Women in wine

By J'aime Cardillo

6 Mar, 2024

Ahead of International Women's Day on March 8, we speak to winemakers Corrina Wright, Mel McWilliam, Vanya Cullen and Sue Bell about being a woman in the wine industry.

The wine industry has traditionally been a male-dominated sector. Women represent just 30 per cent of of the industry, and only a third of those women hold senior roles.

These four winemakers are just some of the women in wine who are helping to create space for the next generation to shine.

"We are underrepresented in the wine industry, even though there is a 50/50 gender split going through university. This frustrates me because I see it as a massive loss of crucial brains trust, diverse opinions and great ideas. I think the wine community as a whole would be better if it was more diverse," says Corrina Wright from Oliver's Taranga in McLaren Vale

Corrina WrightCorrina Wright.

Corrina is also a member of the Australian Women in Wine Awards (AWIWA) advisory board. The AWIWA works to support and mentor women in the wine industry, to share stories and experiences, and to encourage change where needed.

When it comes to gender-related challenges, Corrina says there's been plenty. "Now that I am older and have a level of confidence in my own standing in the wine community, I have found that calling out for change with reasons and evidence and then being prepared to be part of the change is the only way to make it happen.

"I believe it is inherent upon those in positions of relative power to stand up for those who aren’t as able to speak up."

Mel McWilliamMel McWilliam.

For Mel McWilliam, sixth-generation winemaker at McWilliam's in NSW's Riverina wine region, growing up in the family business has always felt welcoming.

"My experience of the wine industry so far has been incredibly inclusive. I studied wine science at university and was pleasantly surprised that that course had a pretty even ratio of men to women...I’m surrounded by a great team of men and women across many different fields.

"My cohort of talent coming through has so many female wine industry legends to look up to. These women that came before us would have faced huge challenges and, sadly, discrimination because of their gender. But their work in breaking down stereotypes allows me to feel respected and valued in my industry today."

Vanya CullenVanya Cullen.

Mel says the notion that wine is a male-dominated environment is somewhat of an outdated preconception. "It's important to challenge this so that women thinking about entering the industry will see that it is an environment in which they can thrive."

Sydney-based charity Women and Revolution started at a dinner party when 15 women came together to break bread over their love for wine. Word about the dinner party spread and suddenly there were 30 women at the table – with a waitlist of the same number. A meeting was held (in a much larger space) to discuss how Women and Revolution could evolve next. Today the group, which represents and connects women in wine, has more than 200 members from around Australia.

Women and Revolution offer an ever-expanding list of female winemakers, viticulturists, brewers and distillers on its website. There are over 300 names, roles and labels (and a few Instagram handles) listed.

Margaret River's sustainability pioneer Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines says working with her mother – Diana Madeline – was great mentoring. "Being a woman has had its challenges, although standing up and going biodynamic was a bigger challenge, but was worthwhile to make better wines sustainably."

Sue BellSue Bell.

"It’s been a privilege to work with the land, Mother Earth, and to make great wines in a way that cares for her," says Vanya.

Sue Bell, winemaker at Bellwether Wines in Coonawarra, says any challenges she's faced have been overcome with the "wonderful peer support of other women, friends and great male mentors."

When it comes to those who inspire her, Sue names women like Prue Henschke (Henschke), Louisa Rose (Yalumba/Hill-Smith Family Estates), Sue Hodder (Wynns Coonawarra Estate), Kerri Thompson (Wines by KT), Kim Chalmers (Chalmers), Fran Austin (Delamere Vineyard), Kate Laurie (Deviation Road), Samantha Connew (Stargazer Wine), and Corrina Wright (Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards).

We asked Corrina, Mel, Vanya and Sue for their favourite wine made by a woman: