On Wednesday 13 November 2019, the first ever Victorian Women In Wine Tasting at Government House in Melbourne took place. It was organised by founding AWIWA Board member, Jeni Port. Here she pens a few words on just what happened…
Making a little history at the big house.
It started on a bus. It was early morning, August 26.
A group of wine judges were setting off on the first day of judging at the 2019 Perth Wine Show, and a call came through to wine judge, Melanie Chester, winemaker at Sutton Grange in Central Victoria.
On the line was Alex Wilcox of The Prince Wine Store, supplier of wines to Victoria’s Government House.
The Governor of Victoria, Linda Dessau, wished to hold a tasting of wines produced by Victorian women to acknowledge their role and contribution to the state. What should he do?
What happened next was history making.
Wine is generally served at Government House functions but a wine tasting at Government House – any Government House in Australia – is highly unusual. Being seen to promote alcohol is something that many Governors don’t necessarily encourage. The late Victorian Governor, Sir Brian Murray, who was a wine producer himself, was a rare exception.
Linda Dessau, Victoria’s first female Governor, was clearly open to breaking a few unspoken rules.
Melanie Chester grasped the importance of Alex Wilcox’s phone call and handed the phone to me.
Could I suggest some women for the tasting?
Of course. The problem was not in putting names forward, but in knowing when to stop.
Victoria is blessed with a strong group of highly professional and talented female wine producers. I selected 18 women, representing 12 of Victoria’s 22 wine regions.
In order to present a diverse offering, a hero wine was nominated from each. The wine producers could then bring a second wine of their choosing.
In the end, the wines covered everything from King Valley Prosecco (Pizzini) and Macedon Ranges sparklings (Hanging Rock Winery), to Henty riesling (Crawford River), Mornington Peninsula chardonnay (Willow Creek) and Central Victorian shiraz (Maygars Hill) to a range of new, alternative grape varieties (Billy Button, Sutton Grange).
It finished with some of the country’s best fortifeds (All Saints, Jones Winery & Vineyard).
The 200 invitation-only attendees for the tasting from business, the diplomatic corps and food and wine industries, who gathered in the grand ballroom on a wet and cold late afternoon on November 13, were in for a treat.
In her speech, Linda Dessau was forthright in her feelings about the role of women – and men – in our society.
“It is important for young girls and boys to understand that all paths are open to them, that there are no false barriers to their aspirations,” she told the gathering. “Is anybody here shocked to hear me say that? I suspect not.”
“In many areas we do still need to encourage girls and women to participate. The fascinating thing for me in planning for this evening was to discover how much women have always contributed to the wine industry here in Victoria, but in the earlier days of our colony their contribution tended to be indirect.”
She made reference in particular to Sophie de Montmollin, the daughter of a Swiss nobleman from Neuchatel, who married the colony’s first superintendant, Charles LaTrobe and arrived in the (then) Port Phillip District in 1840. Her move encouraged vine dressers (trained vineyard workers) from Neuchatel to migrate to the colony and work on the first vineyards in the Yarra Valley.
Marriages and dowries also expanded vineyard holdings throughout the early colony.
The second major expansion of wineries and the role of women in the state’s wine industry came along in the 1960s and continues through to today.
“Something I always think about when I am in regional and rural Victoria, is women have always contributed to agriculture, on any farm, in any enterprise,” said the Governor.
“But today we see women who contribute so directly, bringing their skill and their talent to the art the science and the craft of this important industry. It’s a great privilege for us to welcome each one of them. It will be a great joy for us to sample their wines as well. I’m sure a lot of wine has been drunk here over the time, but I’m sure there has never been such a large gathering of women winemakers.”
As someone who made history herself as Victoria’s first female Governor, it was fitting that she nominated a little history-making celebration of her own on behalf of the women in Victorian wine.
Victorian Women Winemakers – Government House, November 13th 2019
- All Saints Estate, Eliza Brown – Museum Muscat, St. Leonard’s HIP SIP Muscat
- Jones Winery & Vineyard, Mandy Jones Correll – Blanc Aperitif/Fortifed, Durif 2016
- Brown Brothers, Caroline & Emma Brown – Patricia Sparkling 2012, Limited Release Gamay 2018
- Pizzini Wines Natalie & Katrina Pizzini – Il Soffio Prosecco 2019, Pietra Rossa Sangiovese 2017
- Billy Button Wines, Jo Marsh – Saperavi ‘The Squid’ 2018, Refosco ‘The Renegade’ 2018, Verduzzo ‘The Delinquent’ 2017
- Mayford Wines, Eleana Anderson – Mayford Shiraz 2015, Mayford Tempranillo 2018, Anderson & Marsh ‘Catani’ Blanc de Blancs 2014
- Jasper Hill, Emily McNally – Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz 2018, Georgia’s Paddock Riesling 2019
- Hanging Rock Winery, Ruth Ellis – Macedon But Cuvee XVII, Jim Jim Pinot Noir 2017
- Maygars Hill (Strathbogie Ranges), Laura Blackie – Maygars Hill Reserve Cabernet 2016, Maygars Hill Rose 2017
- Tar & Roses (Nagambie Lakes) Narelle King – Pinot Grigio 2019, ‘The Rose’ Shiraz 2018
- Sutton Grange (Bendigo), Melanie Chester – Fairbank Sangiovese 2019, Syrah 2017
- TarraWarra Estate, Clare Halloran – TarraWarra Reserve Chardonnay 2017, TarraWarra Barbera 2017
- Yarra Yering, Sarah Crowe – Pinot Noir 2017 Dry Red Wine No.2 2017
- Yeringberg Sandra de Pury – Yeringberg 2015, Marsanne/Roussanne 2015
- Quealy Winemakers, Kathleen Quealy – ‘Seventeen Rows’ Pinot Noir 2018, Pinot Grigio 2019
- Willow Creek Vineyard, Geraldine McFaul – Chardonnay 2017, Pinot Noir 2017
- Best’s Wines, Brigitte Rodda – Foudre Ferment Riesling 2018, Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2017
- Crawford River Wines, Belinda Thomson – Riesling 2018 Beta 2015 (Sauvignon Blanc 60%, Semillon 40%)