Shirley Fraser

Welcome 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.

This time around I’ve brought you the story of Shirley Fraser, whose diverse and interesting career path has always brought her back to the wine industry to now be the Executive Officer of the Wine Industry Suppliers Association (WISA). 

Although wine is a core part of her professional life and trajectory until now, it wasn’t always this way for Fraser. 

“I had no background in wine, no family connection… I barely even drank wine at the time,” she recalls. 

When deciding what she wanted to do after high school, Fraser was working in hospitality and through that, learned a bit more about wine and started to develop her interest in it. She came to a crossroads, where she would either go into tourism, marketing, business or wine marketing at what was then Roseworthy. She was accepted into the Roseworthy course, thus building the basis of her knowledge and meeting lifelong industry friends. 

After finishing these studies though, the path into the wine world wasn’t direct for Fraser. She spent a number of years working in FMCG, which she describes as “a great training ground,” before getting back into wine again in the late 1990s working with iconic brands such as Grant Burge, Houghton, Hardys and Tintara.

Around 2011, after having children, Fraser started consulting, working with smaller, independent family owned and boutique producers and suppliers in the Riverland region. In the following years, Fraser worked in a number of different areas in different capacities, both in and out of the wine industry. 

“I’ve done lots of different things – the corporate thing, consulting, family businesses. Then most recently in the few years since COVID, while I was consulting, I dabbled in other areas,” Fraser explained. 

These other areas included the Australian Water Association, where Fraser learned more about the water industry; Terraview, a viticulture/ag tech startup where Fraser gained more understanding about that side of winemaking; and now WISA too. 

“WISA culminates all my background, connections and interests. I’ve done everything from marketing new products, new product development, label design, exports, domestic, online, cellar doors, and even renovating projects… all sorts of things,” Fraser said. 

“It’s been a really diverse background, but I always seem to come back to the wine industry any time I’ve strayed away.”

Power of people

Fraser believes the key thing that keeps her coming back to the wine industry is the people. 

“I love the people and the industry. I love driving around to the regions and seeing the potential that is out there, and helping people with their challenges,” Fraser said. 

This is also why she enjoys her role at WISA, with the great interconnection of lots of different types of people. 

“Most of the focus of the [WISA] Executive Officer is to really make sure the association works, and to work, it needs to be focused on its members. So I try to connect with members, get them all in the room and make sure they are represented,” Fraser said.

“It’s about being a representation for the industry to realise that wine isn’t just about grape growers and winemakers. Obviously they are the core, but there’s a whole sector behind them as well.”

This sector includes a wide range of people delivering products, services, logistics and other solutions to make sure the Australian wine industry is the best it can be. WISA helps bring all these parts together to collaborate more closely, and tackle common challenges together. 

It’s currently an exciting time for WISA in this mission, with the Wine Industry IMPACT Conference (WIIC) coming up in Bendigo next week. This conference is one in a suite of events that WISA is involved in, aimed at helping wine businesses manage their futures successfully, looking at sales, business practices, data and more. 

With a huge lineup of speakers, Fraser said the WIIC will be helpful for wine businesses moving away from the impacts of COVID. Its Bendigo location and support from Global Victoria and Wine Victoria will not only give back to a regional community, but be useful for those traveling from local wine regions in the state. 

The WIIC comes after an incredibly successful Wine Tech conference (AWITC) earlier this year, and ahead of the WISA awards program for supplier businesses, in which entries are being finalised now. 

The building blocks of leadership

Throughout Fraser’s career, she has collected a number of skills and experiences to overcome challenges, that have carved her leadership abilities. 

“Working in the corporate world really defined a lot of the structure that I have around strategy. That structure really helps when you then go and work with smaller businesses that don’t necessarily get exposed to the same level of that,” Fraser said. 

“There have been key phases of the industry, from the good times to when everything hits the fan, but you have to know it’s a continuous cycle to work through. I’ve learned that its around risk mitigation. It’s about looking for opportunities and making the most of those opportunities while making sure you’re being concerted in your efforts about the risk.

“I’m pretty risk adverse, but I’m not change adverse… Change should be for a purpose, where you adopt things that will be efficient and useful without adding lots of exposed risk. That’s one of the key things I’ve taken from my past.”

Fraser, who has been part of Wine Australia’s Future Leaders Program and the Wine Communicators of Australia Mentorship Program, also believes in a more ‘pay it forward’ method of helping people, rather than a transactional approach of expecting something in return. 

“If we have that more collaborative approach, it benefits everyone in the long term…as long as you have people doing things for the right reasons and with integrity,” Fraser said. 

One of the collaborative methods that Fraser believes the wine industry should be focused on in order to increase gender diversity is improving overall flexibility. She said that although “the good outweighs the bad” in terms of how the industry supports women, “we do need to do more for women to have more flexibility”, so women can be empowered to remain in their wine career. That’s what Fraser is focused on when it comes to her work with the Australian Women in Wine Awards. 

“I’ve had so many amazing men who have supported me through my career, mentored me and encouraged me. I think that’s really important because it’s not about being negative to men, it’s more about empowering women to feel like they can achieve and be supported in this industry,” Fraser said. 

“I’ve certainly had to make a lot of decisions in my career around family reasons. I’m a single parent of three kids, so there’s certain jobs I can’t do. I can’t move to regions because my kids go to school, and I can’t do roles where there is massive amounts of traveling. In some areas of the wine industry, women don’t have that flexibility, and that’s why we see a lot of women drop out of winemaking or viticulture for example, if that pressure is just too great.

“It’s a real shame when you see the stats of how many women start those courses at university, compared to how many are actually working in the industry afterwards. That’s where the key challenges for the industry lie right now, particularly when we’re facing such a skills and workforce shortage. We need to get more women into the industry long term because we need more people in the industry in general. And to do that, we need more flexibility.” 

The strength of future wine industry leaders

Over her career, there have been a lot of highlights for Fraser. A key highlight was her work on Houghton, being a core part of the label (as Brand Manager) during a key time in its development. 

Some of the other highlights she lists is being able to participate in programs like Future Leaders, and also serve on the board of a number of organisations, such as Australian Women in Wine and the Riverland Management Committee. 

“Being part of a few different components makes you feel like you’re really part of the sector, when you get to contribute in those ways. That’s been my highlight – being able to say I belong here, and I have something to contribute,” Fraser said. 

For the next generation of women coming into the wine industry, Fraser has been impressed by how willing they are to participate in a similar way and contribute to creating a stronger than ever industry. 

“I look at the young women in wine now and think ‘wow, most of them are achieving so much!’ And that’s fantastic,” Fraser said.

“I think women that are entering the industry at the moment seem to be quite confident, which is great. They are naturally connected, and happy to be involved in things. This participation is really key – to network, get out there and meet people, and not be too insular.”

A key learning from Fraser’s career is to remember to look outside your current organistion or region to connect with the industry, as this can often be untapped potential. 

“Engagement in the regions and participation in industry is really important. There’s a lot more programs out now – mentoring programs, extra courses, social media and the like. That’s connecting people and I think that is a really great way for women to feel part of a community, to get their name out there and really be part of something. It’s not just about the work itself,” she 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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