South Australian women in wine pushing boundaries in a male-dominated industry

Image Source: Hugh Hamilton Wines

By Zoe Kassiotis | @ZKassiotis

Female winemakers who challenge gender barriers will be among those showcasing their finest wines at this weekend’s McLaren Vale Sea and Vines Festival.

When it comes to wine, female consumption far outweighs male, but even with the number of female Viticulture and Oenology graduates higher than ever, the wine industry remains notably male-dominated.

The Australian Women in Wine Awards acknowledge and celebrate the work of women in the Australian wine community and is the only program of its kind in the world.

Though these awards are doing big things for equality in a traditional and conservative wine industry, the numbers still tell a different story.

Executive Director of the NSW Wine Industry Association Angus Barnes told the ABC females make up for only 30 per cent of workers across the Australian wine industry.

Then if you look at leadership or management roles, you’re looking at closer to 90 per cent males and just 10 per cent female,” Mr Barnes said.

Sarah Marquis is sole owner and winemaker at Mollydooker Wines, and won the Owner and Operator of the Year award at last year’s Australian Women in Wine Awards.

Ms Marquis said these awards made her proud to be an Aussie winemaker because they give women in the industry success stories to look up to.

“It [the award] mean so much because it was great to be able to inspire other women and it allows me to have more influence and I want to influence people to be better,” she said.

“We leave the industry to have babies and while we do that the men have been working and it’s really hard for us to come back into that when it’s so established.”

Ms Marquis said female winemakers begun to shatter the wine-glass ceiling by pushing traditional boundaries in more ways than one.

“I think because of the amount of women winemakers coming up now, were feeling like there’s more of us, so we’re a bit more confident in our abilities and now we’re getting a bit more publicity and we’re kind of growing,” she said.

However, Ms Marquis said the best way to push gender boundaries is by “just making good wine”.

“Women actually have very different pallets to men, we pick up different and more subtle tastes in the wine that men often miss,” she said.

CEO of Hugh Hamilton Wines Mary Hamilton, who is the fifth generation in a family that planted South Australia’s first grape vines, said her feminine flare was imperative in bringing the Hugh Hamilton brand to where it is today.

“I use packaging a lot in a way to try and engage people’s imagination and try to get them to slow down and sort of think about what it is that they’re about to taste and enjoy, rather than just saying, ‘right here’s a bottle of wine, crack it open,get drinking’,” Ms Hamilton said.

“It’s all in the details; that’s where the beauty lies.

However, Ms Hamilton said despite showcasing her creative strengths, it was still hard to be taken seriously in order to break into the “boys club”.

“I don’t know if females in the wine industry would say they get the brunt of discrimination a lot of the time, but I think what is more apparent is that its more subtle, in that, it is a boys club and it has always been a boys club and you’re not invited into it,” she said.

“Even if its not direct, this goes on a lot and actually ends up discriminating against women.

“Its this shell that stays intact where women are not included on the inside, but nobody ever really questions that there’s something wrong with this.”

Ms Hamilton said although the wine industry is conservative and there are well-established traditions, she still challenged the status quo through her radical range of wines.

The Dark Arts range is all about breaking rules in wine by putting together grape varieties that just should never ever go together,” she said.

“I’ve never conformed to what is I’ve always tended to saywell, why do we do it that way, is there any reason?

“Being a winemaker who’s not interested in colouring in the lines, I think Australia is a great place to be because there’s just so much old-world rules that are tied up in Europe.”

They say every family has one, but this spirited rulebreaking is why Hugh Hamilton Wines came to be known as the black sheep.

“It’s this reoccurring thing in our family where we have these black sheep characters who do things that are a bit rebellious or outside the norm, Ms Hamilton said.

Ms Hamilton hoped that going forward, women won’t be the black sheep of the wine industry.

There should be quotas to break open the boy’s club to be able to get change in the hope that one day it will be the most natural thing in the world to have that equity between men and women,” she said.

“I’m just a really big believer that things don’t change unless you have the desire to change it.

“I just hope that one day it won’t be a big deal to see women in power.”

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