International Women’s Day will be here soon, or so I am writing. It can be difficult to hear the voices of women over the noise and chaos surrounding COVID or the realization that Brexit has finally happened. In that light, I decided to write my next article for GBW, focusing on the voices of women in the wine industry.
“I try to remember the pressure I experience is self-imposed because of my ambitions for my business and my expectation for success, but no other person is judging me in this way.” Celebrate your success and give yourself a rest.
LANEBERG WEBSITEM British wine producers have something in common: they consider winemaking a second profession. Elise Lane is one of those people. She founded a unique business called Laneberg, an urban winery in Gateshead. You would think, if you looked back on her early career choices, that she had planned her entire journey. Elise has a Chemistry Degree from Oxford University. She fell in love initially with wine when she attended a tasting that focused on identifying the chemical components of wine. She changed her career when she moved from New York to London, where she worked for a “big four” accountancy firm. While studying for the WSET 2, she was able to feed her wine appetite by visiting Gordon’s Wine Bar on Embankment regularly. She realized at this point that the English Wine Industry was growing, and she wanted to become a winemaker. It took her five more years to finally enroll in the PGDip Viticulture & Oenology program at Plumpton. She not only studied there but also gained all the necessary practical skills by working as the assistant winemaker at the college under Sarah Midgley.
During her time in London, Elise was very active in the promotion of women’s rights. She believed that women should not be overlooked because they took a break for children. She replied, “It is easy to say but hard to do. Believe in yourself. It is great to be your boss, as it gives you more freedom and flexibility in terms of when you work. However, you also have to do things you may not enjoy or that you are unfamiliar with. If you are passionate about your work, remember why you do it. I remember the pressure that I felt came from my expectations and ambitions for my business. No one else is judging my actions. “Give yourself a break and celebrate your success.”
Finding solutions to unexpected situations or issues can be challenging but rewarding when done correctly. Do not regret things that did not work out as planned.
FOX & FOX WEBSITEJonica Fox, of Fox and Fox, had previously worked in marketing before pursuing her lifelong hobby of horticulture by growing vines. Her husband, the one who planted the seed, helped her to go to Plumpton, where the first rows of vines were planted in 2004. Since her time in wine production, she says she has noticed more open accessibility to jobs of all kinds in wine – both on the production side and in distribution, sales, marketing, and wine commentary/journalism. She says that “defining people based on their biology should not be necessary in terms of their job roles.” I believe that people can be successful if they have talent and work hard, but it is important to continue to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities.
She said: “Have confidence in yourself and be willing to do all the work, especially if you are in a small company.” Finding solutions to unexpected situations or issues is rewarding and challenging when you succeed. “Learn from the things that didn’t work out as planned and don’t spend time regretting them.”
Never give up, no matter what challenges you may face. Open yourself to new experiences, meet people, understand the terroir, and be patient.
EXTON PARK WEBSITECorinne Seely, a French winemaker from Exton Park in England, knew that she wanted to become a winemaker ever since she was young. It all began when I was a young girl, on our family holiday in South France. Our site, which we use every year, was situated in the middle of a vineyard. I would play in the winery. I was fascinated by everything. The smell and atmosphere were unforgettable. Corinne was lucky to have supportive people around her in the early stages of her career. She still recognized that the industry is more male-dominated today than it was then. “I was one of the very first young women winemakers to be in charge of a Grand Cru Classe vineyard in Bordeaux. It was a time in my life that I will always remember. It gave me courage and strength for the rest of my journey.”
Her passion for her job is evident: “I consider this to be one the best jobs in the world. You start with terroir and the result of an ecosystem that dates back millions of years. You can turn it into something cheerful by using the magic of a winery and a vineyard. Be patient, open to new experiences, and learn something new every day.
When I first started, there were very few women in the wine industry. It was sometimes difficult for women to be recognized within the industry. Now, we are all on the same page, and there is a mutual respect that was not there before for all aspects of diversity.
BOLNEY WINE WEBSITESam Lintern, of Bolney Wine Estate in Britain, had an unusual childhood. She grew up in the vineyards of the Bolney Wine Estate, which her parents founded in 1972. Sam is grateful that her mother was a good role model for her. She received advice from a variety of sources, including winemakers from New Zealand, Sandy Moss, who founded Nyetimber in 1986, and Mike Roberts from Ridgeview, as English Wine was still in its infancy. She describes them as “pioneers, innovators, and pioneers of their times who proved people wrong when they said that wine could not be made in England.”
Sam became Managing Director and Chief Winemaker in the ’90s. He has invested a lot over the years, including a new winery. Now, he is expanding the online shop with drinks from local brands to help fight the pandemic. She says that it has been a long road: “The philosophy I worked by was to learn from our mistakes (and we made many!) She says it has been a long journey: “The ethos I worked to was to learn from mistakes (we made a lot!) She says that the wine industry has evolved dramatically since she started: “When I began, there were very few women in the industry and it was sometimes difficult for women to be recognized within the industry.” Now, we are all on the same page, and there is mutual respect between us for every aspect of diversity.
“Winning the IWC winemaker of the year award in 2018 was a proud moment for me, especially as I was the first woman and the first person to ever win it outside of Champagne. It would be wonderful to know that this win has influenced other women.
NYETIMBER WEBSITENyetimber is the best-known English Wine Brand internationally. I asked Head Winemaker Cherie Spriggs if she anticipated Nyetimber becoming as famous as it is now when she first joined the company 13 years ago. “I knew that Nyetimber was ambitious and that Eric Heerema would never compromise on quality, just like me. We both share a passion for great wine and wanted to show that it was possible to make the best Sparkling Wines in the UK. “I am proud and always surprised at how quickly Nyetimber became a well-known brand.”
Cherie, a former biochemist who studied enology, attributes much of her success to the meticulous attention she pays to every detail, which guarantees consistency in quality when it comes to wine blending. She also credits her “unwavering belief” that perfection is possible in an unpredictable climate. The right winemaker is crucial to the success and growth of any wine brand. I asked her if it was important to her that women follow the same career path as she did. She replied: “Winning the IWC Winemaker Of The Year Award in 2018 is one of my proudest achievements, particularly because I am the first person from outside Champagne and the first woman. It would be wonderful to know other women were influenced by her win. Women have played a major role in the Sparkling Wine Industry, whether it is Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot or Louise Pommery. “I hope more women will see winemaking as an exciting and rewarding career. If I can influence this in any way, it makes my job more fulfilling.”
In conclusion, I am happy to say that I had a hard time choosing who to interview for this article, and I know that many more women are studying at Plumpton. It has been fascinating to see the growth of the English wine industry and the increasing influence and visibility of women. I am looking forward to revisiting the article in a couple of years and expecting to see a lot more females involved in the wine industry.