in a town on the border of the Alsace wine region in Switzerland, chief winemaker Nina says it was her family’s involvement in a local village vineyard that inspired her career as a winemaker.

She moved to Australia and graduated with a Bachelor of Science and Arts degree at Monash University, which she followed it up with a post-graduate degree in Winemaking at the University of Adelaide.

Nina says during her first vintage she worked as a cellar hand doing jobs like digging grape skins out of drains. “I loved it, and realized winemaking was what I wanted to do!”

The other half of the team, assistant winemaker, Callie Jemmeson, grew up with wine in her blood. She says her passion for wine was sparked at a young age during family holidays to Chianti in Italy, and tastings at Louis Roederer in France.

She qualified and worked a chef, before she was lured back to the world of wine studying winemaking at Charles Sturt University and working for De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley, Littorai Wines in California, and Fattoria Zerbina in Romagna.

Nina and Callies also make wine for their own range of wines under their Wine Unplugged brand.

Janice McDonald – Chief Winemaker, Burch Family Wines

Burch Family Wines’ chief winemaker, Janice McDonald, not only crafts exceptional wines, she also brews beer for the Margaret River Ale Company, in her spare time.

Growing up the Central West NSW township of West Wyalong, Janice says she developed an interest in wine while studying science at Sydney’s Macquarie University. The interest turned to a passion and she completed a winemaking degree at Charles Sturt University.

Her career includes head brewing positions at Matilda Bay and Little Creatures, winemaking roles at Vasse Felix, Brown Brothers and Devil’s Lair; and founding Stella Bella, where she was chief winemaker for 10 years.

As the Chief Winemaker at Burch Family Wines Janice is responsible for all winemaking of the Howard Park, Marchand & Burch, Jete Methode Traditionelle and Madfish brands.

Liz Silkman – Chief Winemaker, First Creek Wines and Silkman Wines

With a long list of accolades and a truck load of Trophy and Gold medal-winning wines to her name, Liz Silkman (nee Jackson) is Australia’s undisputed queen of Chardonnay.

As chief winemaker at the Hunter Valley’s First Creek, she’s responsible for making not only their wines, but also the wines of more than two dozen Hunter labels made under contract.

Liz and her husband Shaun Silkman, who is winemaker too, have their own label, Silkman Wines, with their first vintage released in 2013. Since then, they’ve won countless awards for their Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Pinot.

Add to the mix, time spent as a judge on the Australian wine show circuit and being a mum to two young daughters and you have one very busy lady.

Louisa Rose – Chief Winemaker, Yalumba

A leader within Australia’s wine industry, Louisa Rose is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most experienced and talented winemakers.

Louisa’s career with Yalumba spans over 25 years with her passion for Viognier and her developmental work of the varietal making her name synonymous with Viognier across the world.

She has a string of accolades to her name including the 2014The Age Australia’s Best Winemaker, the 2008 Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year, and in 2004 the International Wine & Spirit Competition named her the winner of the Women in Wine award.

Chief winemaker at Yalumba since 2006, Louisa is also acknowledged as one of the country's top Riesling makers, crafting Yalumba’s Pewsey Vale Riesling for 20 years.

Amongst her other hats, she is a Director of the Australian Wine Research Institute, an active member of wine industry councils and advisory boards, and a wine show judge.

