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 have the story of Renee Burton, creator of Wild Ren Wines in the Hunter Valley, who has big plans to help inspire the next generation of women in wine.
Burton moved to the Hunter Valley about 20 years ago and found her way into the tourism industry, originally running day spas and health spas. Her husband at the time was a winemaker, so she still “lived and breathed wine” since moving to the region.
Eventually, Burton and her then-husband decided to branch out on their own to create boutique winery and cellar door Gundog Estate. It was here that Burton said she did “a little bit of everything, as you do as a small business owner.”
In 2019, Burton sold out of Gundog Estate and launched her own consulting business, helping other brands with operations, marketing and branding. After a couple of years of working on this, she missed having her own brand, which led to the creation of Wild Ren Wines last year and its small cellar door location in the Peppers Creek Village complex.
“Wild Ren is quite boutique and quite intimate, and that really complements where our little cellar door home is,” Burton said.
“The theme and branding behind it is a little bit of a throw on my name – people call me Ren – and I went with the wren bird theme which is very much suited to my personality, with the little bird. It’s enabled me to branch out on my own.”
Wild Ren is focused on small batch wines, with both traditional and alternative grape varietals showcased. Burton works with close friend and winemaker Scotty Comyns on the winemaking, while also managing all other steps of the production process, running the cellar door, the wider business and the team, and overseeing how everything comes together. So despite the intimate nature of the brand, Burton’s role is anything but small.
Value in experience
What Burton loves about her Wild Ren brand is the experiences she helps create. She said she loves walking into the cellar door and seeing people having a great time, connecting with the brand and its story.
“For me, it’s the enjoyment people get out of the experience that makes it all worth it. More and more people these days are looking for something a bit different, so experience matters just as much as the quality of the wine,” Burton said.
“If people connect with you, the brand and the story, then they will connect with the wine and feel part of a little community. I love that about having something that is boutique and small… I don’t dream to ever be a large scale winery.”
When reflecting on her professional life so far, Burton said what she has been able to do with Wild Ren has been one of her proudest accomplishments, and something she sees as a solid career highlight.
“The fact I ended up stepping out and doing it by myself is a highlight for me. It was scary, sometimes I’m not sure how I ended up here, but I did,” Burton said.
“It wasn’t something I intended to set out to do when I left Gundog, and for a while there I lost a bit of direction of who I was and what I was going to do. Now that I’ve done it, I can breathe and I can think about what I’ve achieved over the last couple of years, which has been pretty significant.”
Empowerment behind the scenes
From the very start with Wild Ren, Burton said she wanted to create something inspiring, not just for the experiences of customers, but within the essence of the brand itself. There were a lot of times that Burton recalls it would have been easy for her to step back and not push forward with the creation of her own brand, but it was that essence that helped her persevere.
“I’ve got two girls, I’m a single mother, and I have a very strong part of me that wants to lead these girls into an environment and a setting where they know they can achieve what they want in life,” Burton said.
“Females are becoming a little bit more resilient and involved in a lot of industries which maybe have been previously male dominated… I hope to instill that in younger people as best I can.”
Burton’s plans are for Wild Ren Wines to create and/or connect with programs that empower women, through things like networking, mentoring and raising awareness. She said she is keen to support and encourage young entrepreneurs of all genders to access more opportunities on their own.
“It’s about making people more confident to know they can do it, they can follow their dream, and having a go will always lead to nice things in life. It’s a bit of a big dive to leap and do things yourself, but it’s important for people to know they can do it,” Burton said.
While Burton is aiming to support young people of all kinds with this confidence, she said that for women, this continues to be part of the challenge for them progressing in the industry, especially for those outside of the winemaking roles. While recognition for the non-winemaking roles in the wine industry is growing, there is still more work to be done.
“There are so many roles in the wine industry that many women are in, and they often get overlooked and not put at the front of the brand… these days we’re recognising these roles and their importance more often,” Burton said.
“The challenge in the past has been the focus solely on the winemaker. Even when I started my brand, I had some whispers behind the scenes – ‘she’s not a winemaker, why is she starting a wine brand?’
“Why is there that perception that because I’m not a winemaker, I can’t own a wine brand? You can’t do everything. If I was a winemaker, I couldn’t run my cellar door and everything else at the same time.
“Everything else that happens behind the scenes makes the industry what it is today. The people in these roles that aren’t at the front are just as important… It’s obviously good to have fantastic wines on the table, but for a brand to be successful, all of it has to work together.”
Confidence and recognition are key
When it comes to Burton’s views on how the industry can become more gender diverse and dismantle the challenges that women face, recognition is at the core. She used the example of the recent Hunter Valley Legends Awards night, and said it was important for these events to exist and for them to encourage female participation, as this drives equal confidence among everyone.
“Confidence plays a big part in helping women know that they can put themselves forward for roles that males have been dominant in previously. Awards nights and things like that, with the support of workplaces as well, creates the ability for women to put themselves out there,” Burton said.
“It’s the industry moving as one that will push males and females forward together. Knowing there’s equality will make people put themselves out there, regardless of who they are. It comes down to self-confidence, and that confidence comes from knowing you’ve got the same support of the industry and the community.”
Burton’s advice for the next generation of women in wine to help build that confidence on their own is simply just to try, no matter what your past experience is.
“It’s worth putting your toe in the water and seeing where it’s going to take you,” she said.
Burton also said not to let your history stop you – if you’re educated in another area and think wine may be for you, she said there are plenty of casual opportunities to see where your passion lies.
She concluded: “Just because you start out somewhere, that doesn’t mean that’s where you need to end up… find that little entry point in your life to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. You can always fall back into what you were doing before if it’s not for you, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.”