It’s a sad fact that for all the strides that have been made in gender equality, the wine trade in Australia remains a male dominated industry. While there are significant women in Australian wine – one thinks of Prue Henschke at Henschke or Louisa Rose at Yalumba –overall the numbers are small and in some areas like viticulture numbers are in decline. In an attempt to arrest this and to celebrate women’s role in Australian wine, next month will see the hosting of the Women In Wine Event in London. This will bring together some of the most important women in Australian wine, including winemakers, winery owners and Wine Australia’s Head of Market EMEA, Laura Jewell MW.
MWs: Rarer than astronauts
Laura was awarded her Master of Wine in 1997 and can count herself as one of only 355 in the world. To put that into context, more people have been into space than have passed the Master of Wine examinations. The MW is sometimes referred to as holding a PhD in wine and whilst that is true in terms of the breadth of knowledge that is required to gain it, it doesn’t really do justice to its difficulty.
At present, there are around 300 MW students drawn from 40 countries - internationalism which shows how this British institution has found global recognition. The course is grueling; comprising of seminars, lectures, workshops and tastings. To pass, students must complete the stage 1 assessment and then the three parts of the examination; theory, practical and a research paper. It’s a significant commitment particularly, if like Laura, you are holding down a demanding senior wine trade job while attempting it.
Laura Jewell: Driven to succeed
Given she holds the most respected qualification in the world of wine, it would be easy to assume that Laura had always wanted to work in wine. In fact, her interest was only sparked whilst at university through attending tastings at The Malmaison Wine Club, London, and the World Wine Fair in Bristol. Entering the trade back then wasn’t easy and, let’s be frank, being a woman wasn’t regarded as an advantage. But by showing the talent and determination that would see her rise to the top of the trade.
Laura began her career in the marketing side of the business, creating loyalty schemes for hotels and restaurants and delivering staff training on wine service, as well as brand management for wineries from across the world. Moving out of marketing and in to buying, Laura joined Waverley Vintners in Scotland as a buyer in 1995. It was here at Waverley Vintners that she honed her time management skills as she juggled work, study and the substantial amount of travel her role entailed.
She left Waverley’s in 2000 and spent fourteen years in buying and management roles at companies including Sainsbury’s, Spar and Tesco. These positions meant Laura had a significant influence on the wines the UK consumers drank and she used her expertise to usher in a greater range of quality wines, especially from her favourite wine nation, Australia. They also gave her the profile to achieve some significant firsts; becoming the first woman president of the Institute of Wines and Spirits of Scotland in 1996 and the first woman chair of the WSET in 2012.
Given her love of Australian wine it was only natural that when Wine Australia were looking for a new Head of Market EMEA that they turned to Laura. Since taking up her post in 2015, she has used her considerable talents to raise the profile of Australian wine in the UK and to communicate the messages of change, diversity and quality that are modern Australian wine’s hallmarks.
Now, with nearly 30 years’ wine trade experience to her name, Laura regularly rides high in the lists of the UK wine trade’s most influential people. Not bad for someone whose early career dreams were of becoming a helicopter pilot.
Women In Wine Awards 2017
It is fitting that in this year, the 20th anniversary of Laura’s MW, the Wine Australia UK team will be hosting the Australian Women in Wine Awards 2017 in London. They will celebrate women’s role in wine, give them a chance to share their stories and inspire a new generation of women to join the trade. The event is the result of a collaboration between Wine Australia and the Australian Women in Wine Awards (AWIWA). These are the world’s only women-only wine awards and on 26 September they will be hosted outside Australia for the first time.
Corrina Wright – McLaren Vale Family Ties
They will start with the Awards Ceremony, followed by a trade tasting and seminar and will culminate with a consumer tasting in the evening. With 57 Australian women from 51 wineries attending, this will be the largest gathering of Australian women winemakers and winery owners in the world.
About The Australian Women In Wine Awards
The awards were set up by Jane Thomson in 2015 to provide women in the industry with greater visibility and a platform from which they can inspire others to join. The number of women in Australian wine is estimated at around 8–10% of the total workforce and in some areas, like viticulture, that number is actually in decline. Overall Australian women are entering the industry in greater numbers, but they are not staying and are leaving to pursue other careers. The awards aim to encourage them to stay and to aspire to senior roles.
UK women in wine: A success story
In the UK, the industry numbers tell a more positive story. More and more women are getting involved in wine. In terms of education, in the 1970s only 10.6% of the WSET Diploma graduates were women, just 10.3% of students who passed the MW were women and there were no female Master Sommeliers (MS). Roll forward to 2010-2017, in the wake of trailblazers such as Laura, and 42.8% of WSET Diploma graduates are women, 48.4% of students passing the MW are women and 18.3% of students achieving the MS are women.
More women are now working in wine too. Women now hold 44% of jobs in the drinks industry, both in the production of wine and spirits and in the hospitality industry. They are also becoming wine consumers, and between 2010 and 2016 the number of women who drink wine increased by 6%.
How to encourage women into wine
One of the keys to encouraging more women into wine, Laura feels, is for younger women to have role models to give them the confidence to overcome the barriers the trade can present. She recalls how she had strong mentors, both men and women, who helped guide her through her career and who encouraged her to take the MW. Since becoming a MW Laura has become a mentor to upcoming MW students.
Education and training are also essential. The MW has opened many doors for Laura and whilst it is a very difficult qualification to attain, she’d encourage anyone in the trade with ambitions to seriously consider it and the WSET courses that precede it. WSET courses help develop the disciplines needed for tasting and give an understanding of the trade as a business. And, as with any career, getting to know people in the trade is also important. Tastings offer a great networking opportunity and give would-be industry professionals the chance to meet winemakers, brand owners and other important figures.
Women in wine
The Women in Wine Awards will shine a much-needed light on the experiences and achievements of women in wine. As well as showcasing the quality, diversity and innovation of Australian wine, Laura feels the event will provide a platform for those in attendance to share their stories and inspire the next generation of women in wine.
For more information about Wine Australia’s Women in Wine event, please click here
For more information about the Australian Women in Wine Awards, please click here
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