Further Reading: Louisa Rose talks Viognier in our variety guide

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Meet Ninth Island Winemaker Luke Whittle
To celebrate the Ninth Island Pinot Grigio 2016 from the Tamar Valley being the November Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Luke Whittle to talk Tasmania, cool climate wines, and Pinot G . You are originally from New Zealand where you started your winemaking career, plus you’ve done vintages in Canada, Germany and Central Victoria –  what drew you to Tasmania? Ultimately, my passion to get back to cool climate wines, and Tasmania’s reputation for amazing wines and produce. I see a huge amount of potential for the Tasmanian wine industry as the region continues to produce world-class Sparkling and table wines and grow its reputation both domestically and abroad. I think the next decade will be a very exciting time for the industry here and I want to be a part of that future. What makes the Tamar Valley such a special region? The unique maritime climate, sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds resulting in consistency of ripening.  We’re situated on a beautiful big sweeping bend of the Tamar, which is not only an amazing place for grapes, but a beautiful setting for a vineyard with vine covered slopes rolling down to the water. It’s like a scene from an old-world region in Europe with a distinctly Tasmanian twist. Our Wine of the Month is the Ninth Island 2016 Pinot Grigio – what is it about cool climate wines that you like so much? In a word: elegance ­–  the way they are so fresh and expressive yet full of finesse. In our food and wine matching calendar, we’ve paired it with a quick chicken cassoulet with preserved lemon – what’s your choice of food partner? Coming from the coast of NZ, I’m really drawn to the amazing bounty of seafood here in Tasmania, and I love freediving. So combining those passions, I’d pair it with fresh barbeque crayfish and wasabi aioli, especially with the opening of the crayfish season just around the corner. What makes cool climate wines like Pinot G so food-friendly? The cool climate acidity lends itself to so many possibilities, especially when combined with the Pinot Grigios texture and delicate but expressive aromatics. What’s your favourite wine memory? The next one… Other than your own wine, what wine do you like to drink at home? I like to mix it up. Recently it’s been Riesling, especially some of the dryer style Rieslings out of Germany, something I fell in love with over my time working in the Mosel and the Pfalz. What are your three top recommendations for a first-time visitor to the area? Hit the incredible Tasmanian coastline! I’d suggest to go up to the top end of the east coast, where you’ll find no crowds, and amazingly beautiful beaches. The Tamar Valley Wine Route, which we are a part of – the perfect way to sample a number of delicious Tassie wines.   Head into Launceston to Stillwater Restaurant. The menu features Tasmanian produce and they’re known for an incredible wine list highlighting Tasmanian wine. What’s your favourite … Way to spend time off? In the ocean. Holiday destination? Whangamata, my hometown, for a dose of NZ summer. Wine and food match? Pinot and duck… it just needs to happen Sporting team? All Blacks (of course) Movie?   Anchorman – one of the classics
Meet Leconfield Winemaker Paul Gordon
Paul Gordon is the Senior Winemaker at Leconfield Wines, having joined this iconic Coonawarra winery in 2001, and is the man responsible for our June Wine of the Month, the Leconfield Cabernet Merlot 2014 . We catch up to talk to him about his love of wine and life beyond the vats. Can you recall the first wine you tried? Wine was very much a Christmas and Easter drink at our house. I have to admit to having had the odd illicit glass of 'Cold Duck' - which is showing my age - or perhaps a sparkling white. An Aunt indulged in bottles of Yalumba Galway 'Claret', which would have been my first taste of a dry red - I can't recall my reaction to it, but it could well have been the wine that sparked my interest in the industry in my teenage years. Of course, there were also the cooking 'sherries', which slowly evaporated between trifles! What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? There are many great memories - perhaps vintage Champagne with Chateaubriand steak in Epernay, the La Chapelle at Pic restaurant in the Rhône Valley or a Super Tuscan at one of those never-ending Italian lunches. Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I enjoy older Riesling or Semillon and am in search of the best Grenache from Spain or Southern France. Luckily, there is always a bottle handy of McLaren Vale Shiraz or Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon when the imported Grenache fails to live up to its promise. What's your ultimate food + wine match? The ultimate match for food and wine is good company! I don't have a particular 'go-to' wine, but I would say that I enjoy elegant and fine wines that invite a second or third glass, over something that is too rich. So perhaps a good start would be a fine Riesling with sashimi, Coonawarra Merlot with a steak tartare, then Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon with a rare backstrap of lamb. What is your favourite… Book? It tends to be the one I'm currently reading, which is Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher. A few from this year: Antony Beevor's Stalingrad, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel. Movie? If I was locked in a theatre for a week, I would insist on Krzysztof Kieslowski's ageless trilogy, Three Colours Red White and Blue, and The Double Life of Veronique. Restaurant? If I was to define a preferred type of restaurant, then shared plates or degustation is my style. But no steak - our local 'Meek's' butcher is so good that few restaurants can provide meat of the quality that can surpass one locally sourced and cooked at home. Locally, 'Pipers of Penola' has won so many awards for best regional restaurant in South Australia that it is a must place to dine. Time of day/night - why? I'm definitely a morning person. However, I do aspire one day to be able to sleep in. I'm notorious for falling asleep at dinner parties and at the theatre.
Under pressure - Wine VS Mine
Words by Max Allen on 21 Dec 2016
