Daylesford, Saturday 17th February 2024.

My partner Jackie asked me this morning what my talk was about and I said “Women..”. Immediately she said ‘what do you know about them?” and followed it up by saying “so it’s going to be short speech then” I finally got to say that it was “Women in Wine” which clarified the issue.

Let me first start by saying that I recognised and acknowledged there is much more work to be done in achieving gender equality and fairness in the wine industry. We still need to stamp out ingrained attitudes and discriminations in what was once a totally male dominated sector. A recent press release from the wonderful AWIW (Australian Women in Wine) quoted ATO statistics that showed the gender pay gap in the Australian wine industry is widening, with female winemakers earning $14,000 less than their male counterparts. That’s 100% higher than it was eight years ago. For viticulturists it was $18,500 less.”
But this invitation has given me the opportunity to look back on the last 50 years and see the tremendous impact women have had on the success of the industry.
Before I go through the list, a bit of history. Some of this content has been sourced from Jeni Port’s excellent book published in 2000 Crushed by Women: Women in Wine. Jeni, a James Halliday team member, Wine Communicator of the Year in 2014 and fellow Legend of the Vine recipient, has notched up 45 years in journalism, and is a leading figure in AWIW alongside Jane Thomson.

The following quote, taken from Port’s book, is an example of where we were in 1969 and what was once the attitude to women in wine.

“The greatest wines of my memory…..I have consumed in the company of my fellow men. I have done this with a certain deliberation, for I do not believe that women have the character or the mental outlook that will allow them fully to appreciate a rare and beautiful wine”

That terrible quote was from The Grape and I by Frank Margan, the then editor of the Daily Telegraph, later editor of the Gourmet magazine. Reading it still leaves me speechless.

The following women are my personal list of people I’ve come across that have influenced my career in the past 40+ years. Some are well known, whilst others are less well known and deserve to be remembered for their contribution to this wonderful industry.

Back to the history, with some early pioneers. Mary Putland – daughter of Captain Bligh established a vineyard in 1806 in the St Mary’s area of Sydney and was called Orange Grove. There was Elizabeth Macarthur who managed the farm in her husband’s frequent absence. This is a common thread throughout wine history, where wives were called upon to take stewardship of the land whilst their husbands were away fighting or had died young. Especially in Champagne with the likes of Madame Clicquot and Lily Bollinger. French born Anne Marie Blampied – married Jean Pierre Trouette in 1856 and together with Anne Marie’s younger brother established St Peters vineyard in Great Western.

Coming into the 20th century and into the modern era. Ursula Marie Pridham and her husband Geoffrey bought a vineyard south of Adelaide after a Sunday drive and established Marienberg. Ursula was self-taught and is regarded as the first women winemaker in the modern era. She won her first gold medal at the Royal Adelaide show in 1970 – 2 years after her first vintage. At the awards someone called out ‘Where is Mrs Pridham, she’s won a gold” and someone shouted back “She’s probably at home cooking dinner for her husband”

When I first came to Australia the quality of wine was extremely variable, to say the least, with plenty of instances of brettanomyces spoilage in red (affectionately called sweaty saddle at the time) and oxidation in whites. I came from the ‘mecca of wine’ – the London wine trade and had a background of running wine warehouses and wine bars. In Sydney at that time there was 2 wine bars, one that didn’t resemble a wine bar at all and one that did. I couldn’t understand it. Draconian licencing laws was the cause and a general beer over wine culture. The one that resembled a wine bar was run by a women – Carole Ruta. She owned Champagne Charlies and held regular wine tastings for the industry when no one else did. She had a huge ‘by the glass’ selection, but with no preservative methods she tells me she ended up drinking all the leftovers at the end of the week. She ran probably the first Riedel tastings in Sydney. Carole remembers inviting leading wine writer at the SMH Huon Hooke (by facsimile of course) to an Australian Riesling tasting and he called her back and said “ are you sure? is it worth it?” She ran the first NZ wine show in 1994 consisting of a total of 8 wineries. She ended up consulting to the NZ Wine Institute and ran annual shows across Australia for the next 14 years and can be partially credited with their success in Australia. For many years Carole was at the heart of the wine scene in Sydney.

