For some women, a life in wine is a given; a certainty that will determine their careers from beginning to end. Take Prue Henschke, viticulturist and director of the 140+ year-old Henschke family winery in the Barossa Valley for example, or Corrina Wright - the sixth generation of the Oliver family at Oliver’s Taranga. These women winemakers were born into the trade or joined very early in their careers, and have probably never considered a life beyond wine. Other women’s paths into the industry have been less well laid and they have had to make brave, life-changing decisions in order to achieve success in wine. Ahead of our Women in Wine event on 26 September we’re highlighting some of these courageous women winemakers, ones who have given up successful careers in disciplines as varied as medicine and music to realise their winemaking dreams.
Meet the medics
A career in medicine is more than a job, it’s a calling; one that requires dedication and years of training to achieve. That didn’t stop the likes of Jenny Semmler of 919 Wines, Liz Heidenreich of Sevenhill Cellars and Diane Miller of Bellarmine Wines from leaving medicine to forge careers in the world of wine.
Jenny Semmler was working as a pharmacist when a relative planted a vineyard, an event that spurred her desire for a life in wine. She quit her job, returned to university to study winemaking and applied her scientific skills to conducting research into flavour development in wine. At 919 Wines, Jenny continues to use her knowledge of science not just in wine production, but also in product development and packaging technologies. Jenny’s move to wine has certainly been successful: she was crowned Owner/Operator of the Year in the 2016 Australian Women in Wine Awards.
Winemaking and science are obviously intrinsically linked, but there’s also an overlap in the challenges that the disciplines produce and a level of transferable skills. After fifteen years’ working as a registered nurse, Liz Heidenreich’s time management skills and her ability to keep calm under pressure are indisputable. After four vintages as a winemaker for Sir Cliff Richard’s winery in Portugal and now at Sevenhill Cellars, Liz admits ‘Having worked long hours and night shifts, vintage hours don’t bother me at all’.
Dr. Diane Miller credits her father, a doctor and avid wine enthusiast, for both sparking her interest in wine and encouraging her to make her career move. While Diane was working as a vet in the UK her father passed away, which made her realise that life was too short not to follow your dream. As a result, Diane leapt into winemaking and completed a degree in oenology in the late 1990s. When asked about what she enjoys most, Diane says, ‘The chemistry is there and, having been a vet treating cows and horses, I really enjoy the farming side. I love being outdoors in the vineyard’. Although Diane’s been in the UK before, she can’t wait to come over, ‘This is our first ever tasting in London, all the wines are new to the market, so it’s very exciting’.
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Meet the artists
As a product of nature, grown in the vineyard and crafted in the winery, winemaking undoubtedly has a basis in science. But the creation of great wine requires far more than just a firm grasp of the technicalities of wine; winemaking is as much an art as it is a science.
Viviana Ferrari (Ulupna Wines) and Christie Schulz (Turkey Flat) are two examples of women from artistic backgrounds who have crossed over to wine and who are using their creative flair in the production, marketing and sales of their wines.
Viviana’s early life revolved around music: she was a concert pianist and toured across Europe for years before she joined her mother, Kathy, in wine. When Viviana isn’t managing Ulupna and tasting blends, she’s a public speaker, music teacher and mother, and still finds time to go to concerts and art galleries.
Christie Schulz had a similarly creative career, having studied art and photography before becoming a professional photographer. When the Schulz family created Turkey Flat in 1990, Christie - without any prior experience of the trade - threw herself into winemaking and marketing. Her enthusiasm for a new challenge and hard work soon paid off: she’s now the guardian of some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world.
Overcoming challenges in the pursuit of wine
The demands of an existing career, no experience of the wine business and a lack of firm connections to the trade are just some of the challenges these career changing women faced. Despite these barriers, and the prospect of joining a traditionally male-dominated industry, these women followed their passion and paved a way for themselves and others to become leading women in wine.
So, what has driven them to take such life-changing decisions? Diversity and innovation seem to be amongst the biggest drivers for getting into Australian wine. Liz Heidenreich says, ‘It’s exciting as we can try out new methods, new varieties and be brave and adventurous.’ Similarly, Viviana Ferrari admits that the best thing about the Australian wine scene is its creativity. She says ‘there are no limitations in Australia - unlike in Europe with the appellation rules - the wings of creativity aren’t clipped!’
For others, it’s also the opportunity to be part of the region’s story and shape its future. With just 35 years of grape growing in her region, Pemberton, Diane Miller highlights how, ‘We are at the beginning of a long road of success and, as such, all of us in the Western Australian wine industry really are pioneers in our field’. Like Jenny Semmler who emphasises ‘it’s an amazing feeling to be contributing to the re-emergence of our region, the Riverland, and driving it as an epicentre of innovation’.
Doing things differently
Aussie winemakers are curious; they are willing to challenge convention and try new things, and these bold career-changing women are no exception.
Turkey Flat has a long history with Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro with some ancient vines dating back to the 1840s. Alongside the great classics, Christie Schulz is now experimenting with other Rhône varieties that haven’t ever been planted in the Barossa Valley.
Jenny Semmler says that they’ll always innovate and try different things at 919 Wines. The pharmacist-turned-winemaker highlights that they released South Australia’s first varietal Durif, Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo and they’re now crafting a sparkling Durif.
As well as working with emerging varieties like Touriga Nacional and launching a Grenache rosé at Sevenhill Cellars, Liz Heidenreich has started producing Shiraz from 100+ year-old vines. Liz will be showing her Touriga red and Grenache rosé at this month’s Women in Wine.
Coming together at Women in Wine
The backgrounds of the 57 women exhibiting at Women at Wine demonstrate that there’s no right or wrong route into the wine trade. While education and experience are important, it’s passion, determination and resilience that really drive success. You can find out more about these amazing women in wine and their wineries by clicking here, and to get involved in this unique event, please email Emma Symington MW.
About the Women in Wine event
On 26 September, London will host the world’s largest gathering of Australian women winemakers and winery owners. With over 50 Australian women in wine, 200 media and trade professionals and 150 consumers expected to attend, it’s set to be a buzzing and inspiring event.
The Women in Wine programme will celebrate women in wine, showcase the quality and diversity of Australian wine and hopefully encourage more women to join the wine trade. As discussed in our previous blog, the number of women in the Australian wine industry is very small and over in the UK, despite positive growth, the wine trade is also a male-dominated sector. The Women in Wine programme seeks to redress this imbalance and make for a better industry for all.
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