Winemaker Andrew Margan is standing on a rock on a ridge overlooking his vineyard at Broke, in NSW’s Hunter Valley . The landscape is idyllic: vine rows plunge down the hillside; Wollombi Brook curls through the middle distance; tree-covered ranges rise up steeply behind. He’s talking about how different this country could have looked had energy company AGL got its way. “If CSG (coal seam gas) mining had gone ahead here as AGL were planning,” says Margan, “there could have been 300 wells sunk between here and Pokolbin.” Just five years ago it seemed that CSG was a foregone conclusion in the Hunter wine region. A couple of exploratory wells had already been sunk, not far from Margan’s vineyard at Broke, and AGL were attempting to ingratiate themselves with the local winemakers - buying vineyards, sponsoring a local winemaking scholorship, joining the wine industry association. But the local winemakers were having none of it. They had serious concerns about the environmental impact of CSG mining. They worried that hydraulically fracturing - or “fracking” - deep coal seams to release the gas could contaminate the local aquifer and lead to geological instability. And they were outraged that, under then-current legislation, the miners would be able to drill among the vineyards and wineries of the country’s leading wine tourism destination. As fourth generation winemaker Bruce Tyrrell told me at the time: “It’s simple. If any of those bastards come onto the land my family have owned for 150 yrs I’ll bloody shoot ‘em. And I’m still a good shot.” Eventually, the vignerons’ well-organised protest campaigns - including a high-profile march on the NSW Parliament in 2012 - helped encourage the state government to declare the viticultural and equine industries in the Hunter off-limits to CSG mining: boundaries were drawn around these two newly-declared Critical Industry Clusters that prevented any further resource exploration. “We won,” says Andrew Margan. “But it was a hell of a fight.” “The CSG battle almost destroyed us,” admits Andrew’s wife Lisa Margan. “Having to take on such a big issue like that fractures the community, it pulls resources out of the community, it exhausts the community.” ----- The Hunter isn’t the only wine region to have tussled with unconventional gas mining in the last few years. Just before Christmas 2013, resource company Beach Energy sank its first exploratory shale gas well just south of Penola, the main town in the famous wine region of Coonawarra , in South Australia’s Limestone Coast. I visited the region during vintage 2014, a couple of months later, and witnessed that first rig being moved to a second exploratory site west of the main vineyard area. It’s only when you see one of these installations up close - or as close as security will allow - that you get a feel for how much the landscape is affected and what impact dozens or hundreds of such wells would have on the nature of a region: temporary roads carved through paddocks, the four-storey rig itself, the holding ponds dug into the earth to retain contaminated water, lights and sound running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “I just can’t envisage co-existence with a gas well like that next to my cellar door,” said Dennis Vice of Highbank, one of Coonawarra’s leading wineries as we watched another truck loaded with drilling equipment roar by. “How can anyone argue that industrialized gas extraction can sit comfortably alongside wine - a brand that’s based on clean green production? Even if they do put a well in and I’m forced to sell, my vineyard would be worthless because of that rig. The implications for landowners are immense.” During the same visit, local vineyard manager Stuart Sharman, chair of the Limestone Coast Grape and Wine Council’s unconventional shale gas committee, detailed his deep concerns about shale gas extraction - a process that, like CSG mining, involves drilling down through the aquifer and using large amounts of local water in the process. “We don’t have a lot of confidence that the miners can give us an iron clad guarantee that well integrity will be maintained,” he said. “We know that the wells break down over time - their own documents show that. And (energy company) Santos has just been fined for contaminating the acquifer with uranium up in the Pilliga. If our vineyard irrigation water here becomes contaminated we can kiss goodbye to our sector of the economy: the Coonawarra brand and the whole district will be tarnished.” When I spoke to him again for this article, Sharman told me the pressure has eased. Not long after my visit during vintage in 2014, Beach Energy announced they had decided to concentrate on conventional gas extraction, and not in close proximity to the vineyards. The level of exploratory drilling I witnessed had “slowed right up”. But Sharman says it’s the slowdown in the energy market at the moment that’s contributed to the change of heart, not necessarily the very vocal opposition of the vignerons. “Depressed energy prices are slowing up further expectations,” he says. “It’s just not worth the miners’ while to go to the effort of unconventional gas extraction right now. But I think what we’re seeing is probably a lull, not the end. I imagine it could well ramp up again if the situation changes.” ----- It’s a similar story in the Hunter. Yes, says Andrew Margan, with the declaration of the Critical Industry Clusters, winegrowers have had a reprieve. And yes, AGL announced earlier this year that they were pulling out of CSG in NSW. But the state government hasn’t reversed its stand on CSG overall: the exploratory and mining licences haven’t been revoked. So if - when - the economic climate and the political balance shift, the pressure may build once more to start extracting precious hydrocarbons in the heart of wine country. And if that happens, says Stuart Sharman, there will always be a conflict between the short-term gain of the energy companies and the long-term sustainability of the winegrowers. “In the wine industry we’re busy spending millions of dollars redeveloping vineyards and setting ourselves up for another 50-plus years,” he says. “The mining guys are very publicly saying they’ll only be here for 20 years. But what’s it going to be like - what’s the impact not only to the physical environment but also the social environment - when they walk out in 20 years time and we’re still here.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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