From editor of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book to English Sparkling Winemaker.
Whilst the international wine industry has a historical reputation for being male-dominated, the English and Welsh Wine Industry boasts a strong contingent of successful female winemakers and viticulturists. This post marks the first of a series of interviews showcasing the stories behind a selection of women within the English Wine Industry. While this is intended as a celebration, we also hope that it provides meaningful and inspiring insight to those considering a career in wine.
Our first post in this series shines the spotlight on Emma Rice of Hattingley Valley Wines, in Hampshire. With a barrel of national and international awards already under her belt, Emma’s story so far is an inspirational one. We presented Emma with a range of questions, which we will also be presenting to other winemakers. We hope you find these interviews as insightful as we do.
At which point did it become obvious that winemaking was the route you were destined for? Was this always the plan?
I have always been in the wine trade, since I left school, but it was when I was working as editor of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book that I first read about Plumpton College. I was intrigued and within a few years I’d given up London life, enrolled in the course and moved to Brighton. I was 29 when I started the BSc Viticulture & Oenology
What brought you to Hattingley Valley?
I had recently arrived back in the UK after a couple of years working in California and Tasmania. In 2008 I was introduced to Simon Robinson by friends of mine at Vine Works who had helped him establish his vineyard earlier that year. He asked me if I could build him a winery and so I did!
Please describe the highest point of your career so far...
It is without doubt seeing Hattingley Valley become one of the largest and highest-profile wineries in the UK in just 10 years. Connected to that is the recognition the wines have received at national and international level. Winning UK Winemaker of the Year in 2014 and 2016 plus two World Champion Trophies at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships (in 2014 and 2017) have definitely been high points.
How do you balance your work life / personal life?
The short answer is, I don’t! I enjoy my job and wine is also a passion outside work, so they are one and the same. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t imagine having a job that was just a job. The domestic life is not for me.
As part of an industry which has been historically male dominated, do you feel your gender has ever acted as a barrier to your success?
I encountered regular and horrendous sexism early in my career when I was in the wine trade in London. I have to hope that the trade has since dragged itself into the 21st century. But rather than act as a barrier it spurred me to succeed in spite of it; I grew a thick skin. By contrast, the UK wine production industry is not hampered by traditions, as we are all relatively new to it. Women make up more than 50% of the winery team here at Hattingley and our Vineyard Manager is a woman. I believe it is similar across the UK industry. I do sometimes resent being referred to as a female winemaker – I have never heard of any man having the prefix ‘male’ added to their job-title in this industry!
When I was working in California, I was the first woman to have worked actually in the cellar in the winery I was at, but I worked as hard as the men and never once had a problem. Rural northern Tasmania was more of a challenge culturally speaking.
To anyone looking to start a winemaking/viticultural career within the English Wine Industry - what are the two main pieces of advice you would give?
Get yourself to Plumpton College! They have various options from short intensive courses to full 3-year BSc and a post-grad MSc. Visit as many wine regions around the world as you can, do a harvest in a different country, get some general wine knowledge from the WSET courses. Taste as many and varied wines as you can and learn from it. And expect to work long, physically demanding, sometimes downright uncomfortable hours, without complaint. If you are not prepared to put in the time you can’t expect to succeed.
Oh, and learn to drive a tractor and a forklift!
Which of your current wines are you most excited about?
We have a Kings Cuvee 2015 Rose that is waiting in the wings for release at some point in the next 18 months to two years – can’t wait to see how that is going develop. The current Hattingley Rose 2014 is tasting absolutely wonderful at the moment. That wine, in magnum, is one I will be stocking up on personally.
What were the last two truly memorable English wines (that weren’t your own) that you tasted?
Most recently, Wiston Estate Blanc de Noirs 2010, it was tasting fantastically well at the WineGB Tasting and just won the Supreme Champion Trophy the WineGB Awards. Followed by the Lyme Bay Pinot Noir – really impressive English red.