As a female winemaker in an industry that is heavily dominated by men, I can honestly say, I love my job! With more than a decade’s experience in the wine industry I’ve developed a thick skin and embrace the person I am today – a female who is comfortable in herself.
In 1966 James Brown wrote a song titled ‘it’s a man’s man’s man’s world’, a classic Brown tune describing an era when traditional sex roles still ruled, an era when the notion of successful females holding key management positions was still largely unheard of (particularly in the wine industry).
So how did I become a winemaker?
I grew up in the coastal town of Wollongong and always had a strong affiliation with the land and enjoyed working outdoors.
A career in winemaking would have seemed as likely as being the Prime Minister of Australia even though my Gran said I was a bit bossy and said ‘you’ll run the country one day’. I studied Horticulture after school and worked as a gardener, that was my doorway into the Vineyard. I tried accountancy for work experience but if I told that to our accountant at Bimbadgen, he’d die of laughter.
To pursue my love of the outdoors, I set my sights on the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine regionand in 2001 I commenced work for Brokenwood Wines for what was initially just a few weeks, learning vine management. This short term project was enough for me to fall in love with the industry and by January of the following year I had enrolled in a Bachelor of Applied Science in Viticulture at Charles Sturt University.
In May 2009, I was the recipient of the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association’s Hunter Legends “Rising Star of the Year” award. This was a career highlight and a great honour to be recognised by my peers and colleagues in the Hunter Valley.
In September 2010, I joined the team at Bimbadgen Winery in the Hunter Valley and was appointed to the position of Senior Winemaker.
I wouldn’t say that it was an easy journey to get to where I am today. Traditionally winemaking has been a bit of a man’s game however, in today’s society and certainly within the last 5-8 years in the Hunter Valley there has been a generational shift where being a woman in the wine industry is much more acceptable.
Looking back, if I could give advice to a younger Sarah Crowe I would offer this:
I’m an advocate for the Hunter Valley region sitting on the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association Board and next week I will host a dinner at Sepia (Sydney) with fellow winemaker and talented female Debbie Lauritz from Cumulus for ‘Wine, Women and Wine’.
I sit on judging panels regularly and last year I took part in the Royal Melbourne Wine Show as well as travelling to Hong Kong in September to showcase Bimbadgen wines to trade and consumers.
Recently, we’ve wrapped up picking the grapes in the Hunter Valley and now we’re working on processing fruit from Orange. Vintage is always a great time in the region. This year we had interstate and overseas pickers who added flair and fun to the Bimbadgen mix.
In some ways I guess I’ve had to work harder to prove to cellar hands that I’m not asking them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. Working for large wineries, I found it was much quicker to get respect from young blokes if they could see that I was throwing barrels around too.
I’ve never experienced negativity from the ‘good ol’ boys’. I think the mentality in the Hunter Valley is based on having a good work ethic and being community minded.
Between the Hunter Valley females, we are all friends and there is no competition between us, only support.
About Sarah Crowe
Located in the heart of the Hunter Valley, Bimbadgen Winery boats incredible wine, landscapes and gourmet food. In 2010, Sarah Crowe was appointed at Bimbadgen Winery as head winemaker and has since flourished in her role where she regularly sits on wine judging panels interstate, hosts regular wine matching dinners to promote the Hunter Valley and takes part in a number of local initiatives to increase awareness of the Hunter Valley and its sophisticated offerings. Sarah is an advocate for the Hunter Valley region. Check her out Bimbadgen or on Facebook.