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.

Today we’ve got the story of Louisa Rose, Chief Winemaker at Yalumba, whose illustrious professional journey stemmed from a love of her family’s ‘hobby’ vineyards.

While growing up in Melbourne, Rose’s parents planted a small vineyard in the Yarra Valley in the 1970s, which would end up being where the family went for weekends and holidays.

“I loved it – I loved the seasonality, whether it was planting, training, pruning or ultimately picking the grapes. There was always work on the vineyard, and it became not only our family time, but my teenage work where I made money,” Rose recalls.

“I remember we delivered the first grapes in about 1983, to a small winery. I remember it was night-time, there were lights everywhere, all the noises, the grapes and the fermenting wine smell, and I just thought – ‘this is great, I want to be a winemaker,’ without having any idea what that actually meant.”

So winemaking was always Rose’s plan, and she went on to do a basic science degree at Melbourne University before heading on to South Australia to study at what was then Roseworthy College. In 1992, Rose got a vintage job at Yalumba while studying, thinking she “probably wouldn’t ever come back to South Australia”.

But Yalumba had other plans, asking Rose to come back for the next vintage once she had finished studying. It was at a time when both the wine industry and Yalumba itself was in growth, and Rose ended up being offered the position of Assistant Winemaker. Since then, she’s risen through the ranks to the top winemaking role at the historic company.

“It’s been an incredible journey. Working for the Hill-Smith family and their family business, and watching it grow into its fifth generation of ownership with Robert Hill-Smith, and now Jess Hill-Smith, the sixth generation,” Rose said.

“It’s been amazing to see Jess come into the business. She tells the story that she remembers me always being here, and I certainly remember her as a very young girl riding around on her bicycle. To see her now as a confident woman in the wine industry in her own right is just amazing.”

Making the most of the vineyards

Rose sees herself as a custodian of the high standards of wine that Yalumba produces. Rather than aiming to make a personal mark on the wines, she says her role is to maintain the Yalumba philosophy around winemaking which has seen it remain successful over generations.

But that doesn’t mean doing the same thing that the company has always done. Rose’s task is to help the wines remain relevant to consumers and their changing tastes.

“We’re not making wines the same way we were making them 25 years ago, and anybody that is  still in business wouldn’t be either. It’s about evolution,” Rose said.

For example, Rose talks about sustainability qualities and programs that have increased the biodiversity of the Yalumba vineyards, which plays into the end wines themselves.

“We’re not trying to put great big fingerprints all over the wines, but just let the vineyards and the terroir speak for itself. I think it’s about making sure that we’re getting the most out of the vineyards,” Rose said.

It’s in this task that Rose finds one of her favourite things about working in the wine industry, particularly at Yalumba – no two days are the same.

“One of the great things about Yalumba is that there is always opportunities to experiment. You always have the opportunity to improve wines or look at new styles, and that doesn’t mean everything we do will become a new product, but it gives you a whole lots of information and knowledge you can use to improve what you’re doing,” Rose said.

The ups and the downs

A milestone year for Rose was 2006, when she became Chief Winemaker at Yalumba, and became responsible for much more of the ‘bigger picture’ elements of the company’s wine production and management.

Another defining moment of Rose’s career has been her time at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) where she has been on the board for 12 years, and served as Chair from 2014 (this is her last year on the board).

Reflecting on it all, Rose said: “I just look back and think, where did the last 30 years go?”

But it’s not been one without challenges. Rose said a challenging aspect has been dealing with the power and responsibility of her role as she moved up the ranks.

“I’ve always been very conscious of having a responsibility for other people, their careers and their happiness, and I feel that responsibility quite acutely… I think that’s the thing I’ve been most challenged by, because I’m not sure you ever get it absolutely right, and the ramifications of getting it wrong could be quite huge,” Rose said.

Although Rose doesn’t think she has personally felt additional challenges because of her gender, in the past decade especially she has become more actively aware of the issues that women face in the industry, beyond the traditional thinking about the glass ceiling needing to be broken. For example, Rose has recognised that the industry isn’t as flexible as it could be.

“There are still very important issues in this industry that I haven’t experienced firsthand, but that I’m very conscious that they still exist for many,” Rose said.

Supporting all people

As a whole, Rose believes that there is scope for a collective industry effort to be more welcoming of different circumstances, and this can help address some of the issues that women typically face in wine.

“I think we need to be more flexible in how we support all of our people… our winemaking team is about half and half, women and men, and the young fathers have the same challenges – they want to spend time with their children, they want to take paternity leave. We need to as an industry become better with flexibility for everybody,” Rose said.

“I actually don’t think now it’s so much about making sure that women have flexibility, but all people having the flexibility they need in their situation.”

Rose noted one of the unexpected consequences of the pandemic has been to show how well flexible working conditions can actually work. It’s important for everyone, at all levels of their career, to keep an open mind about this.

Rose’s advice for the next generation of winemaker is formed around this sentiment.

“Did I ever think I would be a winemaker in South Australia? Never. Did I think I would only ever have worked for one business in my career so far? No. Don’t trade off what you want to do, but have that open mind to take opportunities as they come and see where they go,” Rose said.

Catch up on all the previous profiles from our Industry Women Spotlight series here.

Brydie Allen

Brydie Allen is the Editor of National Liquor News. She has been with Food and Beverage Media since 2019, when she joined the company as a journalist across National Liquor News, Bars & Clubs, The...

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