In the traditionally male-dominated wine industry, more women are making their mark. Annabel Tan speaks to five inspiring winemakers and winery owners from both the Old and New Worlds.
Co-owner and winemaker of Paralian Wines, and winemaker of Willunga 100
Derived from ancient Greek, “paralian” refers to a person who lives by the sea. It is a fitting name for the boutique South Australian wine brand, Paralian Wines, which is based in Port Willunga, a coastal town in the McLaren Vale wine region. It is also no coincidence that co-owner and winemaker, Skye Salter, was born in the same state – in the coastal town of Ceduna on the Eyre Peninsula.
“Growing up near the sea had a big influence on my wine brand and on where we live now by the coast in Port Willunga,” says Salter, who founded Paralian Wines with her husband in 2018, after spending more than a decade living the nomadic winemaker lifestyle and working for wineries around the world, from Canada to France and around South Australia. “The slower pace of life here really takes me back to my roots.”
The 37-year-old, who is also a winemaker at another McLaren Vale winery, Willunga 100, chose to settle in the region for its pristine beaches and to be in the birthplace of South Australian wine. “From a winemaking perspective, McLaren Vale not only has a rich history of winemaking but is also an innovative and progressive region. It has a lovely community of small producers and is quite collaborative and easy-going. It is this side of McLaren Vale that makes it an exciting place to live and work.”
In addition to her upbringing, Salter’s work experience overseas has shaped the kind of wine she is making. Her time in Burgundy, especially, changed the way she thought about wine and the type of winemaker she wanted to be. “The experience really taught me that wine should speak of the place; great wines are grown and not made. It’s really important that we embrace the differences of each region rather than trying to emulate a wine style that might not be suitable for our region or climate,” she explains. “I want the wines I make to taste true to where they are grown and true to variety. Winemaking for me is about preserving and respecting the unique characteristics of the vineyard and grape variety.”
Upon the first release of wines for Paralian in the winter of 2019, all three 2018 wines (Marmont Vineyard Grenache, Springs Hill Shiraz and Blewitt Springs Grenache Shiraz) sold out in less than six months – a huge achievement for the brand. Since then, it has also been selected in the top 10 Best New Wineries in the 2021 Halliday Wine Companion Awards. Salter was also awarded the Wayne Thomas Scholarship through the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association, which aims to foster the development of future Australian wine judges and ambassadors by funding a placement in the Advanced Wine Assessment Course held by the AWRI (Australian Wine Research Institute) and offering an associate judging position at the McLaren Vale Wine Show.
There is a lot that Salter can be proud of, especially with what Paralian Wines has achieved in such a short time, but she reveals that she is still overlooked as a woman in the industry: “Something that happens quite often with Paralian is that even though my husband and I are the winemakers, people assume that he makes the wine and that I must be looking after the admin or marketing for the brand. We will sometimes be somewhere showing the wines and people automatically direct their questions to my husband rather than to me, as in their minds, he is the authority.”
She adds that there have also been occasions where Paralian Wines is featured in articles where only her husband is mentioned. “They omit my name altogether even though in all our marketing material, we make it very clear there are two of us,” she adds. “To be honest, it can be quite heartbreaking given how much I put into the wines and Paralian as a whole.”
This gender bias is not isolated to the wine industry, but Salter believes having more women in wine will help pave the way for a more inclusive landscape. She observes that more and more women are entering the Australian wine industry each year and that increasing female representation in roles such as wine judging or in leadership teams has, and will continue, to make a big difference in how women are seen and heard in the world of winemaking.
All images are courtesy of Moonshine Media
This story first appeared in the July 2022 issue of Prestige Singapore