Mighty Mouse was her nick name and mighty was her contribution to the Australian wine industry. We are talking about Hazel Murphy AM. She was Chief Executive of the Australian Wine Bureau in Europe for 17 years from 1985. During this time she oversaw the development of Australian wine into a runaway export success. Australian exports grew from 1.4 million to 897 million when she left, in part due to her initiative and drive through programs like ‘glass in hand’ and ‘Wine Flight of a Lifetime’, a two-week tour of Australian wine regions that she organised in 1992 for 110 trade and media, mixing the two had never been done before. We share a similar background, she was born in Stockport in Lancashire, close to my home town, she was a northerner like me with absolutely no wine background.

Jancis Robinson described her well “She singlehandedly spearheaded Australian wine’s invasion of Europe at the end of the last century. This, despite her deceptively diminutive stature and casual, friendly demeanour, a bit like that of a cheeky sparrow. “ Sadly she passed away in 2020.

Around 1990 I joined the fledgling NSW Sommeliers Association to find that there was only 2 Sommeliers in Sydney, both French. I ended up on the committee. It was hard to keep the Association going and promoting the role of Sommelier which no one understood or could pronounce. The president was another influential women – Sara Adey, she was the owner of a stylish restaurant called Darling Mills, an early farm-to-table restaurant. Sara was the host and nucleus that encourage young male and female hospitality professionals to start their career towards being a Sommelier. Her valuable contribution is largely forgotten these days. Sommelier was a similar male dominated environment, women were more often seen serving wine on aircrafts than in restaurants. It is now pleasing to see so many passionate female sommeliers. I wrote and ran, what was, the only sommelier course in Australia for years.

My job meant a lot of travelling and on my first ever visit to McLaren Vale I met Pam Dunsford at Chapel Hill, the first Australian woman to gain an oenology degree. She was the first woman to be accepted into Roseworthy Agricultural College, back in 1972 as a 22-year-old, where she studied alongside 180 men.
Roseworthy, became part of the University of Adelaide and was the only formal educational options for budding winemakers. The Principal at the time thought a women would be a distraction, but after pressure from the SA Minster of Education he reluctantly let her in. At their first meeting he snipped “that she’d better behave herself and that she would never get a job in the industry.” I remember Dunsford telling me they had to build a separate toilet/shower block for her to use. Pam was chief winemaker at Chapel Hill for almost two decades. She achieved so many firsts. The first women to work a vintage at Krug in Champagne. First women to occupy a major winemaking position in a large company. First women to become a wine show judge. First women wine consultant. She specialised in chardonnay and full bodied shiraz. I still remember her advising me that unwooded chardonnay was the wine to age. She did use oak and she even became an importer and distributor for Dargaud et Jaegle French oak cooperage in Australia.
I’ve purposely not done a top 20 of women but Pam Dunsford would be close to the top.

Sue Hodder, Wynn’s chief winemaker is another top biller when it comes to wine in Australia. I still marvel at our first meeting around 20 years ago where, at 10:30 in the morning, she pulled out and we drank a 1958 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. How did she know that was my birth year? Hodder grew up in Alice Springs and joined Wynns in 1993 after a degree at Roseworthy and stints in Bordeaux, Margaret River and California. Originally a viticulturalist she then went into winemaking. She has celebrated over 30 vintages at Wynns, and navigated many corporate capers with TWE (Treasury Wine Estate). She is the custodian of an iconic Australian brand.

