Men now buy less than a third of the wine we drink and no longer boss all the vineyards, writes Christine Austin

The wine department in a supermarket used to be referred to as the ‘husband’s playpen’. This was generally regarded as a safe place to leave men while the wife dashed around the rest of the store, loading up a trolley with the week’s groceries. Meanwhile the men wandered up and down the rows of bottles deciding what to buy. They could read the labels, ponder the descriptions and this activity would keep them happy for hours. Essentially the women chose the food and the men chose the wine.

In most restaurants this system still prevails. Almost inevitably the wine list is given to the man. When eating out with my family the wine list is usually proffered to my other half, who then gives it to me. Even then, most likely he will be offered a taste of the wine before it is poured for the whole table. Good English restaurants are getting better at this, but in France this system still prevails.

So when you discover that 70% of all wine is bought by women, who now seem to whizz down the wine aisles with the same efficiency as they do the rest of the shopping, it seems that there is a little discrimination going on.

This kind of prejudice has been going on for decades. As one of the first females in the UK wine industry many decades ago I encountered a lot of discrimination in all its various shades from subtle to the blatantly obvious, and it seems that it still prevalent. At the Australian Women in Wine Awards held last month at Australia House in London, it was revealed that while half the wine graduates in Australia are women, within 10 years only 10% of them are still employed in the wine industry. Either the industry has so many high flyers that they are happy to waste this valuable resource, or maybe they need to change attitudes and working practices.

60 women who work in the Australian wine industry had flown to the UK to celebrate the Awards, many of them winemakers. What was surprising is that all of them were talented, positive go-getters and none had any chips on their shoulders about how tough it had been to get to the top of their game. I asked Virginia Willcock, winemaker at Vasse Felix in Western Australia if she had had to fight to get to her undoubted top job. ‘No, not really. I have had some great bosses who have recognised that I work very hard and I just get on with the job.’

Do women winemakers make better wine than men? Probably not, there are talented winemakers across the industry, each with exceptional skills to turn grapes into glorious wines. But given the imbalance in the industry perhaps it is time for a little positive discrimination from consumers.

Here are some fabulous wines made by fabulous women winemakers.

Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Western Australia, Halifax Wine Co., £23.95

Made by Virginia Willcock, Winemaker of the Year (Australian Women in Wine Awards), this has deep-flavoured, cassis, blueberry and herbal notes, underpinned by the classic freshness of Western Australian Cabernets. Delicious now, but it will happily keep for 5 years.

 

Vasse Felix ‘Filius’ Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River, Western Australia, Majestic £15.99 down to £12.99 on a mix six deal

This is nothing like any Australian Chardonnay you may have had before. Made from premium parcels of fruit and fermented using wild yeast to add layers of flavour and texture, this is fresh tasting, vibrant and lively, with lemon, lime and shades of ginger and almond in the mix. Serve with a fish course of grilled Dover sole.

 

Pewsey Vale ‘The Contours’ Eden Valley Riesling 2009, Derventio Wines, Malton, £16

Louisa Rose has worked at Yalumba since 1992 and is now one of the world’s most respected winemakers. The 2011 vintage of this single-site, dry Riesling impressed me enormously for its zesty, herb-scented aromas, with the taste of lemon curd on toast edged with honey and peach. Derventio still have the 2009 so snap it up and serve with scallops, oysters or fish and chips.

Yalumba ‘The Octavius’ Old Vine Barossa Shiraz 2009, Harrogate Fine Wine £65.99

A fabulous dark, brooding wine, full of damsons, cloves and chocolate, wrapped up in silky, supporting tannins that can stand up to the best rib of beef you can finds. With vines averaging 60 years old, this could be a good birthday wine for your nearest and dearest.

 

 

Irvine ‘Springhill’ Merlot 2015, Eden Valley, House of Townend, £13.49

Made by Rebekah Richardson who has 20 years of global winemaking experience, she is now making perfectly crafted wines from old vines in this cool part of the Barossa. Merlot is the outstanding grape from Irvine, but the ‘Estate’ Eden Valley Shiraz also terrific. I tasted the 2016 vintage with Rebekah and it shone with creamy cherry and blackberry fruit, layered with coffee notes. Still young, House of Townend are offering this ‘en primeur” at £75 for 6 bottles, with the usual add-ons of duty, VAT and delivery. Buy some and tuck it away. You will not be disappointed.

Mount Horrocks ‘Watervale’ Clare Valley Riesling 2016, Field and Fawcett £18.45

Stephanie Toole makes tiny quantities of outstanding wines, in particular Riesling. This is an expressive wine, made from a single vineyard of organically cultivated vines. It bursts on the palate with a rush of flavour, like lime sherbet on sea pebbles. Bone dry, drink with oysters, grilled prawns or the best fish and chips you can find. Buy several bottles and hide them away for 5 or 10 years to let the complexity develop.

Mount Horrocks Clare Valley Nero d’Avola 2015, Selfridges £28.99

‘I visited Sicily and I just loved Nero d’Avola, so I decided to get some cuttings. It took quite a while to get them through quarantine but now we have some wine’, said Stephanie. And what a wine! Packed with forest fruits, lifted with freshness and ending with a touch of prunes and spice, this is a disturbingly drinkable wine. If you pour this at dinner even your most wine-loving friends will not guess where it comes from.

Stephanie Toole makes exciting wines at Mount Horrocks

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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