That fine balance: being a woman wine maker

As a wine maker, I’m definitely following in the footsteps of my father David Hohnen (though he likes to say I’m way out front – thanks Dad ;-).

You can’t beat our nose!

My dad says that women approach wine differently because their sense of smell is much finer. He puts this down to the fact that in the history of humankind, women have been the carers. They’ve had to make sure that whatever food they’re preparing for their kids is absolutely pure and not going to harm them. And through that process, they developed a very fine sense of smell.

(Meanwhile the men were outside the cave killing something.)

Being a woman in wine

When Dad and I started working together, he’d give me the whites and he’d oversee the reds, and he encouraged me a lot through the process. But not all wine-making businesses are as encouraging of women.

It depends where you end up working as to how much chauvinism you see. In my career I’ve worked in some great places and some places where there was definitely chauvinism. I think the bigger challenge though, with women in wine making, is if you also want to raise a family – it’s pretty much impossible to do both, certainly if you have a senior wine-making role.

Most women I went to university with aren’t wine makers anymore. Or they still work in wine but they do consulting – they have to find a way to work around their families.

Or, they just don’t have children. These are sensitive issues, and not something that’s spoken about a lot. But when you start your career as a wine maker, you’re not thinking about having kids, and then when you do, you realise that it’s going to be tough.

That’s why this opportunity of Once & Well is so great – I don’t have to be running a winery full time and committing to full vintage hours. I can spend time with my children and still have a project where I can make some wine. It’s a rare opportunity.

The future of women making wine

I don’t know where the future lies, I don’t think that it’s been dealt with properly as an industry. I think you are expected to be some kind of miracle female, or to not do it at all.

It’s a subject that’s coming up at the moment because women do have a lot to offer that’s different to men. So how do we keep these women who graduate as wine makers in the industry? it’s not going to be as simple as: let’s just shove the kids in daycare. That still won’t be enough to cover that vintage period where you’re working 16 hours a day.

The industry needs to spend some time working through this issue. It’s going to be to everyone’s benefit.

Maybe that’s why there are so many families involved in the wine industry, allowing for more flexibility in hours; the men in the family get the night shift at vintage and the women are able to feed babies when they need to or bring them to the office.

In the end, women do have great palates and I think the combination of a male and female in a wine-making team is ideal. It’s also nice to have that workplace balance of men and women. Bring it on.