Welcome back to The Shout’s Industry Women Spotlight Series. In this series, we share the stories of women from across the industry, raising awareness for the challenges they face and passing on their advice for the next generation.
Through these regular profiles, we aim to hero the visibility and inspiration that is common on International Women’s Day, supporting the voices of women in different sectors of the liquor and hospitality industry. It’s important these conversations happen more frequently than just once a year.
In this edition of the series, we interviewed Clare Dry, Senior Winemaker at Seppelt and a passionate force in the wine industry who is a solid example of the outcomes of chasing your dreams.
Growing up on the back blocks of the Mornington Peninsula, Dry knew she wanted to pursue a career in the wine industry after undertaking work experience at a local winery and vineyard in year 10.
“I’d always had an interest in horticultural production and once I completed work experience I was hooked – the combination of agricultural production, science and art was so unique, plus, the people were great! The Australian wine industry is a fantastic community,” she said.
Starting out as a teenager was obviously not easy, but Dry never lost sight of what she wanted to do. And it certainly paid off in the end, now being the Senior Winemaker at one of Treasury Wine Estates’ iconic and historic Victorian wine brands.
“I didn’t come from a background in wine so I had to knuckle down to get where I wanted to go; I had no contacts and no experience when I decided at 15 that I wanted a career in wine,” Dry said.
“I had some pretty ordinary jobs early on while trying to build experience – I remember spending several days clearing a paddock of horse manure prior to a winery concert event and wondering if this was what I really wanted to be doing but thankfully I persevered. I’ve never regretted chasing the dream I had as a teenager as it’s led to an immensely satisfying career.”
A fulfilling career
The day to day life of Dry in her role as Senior Winemaker at Seppelt is a very diverse one. It’s this “diverse, collegiate and innovative atmosphere” that she loves about both her own job and the industry at large.
“What I love about my job is that no day is the same; on any given day I could be in the vineyard, in the winery, at the tasting bench or out and about meeting people and promoting the Seppelt brand,” Dry said.
“We are still relatively ‘young’ [as an industry] in the global context, but these attributes have meant we’ve succeeded as an industry from relatively modest beginnings.”
Becoming Senior Winemaker in 2020 has been a career highlight for Dry, as she actually applied to be a vintage winemaker at Seppelt when first graduating from university, and was knocked back.
She said: “Along with the obvious serendipity there is an unquestionable appreciation for my current position!”
Right now is also an extra special time for Dry in her career, as this week marks the launch of the Seppelt 2022 Luxury Release, which includes many of the wines she made in her first vintage managing the brand.
Describing what this means to her, Dry said: “The Drumborg Vineyard in particular had a sensational year in 2021 and I’m keen to show off exactly what this special site is capable of. The Chardonnay is a real pride point, I have reworked the style significantly and think that it captures the purity and intensity of the Drumborg Site, I’m keen to know what people think of it.”
The broken glass ceiling
Another thing that Dry appreciates about the current state of Australia’s wine industry is that gender diversity is more common than it once was. However, she thinks there is definitely an opportunity to further dismantle the long held unconscious bias common in some parts of the industry.
“Women have well and truly broken the glass ceiling thanks to some amazing pioneers who have come before us. It’s not unusual to see female winemakers, vignerons and sommeliers anymore and even better, our gender is not actually commented upon,” Dry said.
“In saying that, I would love to see more equal representation at stalwart industry institutions, for example wine show judging panels. It comes back to the ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ mentality and even though the gender diversity gap is almost certainly unconscious, the effect is self-perpetuating. It can be hard to get a break and even more so if you factor in time away from the professional sphere whilst raising children, an absence that overwhelmingly impacts women more than men.”
A common theme that has arisen during this spotlight series is the challenges faced by many across all sectors of the industry when it comes to family responsibility, and this is one area that Dry also agrees the wine industry can improve on.
“The biggest gap that I’ve seen over my career is the ability for women to take time off to have children versus the impact of time away from work on career trajectory,” Dry said.
Dry continued to say she has been lucky to work under TWE labels since graduation, which she noted has a great maternity leave policy, but not every company can support such extensive parental arrangements.
“Time away from a profession naturally curtails opportunities and experience and we should work out how we can bridge this gap from both a micro and macro perspective rather than just accepting it,” Dry said.
Dry’s message on an individual level for industry women starting out is to “go for it” and work hard to put yourself out there as much as possible.
“It really is a fantastic industry and if you have passion and drive, this will show through in what you do and where you can get to,” she said.
From a higher level, while Dry is appreciative of the efforts of many in the industry to be more welcoming of a gender diverse environment, she also recognised that there is still more to be done, and this will require a united front to achieve.
“We already have a close-knit Australian industry community so it’s a matter of further strengthening these connections and understanding how we as a group can challenge the thinking or stereotypes that exist that prevent (any of!) us from succeeding as a whole,” Dry said.
“Holistic is the key point, any change needs to be one that come from the entire industry (and nation) not just one gender or segment.”
When asked about what positive things the industry can be striving for together, Dry said: “Challenging stereotypes is a big one. Another is the conscious provision of opportunities to participate and bring about change, all the way to those who are on the very margin.”
An example Dry described comes from TWE, where she is a member of the TWE Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Council and also leader of the gender equality program, TWEforShe. These programs utilise education and collaboration to create policies that don’t leave anyone behind. A recent win Dry discussed was in the TWE Domestic and Family Violence policy which provides emotional and financial support for employees experiencing domestic and family violence, to ensure they are not suffering in silence.