When Wynns Coonawarra Estate winemaker Sarah Pidgeon started her extraordinary career more than two decades ago, it was a field full of mystery.
“I was straight out of high school and trying to look for something unique,” Pidgeon told The CEO Magazine. “I wanted to do a science course and cottoned on to viticulture. It sounded exotic.”
Though she quickly learnt that the industry is more “boots on, hands on” than pure science, Pidgeon became a highly regarded Australian winemaker.
“It is notable to stay in one spot like Sue and I,” she says. “We became an interesting team on one patch of dirt – it’s unusual to see winemakers stay in one place.”
With its leading winemaker being women, the South Australian winery is a trailblazer.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” – Sarah Pidgeon
While viticulture course numbers generally have an equal representation of female and male students, Pidgeon explains that the workforce doesn’t reflect that statistic.
“When I started studying viticulture at university it was about fifty-fifty, but it wasn’t equal in jobs at the other end,” she says. “In the ’90s I was full of confidence and thought I was equal.
“I’m lucky to have had support in terms of work and family. How we bring up boys will make a difference in the future.”
Only 40% of the wine industry is made up of women and that percentage diminishes as they leave viticulture on their way to top roles elsewhere – a pattern mirrored in other male-dominated industries.
Pidgeon, a graduate of the Len Evans Wine Tutorial in Pokolbin, New South Wales, says Coonawarra’s beautiful vineyards are a wonderful place for women.
Working with special soil, new clones and remarkable patches allow Pidgeon and Hodder to craft thoughtful wines, with plenty on show at the Cellarmasters Meet the Makers: Women in Beer, Wine and Spirits event in Sydney, Australia.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” Pidgeon says. “People are interested in not just wine but women in the workforce. We’re more interested than ever before. We need to support each other and do it for other women.
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
And it’s not just women in wine leading the charge. At the event you can meet the duo behind Australia’s first female-owned brewery, Two Birds.