Women be­hind the wine

Mis­sion to pro­mote in­dus­try’s his­toric fe­male wine­mak­ers

NewsMail - Wide Bay Rural Weekly - - BUSH BANTER - Alex Samp­son news@ru­ral­weekly.com

UN­TIL re­cently Mary Pen­fold, whose name adorns Aus­tralia’s most pres­ti­gious wine, had al­most been lost in his­tory.

The English wine­maker started work­ing in the wine trade when she moved to South Aus­tralia with her hus­band, Christo­pher, in 1844.

But ac­cord­ing to wine his­to­rian Fleu Lankesheer, the rest of Mary’s story isn’t well known.

Fleur said Mary is typ­i­cal of early fe­male wine­mak­ers, who have re­ceived lit­tle recog­ni­tion, hav­ing largely been writ­ten out of her own story.

“When Mary and her hus­band moved to South Aus­tralia from Bri­tain she was the one who planted vines be­cause her hus­band was a doc­tor and busy set­ting up his new prac­tice,” Fleur said.

“She was also the one who made all the wine. At one stage Mary Pen­fold was mak­ing a third of all wine com­ing out of South Aus­tralia.”

Mary is not the first woman to be ob­scured from view in the his­tory books, which have tended to cel­e­brate men in the wine in­dus­try.

But Fleur is on a mis­sion to pro­mote Mary and other early fe­male wine­mak­ers.

Fleur de­vel­oped a pas­sion for wine when she used wine tast­ings as an ex­cuse to get out of the ho­tel room when she was trav­el­ling for busi­ness.

She was work­ing as a lawyer for a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany in­volved in cancer drug de­vel­op­ment – a job that took her around the world.

“I’ve al­ways had an in­ter­est in wine so I used wine tast­ing to get out and see parts of the world I was vis­it­ing,” Fleur said.

“If I was in San Fran­cisco or Sil­i­con Val­ley I would go to Napa Val­ley or Sonoma.”

In 2015 Fleur de­cided to do a PhD on the his­tor­i­cal, so­cial and cul­tural im­pact of Bri­tish women on the port wine in­dus­try in Por­tu­gal dur­ing the 18th and 19th cen­turies.

“I knew I didn’t want to make wine but I still wanted to be in­volved with and pro­mote the in­dus­try,” Fleur said.

After won­der­ing why women were sel­dom in­cluded in wine his­tory books, Fleur de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate the role of women in wine­mak­ing his­tory.

“I knew they must have been in­volved be­cause wine­mak­ing has con­tin­ued through so many wars, so who was mak­ing the wine, if not women?” Fleur said.

“I wanted to look at the lives of women from the 17th cen­tury on­wards and see what they were up to and what role they had in wine­mak­ing.

“I thought it would be great to fo­cus my re­search on sto­ries peo­ple had never heard of.”

As it turned out, many of the world’s first wine­mak­ers were women.

“Women’s con­tri­bu­tion just wasn’t doc­u­mented like men’s,” Fleur said.

“Like all his­tory, things are slowly chang­ing so ev­ery­thing doesn’t just fo­cus men’s con­tri­bu­tion – it’s the same for the wine in­dus­try.”

Fleur is one of just 50 wine his­to­ri­ans across the globe, and was ini­tially go­ing to write a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion novel about women in wine, un­til she re­alised there was no re­search to base her book on.

“I needed an­swers for the ques­tions I had, and it turned out I had to an­swer them my­self,” Fleur said.

As part of her re­search Fleur trav­elled to Por­tu­gal, Eng­land and Scot­land for three months to dig up old records.

“In Porto in Por­tu­gal, the streets haven’t changed very much over the years, so I was able to lit­er­ally walk in the foot­steps of those first wine­mak­ing women,” she said.

Fleur has re­cently moved from Brisbane to Ruther­glen, in North East Vic­to­ria, as ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Wine­mak­ers of Ruther­glen, a body that helps pro­mote the re­gion’s wine in­dus­try.

Her next move is to pub­lish an ar­ti­cle on colo­nial women ex­hibitors of Aus­tralian wine at in­ter­na­tional wine shows.

“It ex­am­ines and doc­u­ments women who were ex­hibitors and award win­ners of Aus­tralian colo­nial wines on the in­ter­na­tional and in­ter­colo­nial ex­hi­bi­tions,” Fleur said.

Mary Pen­fold was one of those women. She ex­hib­ited her wine in Paris in the 1800s at only the sec­ond in­ter­na­tional wine show ever held, and went on to en­ter her wine in six more shows.

Fleur hopes to raise aware­ness of Mary’s work and the work of other Aus­tralian fe­male wine­mak­ers by nom­i­nat­ing them for the Na­tional Bi­og­ra­phy Award.

“Un­til I started dig­ging, I was un­aware that Mary Pen­fold was the Pen­folds wine­maker, and that’s the most sig­nif­i­cant win­ery in Aus­tralia,” Fleur said.

“If I can help find a way to recog­nise her con­tri­bu­tion to the com­pany, given Pen­folds is the most widely un­der­stood wine brand in Aus­tralia, it is im­por­tant.”

Fleur said sev­eral prom­i­nent fe­male wine­mak­ers were ac­tive in her Ruther­glen wine re­gion, in­clud­ing Jen Pfeif­fer, Chris­to­belle An­der­son, Mandy Jones and Jan Mil­hinch.

Wine Aus­tralia will host the Aus­tralian Women in Wine Awards 2017 in Lon­don on Septem­ber 26, and Fleur be­lieves awards such as this can help draw at­ten­tion to women in the in­dus­try.

She said the num­ber of women in Aus­tralian wine was es­ti­mated to be about eight to 10% of the to­tal work­force and in some ar­eas that num­ber was ac­tu­ally in de­cline.

“Over­all Aus­tralian women are en­ter­ing the in­dus­try in greater num­bers, but they are not stay­ing and are leav­ing to pur­sue other ca­reers,” Fleur said.

“Women don’t re­alise how much women in Aus­tralia and Bri­tain were in­volved in the be­gin­nings of the in­dus­try,” she said.

“There are still so many women in this in­dus­try and peo­ple need to know that.”

Wine­mak­ing has con­tin­ued through so many wars, so who was mak­ing the wine, if not women?

— Fleu Lankesheer


WOMEN AND WINE: Fleur Lankesheer is a wine his­to­rian do­ing re­search into the role of women in wine­mak­ing across the world, with a fo­cus on Por­tu­gal and Aus­tralia.


Mary Pen­fold. Source: Pen­folds Por­trait His­tor­i­cal Copies.

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