In July 2020, I had the idea of every week featuring a woman who loved wine on my Instagram page. They would work in wine, study wine or simply enthuse about wine so much that we could talk together for half an hour – more often than not with a glass in hand. This might sound a little frivolous to some, but there was a greater purpose underlying these 30-minute conversations broadcasted weekly on Instagram Live.
Women have done much in the wine industry to be celebrated and have shaped its history more than many of us know. Mary Penfold, for instance, was the driving force behind experimenting with grape varieties and growing techniques at Penfolds in the 1850s. Not only did she train herself in viticulture and winemaking, but she initiated the promotion of the Penfolds’ wines through newspaper adverts and started exporting wines to other regions. Mary Penfold was not permitted at the South Australian Vignerons’ Association meetings, but she discussed business matters with the attendees anyway.
More recently, Susana Balbo, Argentina’s first female winemaker, also had to create space for herself in the world of wine. Overqualified for the lab work she was shoehorned into in Mendoza, she sought out an opportunity in Salta, where she pioneered research into the Torrontés grape, transforming it from something with which to make low-quality table wine into Argentina’s flagship white variety. Susana Balbo’s Torrontés wines are considered true benchmarks of the variety.
The contributions of women, throughout history and today, have been vital to the success of the wine industry, not only from within it, but from the outside of it, too. Women are buying wine; studying wine; communicating about wine, without working in the industry – and the wine world is better for it. With the involvement of women, wine has become more creative, more engaging and more inclusive.
Persisting with a female-focused video-interview series on Instagram, week after week, was indeed inspired by celebration, but it was fuelled by the powerful outcomes of visibility and representation. For women to see other women speak passionately about wine and reveal their career paths – with all of the challenges and achievements they might have incurred – can be akin to turning on a light switch and realizing that something is possible.
Over two and a half years, I have spoken to nearly 100 women from all areas of wine, from production and service, to communications and consumer. I’ve featured women of all ages, of different walks of life, of different countries and of different cultures. There have been sommeliers, like Seli at Vinoteca; winemakers, like Sarah Massey at Lyme Bay Winery, Deepika Koushik at Plumpton Wine Division, Marlize Beyers at Bruce Jack, Miria Bracali at Cecchi, Hilary Butler at Bonterra and America Brewer at Oastbrook; Master of Wine students, like Melissa Worrall and Irem Eren; Masters of Wine, like Almudena Alberca and wine communicators, like Janina Doyle and Libby Brodie. There have been brilliant women at the top of the industry and also brilliant women at the start of their careers, like Jenni Middlehurst, a budding winemaker, experimenting on her own hobby vineyard as she navigates the WSET Diploma. Women who are industry change-makers, like Queena Wong, and industry taste-makers, such as Ellen Doggett, a Harpers’ 30 Under 30 winner.
Here are some words from the women who make the wine world an inspiring place to be:
Susana Balbo, Susana Balbo Wines
‘I realized the real power as women that we have and the limits of our power is in our minds. We can develop everything we want. I try to encourage more women to break the stereotypes, break the rules, because we deserve that. We are losing a lot of talent.’
Deepika Koushik, Plumpton Wine Division
‘I had my heart set on working in a winery and it was quite a journey to convince my parents to support me in this life choice. My family, religiously, don’t drink wine and for them they had no idea if it was a career choice that was viable. It was a scary choice.’
Charlotte Gordon, LVMH
‘Wine is my life. It’s my career, it’s my hobby, it’s my home life; when I go on holiday it’s for wine… Wine is really everything for me.’
Libby Brodie, City A M Wine Columnist
‘There are a lot of interesting topics surrounding wine currently – sustainability, for example – and I’d like to talk about them in a more accommodating way.’
Almudena Alberca MW
‘I saw this woman who was very strong, very intelligent and I was not very confident. Working with her showed me a completely different window to the world, where you can imagine what you want to be. I’m sure that she made a big impact.’
Miria Bracali, Cecchi
‘Sensitivity makes women essential in wine because it’s important for tasting, as women have different senses. But it’s important to create a different way of thinking too. Women are key in paying attention to environmental issues – we are able to take care, to take care of our environment, to take care of our colleagues – so it’s a very different approach to the job, to the work.’
Hilary Butler, Bonterra
‘I wanted to make sure that I was doing meaningful work. I wanted to work for companies that, beyond the product, they were making a positive impact on people and they were rooted in purpose.’
Marlize Beyers, Bruce Jack
‘We may not be physically strong, but mentally we are quite powerful as women. Especially in Bruce Jack’s organization, he employs powerful women, which makes a powerful team.’
To watch the Wednesday Wine Women interviews, head to @skinandpulp on Instagram. Go to the Reels section of the page and raise a glass to International Women’s Day.