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ACT winemakers are crushing the glass ceiling

Michael Weaver 30 September 2019
Sarah McDougall from Lake George Winery.

Sarah McDougall of Lake George Winery with her awards after being named Owner-Operator of the Year at the Australian Women in Wine Awards in New York last week. Photos: Michael Weaver.

What are winemaking women talking about these days? Remarkably, the same topics the rest of us are talking about.

After being named Owner-Operator of the Year at the Australian Women in Wine Awards in New York last week, Sarah McDougall of Lake George Winery, a 150-hectare property overlooking Lake George, says the hot topic in the Big Apple was the gender pay gap. A problem which exists between male and female winemakers, as it does more broadly.

Sarah was one of nearly 40 Australian female wine producers at the largest Australian wine promotion ever held in the US. Having just flown back home, Sarah says the award shines a light on the Canberra region as a premier winemaking area.

“Here in Australia, we’re employing a lot more women in the industry and the wage gap is getting closer, but over in America they were talking about how there are fewer women involved and they get paid less,” Sarah says.

“There are more female winemakers here wanting to put their hand up and drive the tractor and get their hands dirty and be the restaurant manager or the cellar door host.

“Now, it’s so much easier, but you’ve still got to prove yourself to be a professional winemaker and run a successful winery,” Sarah said.

Anthony and Sarah McDougall.

Anthony and Sarah McDougall toast their latest success at Lake George Winery.

With husband Anthony, their mutual love of wine led to perfect matrimony and a nomination for the prestigious awards, where Sarah flew the flag as the only person nominated from the area.

Sarah said she still feels like a relative newcomer to the industry after mixing with women of all vintages at the awards.

“We talked a lot about inspiring each other and how much we were selling and the types of wines we’re making, and who has gone international, and what vines we’re growing in different climates.”

Sarah said there may have been some talk of not losing their framed award and glass decanter as the women in wine celebrated their achievements at various rooftop bars in New York.

Anthony said it was surreal watching a live stream of the awards in his office at Lake George, where he gained valuable insights into the wine industry.

Likewise, Sarah returned with more than just an award for the wines they are making.

She is also the secretary of the Canberra District Wine Industry Association and is a staunch advocate for the diversity of the almost 50 winemakers in the region.

“I feel so excited about all the ideas we got from being with other winemakers in America, and not just for our winery, but also for the Canberra wine region.

“I really think we make amazing wines here in Canberra and Australia, and I think we really should be flying our flag here at home and internationally,” Sarah said.

President of the Canberra District Wine Industry Association John Leyshon said Sarah joins an elite group with the association’s other Sarah, Sarah Collingwood of Four Winds Vineyard, who won the same title in 2017.

Australian Women in Wine Award winners in New York.

Sarah McDougall, far left, with the Australian Women in Wine Award winners in New York. Photo: Supplied.

Like Sarah Collingwood, Sarah McDougall is also a mother of five (or six, if you include their new lamb) and they all live on their Lake George property. She said the past 12 months have been the biggest of their lives.

After buying the property, their initial goal was just to clean the vineyard and get it operating, including a wine press that had more dust than remnants of pressed grapes.

The winery is now producing chemical-free wines, is recycling materials and using different varietals of grapes and wild yeasts.

Their grapes are also dry-grown, meaning no irrigation is required. The vines root deeper into the soil where they tap into the water table and a richer source of minerals and nutrients.

The vineyard has also just achieved what is known as ‘budburst’, when the first flowers of spring open.

“The snow and rain we had about a week-and-a-half ago was just perfect,” said Anthony. “We had about 30 mm of rain and had budburst while Sarah was away. It’s always a relief to see that happen.”

Last Saturday the winery hosted its annual Grapest 5 km fun run around the vineyard under the slogan ‘will run for wine’.

It’s another part of the experience wineries are providing these days. Sarah’s learnings in America, meanwhile, will help ensure the Lake George Winery continues on its amazing run.

Visit Lake George Winery to learn more about the winery’s restaurant, cellar door and cool-climate wines.


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