Women in Wine: Rebecca and Lucy Willson
In light of International Women's Day, we chat to Rebecca and Lucy Willson who are not only sisters, they’re the driving force behind family-owned Bremerton Wines in Langhorne Creek region.
How did you get started in the industry?
“My journey in wine started when I was accepted out of school into the Assoc Dip in Wine Marketing at Roseworthy College 1991-92. I thought I was going to enjoy an agricultural campus and study marketing to then go and work in the family newspaper business. Little did I know that my first subjects would be Sensory Evaluation and introductory winemaking… I was hooked!
During my studies I worked part time for the legend Bruce Thiele at Orlando wines cellar door in the Barossa where I made the most of my staff allowance. On graduating I got my first vintage position at Queltaler winery in the Clare Valley, it was a baptism of fire into real winery life and I thrived on the vintage pace. These experiences and the guidance given so early in my career were priceless. Backpacking around Europe broadened my knowledge, and on return I got a job in the cellars at Bleasdale winery where I learnt all the nuances of Langhorne Creek from Michael Potts. In 1997 I came home to Bremerton and took on the winemaking role, working alongside my sister, Mum and Dad.”
“I started working in the vineyard to earn money whilst studying Recreation Planning and Management full-time at uni. This evolved to helping in the office 1 day a week before I finished uni and travelled abroad. Whilst I was overseas, my father sent me a fax (yes that long ago!) offering me a full-time job. I travelled for another 3 months and then returned to start full time at Bremerton - 25 years ago. Initially I was in the office, cellar door and vineyard and then went back to Uni to study a Grad Dip in International Wine Business.”
Do you have any role models or mentors who have been an important part of your career journey?
“I have had many role models – working under Stephen John and Tim Adams at Queltaler winery, and Bruce Thiel. As a young aspiring winemaker I was awestruck by Pam Dunsford, who was a female winemaker blazing the way at Chapel Hill in McLaren Vale – I thought, and still do think, she is amazing and really paved a way for women in winemaking.
The most significant mentor for my winemaking career remains as Geoff Weaver – Geoff and I started working together in the late 90’s and Geoff provided a platform to discuss not only wine and winemaking, but we spent many hours discussing art and other shared passions. Geoff is a brilliant painter and winemaker! Geoff encouraged me right from the start to go back to uni and get my winemaking qualifications. I remember him saying I didn’t need them to make wine but I will draw on it to understand and fix problems. So back to uni I went and completed my Oenology degree graduating in 2001.”
“Definitely my parents. Mum has been an unwavering support forever and Dad taught me everything about business and sales in the 20 years we worked together. My sister Rebecca has been a rock. Standing alongside me for the entire journey – it’s this partnership that has got us to where we are today. Outside the business, I have had multiple people guide me along the way. One gentleman, Richard Souter, was a standout in this regard with his willingness to share his marketing knowledge with such a young and inexperienced marketer at the time.”
What qualities do you think it takes to succeed in a traditionally male-dominated industry?
“I think to succeed in the wine industry you need passion, vision, a good work ethic and luck!”
“I think it is the same in any industry - work hard and dream big! I have fortunately never really had gender-based blockades put in my path.”
What is your favourite wine to make, and your go-to drop?
“I’m really enjoy making all our wines, but I have a soft spot for the winemaking process of our Batonnage Barrel fermented Chardonnay…actually, I really enjoy drinking great Chardonnay as well!! Often, I love drinking varieties I’m not making like Semillon or Pinot
Reality is that there’s always a great sparkling in my fridge!”
“Definitely depends on the occasion, but I do love a great bubble. Whites have been on high rotation of late, but for me, it is all about the combination of the wine, the company and the food!”