The male-dominated hospitality industry was challenging for Caitlin Baker when she started her career working in restaurants over ten years ago.
Now the manager of fine dining establishment Aubergine, she has decided to create the opportunities that she felt were lacking in her early hospo days, especially when it came to finding mentors she could relate to. With a diverse group of other hospitality professionals in Canberra, she’s started Venus Vinifera – a wine group for women focussed on education and building a supportive community.
“When I first started getting into wine and hospitality, I didn’t really have many women as mentors,” she told Region Media.
“As I get older and I’m moving into management roles, I feel it’s partly my responsibility to make the pathway easier for the next generation, and using the resources I have in my job and also in my community to make it easier for them.”
What started as a group of professional colleagues having a chat while sharing a bottle of wine has now become an organisation that runs regular events to educate women about different wines and spirits and will soon branch into an online forum.
The name Venus Vinifera is a play on words. Vitis vinifera is the Latin name for grapevines and Venus is a Roman goddess. Caitlin says they spent a bit of time brainstorming a name, but when they came up with Venus Vinifera, they immediately knew it was the right fit.
“When I think of the word Venus I think of powerful women and bold women.”
Venus Vinifera – often abbreviated to VV – aims to be “inclusive of all women including those who are female-identifying, non-binary and have trans experience/history” and is a mix of those who work in the hospitality industry, winemaking, distribution and some who are just interested in learning more about wine.
“It’s a super diverse group. There’s definitely hospitality professionals, newcomers, there are quite a few girls who attend who just have a keen interest in wine but work in the public service or as lawyers,” says Caitlin.
“It is a group for anybody who wants to have a community surrounding wine or spirits regardless of what their actual job is.”
Several women running the group work for some of Canberra’s most highly regarded venues like Bar Rochford, Pilot and Aubergine. They’ve had the support of those workplaces to create the group, with the restaurants jumping on board as venues for tastings and classes.
Venus Vinifera has developed a schedule of events for the first half of 2022 which incorporates a range of topics. Events feature industry professionals like Freddie Raimbaud, the wine buyer for Dan Murphy’s stores in the ACT region and a teacher at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (an international body that oversees wine and spirit certifications). She will run an event exploring the world of American wines in February. Other events will explore topics like navigating the hospitality industry as a woman, a champagne masterclass, and an event titled ‘what the F is a digestive?’ run by Lucy Pallet-Jones from the Spirits Platform.
VV will also be launching their website in March, including a ‘members only’ platform, thanks to some sponsorship money from Lark Hill Winery and non-alcoholic beer company Heaps Normal. This space will include additional educational resources and a forum where women can connect and find mentors. They are planning to record and upload different events for members to refer back to, as well as exclusive extra content.
A small membership fee will cover access to these members-only online resources, as well as discounted tickets to events and classes. But Caitlin says that events will still be open to the general public, and they want to make them accessible and welcoming. The group will eventually expand to cover beer and a greater variety of spirits and wine.
Caitlin is hopeful that this community will be a space that empowers more young women to succeed as it provides them with the resources and mentors to forge their own paths in the hospitality industry.