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A dozen of the best - women winemakers press for progress

19 February 2018

Of the people employed in the wine industry a little more than a third are women. In fact, according to Wine Australia, it’s 38 percent women.

Those sorts of numbers are not unusual in primary industry. It’s not unusual in any industry and the numbers become even smaller when it comes to women leadership and senior roles. In wine, female representation at this level is estimated at 10 percent or less. Like many other industries, wine has a long way to go to reflect the broader population.

At a Cellarmasters celebration of women winemakers on International Women’s Day, 8 March, in Sydney, 12 women winemakers are coming together to showcase their skills.

Nicole Samodol

Nicole Samodol (above), Principal Rowlee Wines, Orange, New South Wales, is one of the women attending the event. Nicole’s path to where she is today has taken some unexpectedly lengthy twists, the consequences of which she could not have foreseen.

About 18 years ago Nicole “fell into banking”. Up until then her background was food and wine. When Nicole left banking in 2017 she was Head of Strategy at Westpac and, although she loved her career in banking, the family business bubbling away in the background exerted an undeniable pull.

Fruit growing for the wine industry came first. The family business only began making its own wines in 2014.

As Rowlee Wines flourished and grew, Nicole, drawn to the excitement of running a business and flex her entrepreneurial leanings, decided to make a full time commitment to it. In 2017 she upped sticks to Orange, completely.

“I thought, if we don’t give it a shot, we’ll never know,” says Nicole of her move from Westpac to wine.

“Agriculture is high risk and wine is subject to fashion and trends. It’s so important if a business is to succeed to think about it from end to end. From growing and winemaking to brand and marketing, retail, cellar door, online. There’s even tourism to consider; the experience around the product. It’s a very exciting business to be in,” says Nicole, acknowledging the part her corporate strategy skills have played in the brand’s success.

Surprisingly, those skills and the way they ‘branded’ Nicole had other consequences: “I was known for strategy at Westpac. That was my brand. To change that, to show people I was capable of more I needed to get out. I really wanted to try being an entrepreneur. It’s a very different way of working.”

Julie Montgomery

Julie Montgomery (above) of Avon Brae would agree, she says “being a woman in the wine industry can be challenging but certainly not limiting,” while Janelle Zerk, the winemaker behind Z wines in The Barossa, says balancing family life in conjunction with the high demands of running a business and doing a vintage is a real challenge. The experiences of all these women, promoting the wines and the regions that they love, continue to increase the diversity of the industry and its reach.

Tickets to the Cellarmasters event include sparkling wine on arrival, cheese and canapes, and tastings of over 40 different wines from 12 female winemakers from across the country. Use the promotional code: rubycellarmasters and purchase two tickets to get 25% off, making each ticket $30 each (instead of $39) PLUS booking fee.

To purchase your ticket, head to: Cellarmasters.com.au/womeninwine

The winemakers include: Gwyn Olsen: Briar Ridge and Pepper Tree Wines, (Hunter Valley), Alexia Roberts: Penny’s Hill (McLaren Vale), Sarah Pidgeon: Wynns Coonawarra Estate, (Coonawarra), Julie Montgomery: Avon Brae (Eden Valley), Kathleen Quealy: Quealy Winemakers, (Mornington Peninsula), Janelle Zerk: Z Wines (Barossa Valley),  Josephine Perry: Dormilona, (Margaret River), Nicole Samodol: Rowlee Wines, (Orange), Sally Blackwell: Hawkesbridge, (South Australia/New Zealand),  Jo Gear: Ribbon Hills, (New Zealand), Rosie Signer: Heirloom Vineyards, (South Australia), Elena Brooks: Dandelion Vineyards (South Australia).

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