Moving to WA, Diana Cullen was a special lady. Her wines, like her, were restrained, poised and elegant. Classics, top shelf. They still are. I loved talking to her, it was like being in the presence of Australian royalty. Whilst her husband Kevin worked in his medical practice in Busselton she nurtured and grew their vineyard in the newly created Margaret River region. 1974 was their first vintage. Books, seminars and talking to people was how she learnt. She was the first Margaret River winemaker to ferment sauvignon blanc in oak to produce the fume blanc style. She championed merlot, was the first to plant it and established the cabernet merlot blend in the region. A full-time winemaker, brand ambassador and a mother to six children. One of the six was Vanya Cullen. She was appointed as Chief Winemaker in 1989 and Managing Director in 1999. She has judged at all the major wine shows in Australia. Vanya’s list of awards is impressive and long. She made biodynamics viticulture mainstream in Australia.

Prue Henschke is one of Australia’s most senior viticulturist. She conducted research in the use of VSP canopies and Scott Henry trellising with old vine shiraz. She has progressively replanted the famous Mount Edelstone and Hill of Grace vineyards to ensure they live for future generations. Family heritages like the Cullens and Henschke’s are so special to the industry. Another classic example is with us today Sandra de Pury, a fourth generation winemaker at her family farm at Yeringberg. She has notched up an impressive 15 plus vintages in charge and makes elegant, majestic wines which often, I feel, don’t receive the credit they deserve.

Staying in Victoria, Kathleen Quealy – winemaker on the Mornington peninsula. She started in the late 1970’s on the bottling lines at McWilliams in Sydney, went to University at Wagga and was nicknamed ‘Horror’ because she refused to back down on anything she believed in. Dubbed the Queen of Pinot Gris from her time at t’Gallant with Kevin McCarthy which saw them pioneer the grape in Australia. She also, I’m told, made the first unwooded chardonnay in Australia and an early exponent of skin contact whites.

Wine educators are often the unsung heroes of the industry. Victorian based consultant, winemaker and educator Meg Brodtmann was the first female Australian MW. Gill Gordon Smith from McLaren Vale is a leading wine educator and winemaker. Longstanding friend and educator Karen Macalister from Sydney explored the field of food and wine matching and ran the NSW Academy of Wine for 10 years. In the 1980’s she was an early sales and marketing executive with Tuckers Seabrook. Fellow colleague Jenny Polack was a Melbourne based educator now in Queensland. She was named Best Wine Educator of the Year in 2016 and holds an OIV Master of Science in Wine Management. Winemaker, and viticulturalist Alison Eisermann MW was a key educator for me at the Sydney Wine Academy. Group sommelier and educator Annette Lacey MW also started with me at Ryde TAFE. I’ve seen how much work these women have put in to achieve their MW’s. There are more people who have been in space than there are Master of Wines.

I’m running out of time to recognise everyone. Our industry is blessed with so many talented female winemakers. Louisa Rose at Yalumba, Gwyne Olsen – now senior winemaker at Henschke. Stephanie Toole at Mount Horrocks and Kerri Thompson at Wines by KT in the Clare. Samantha Connew and Anna Pooley make some of my favourite wines in Tasmania.

Victoria is now leading the nation in women in the wine industry. And it is across all roles – winemaking, viticulture and business. Women dominate the Rutherglen region, there is the Heathcote Women’s Group and Yarra Valley Wine Women in which Sandra is involve with. Some of my personal favourites are Sarah Crowe at Yarra Yering, Jo Marsh from Billy Button Wines in the Alpine Valley. Melanie Chester now at Giant Steps, Cate Looney at Brown Brothers and Belinda Thomson at Crawford River Wines. I’m sure you all can recommend some more winemakers to add to my list. Please do tell me.

So far this has been an Australian affair. But we are going to end with a women that has reached the pinnacle of our global industry and someone, whenever I walk into a winery the PR people want to tell me about their brush with fame. Jancis Robinson MW OBE is the world’s most authoritative expert on wine. Journalist for the Financial Times. Creator of Co-author of the World Atlas of Wine and Co-editor of 5 editions of OCW – Oxford Companion of Wine. “The greatest wine book ever published” The bible.

Clive Hartley is an award-winning wine writer, educator and consultant. Check out his fortnightly radio show on Hepburn Community Radio called “put a cork in it”. Now out on Spotify. Want to learn more about wine? Try his book the Australian Wine Guide (7th ed) – available for purchase through his website –