Turning women on to wine
Winemaking is still a male dominated field.
Now that she's come into money, Mary Retallack is going to spend it on other women.
She's the proud winner of the National RIRDC Rural Women's Award and carries out her duties this year. The award brings with it a bursary of $10,000 and, last night, in her keynote speech at the welcome reception to kick off the 2013 Rural Women's Conference in Canberra, she was very grateful for the money to pour out on her dreams.
Apologies, there will be quite a few wine jokes. For good reason.
Retallack, 38, runs a viticulture business and is just the kind of ambassador you need: smart, practical, successful. She's dead keen to share her talent with others, so that's where the money comes in. She will set up the first Women-in-Wine network.
Not a women-on-wine network - this isn't the place where we try to hone our skills at understanding the difference between pinot gris and pinot noir - it's so that women who want to work in wine can make connections with each other in an industry Retallack says is still male-dominated. While she feels it is now slowly changing, she can hardly wait to give women the opportunity she never had herself.
''When I started in the industry, there was just a handful of women, I struggled to find really strong mentors,'' she says.
Retallack says most other agriculture industries already have support groups or networking arrangements for women: fisheries, grains, cotton. She can reel them off. Now she's desperate to start a new season in wine networking.
Retallack has worked in the industry for decades - and that's not counting the training she had growing up on what she calls a fruit block, in the Riverland of South Australia.
Her parents grew table grapes, wine grapes, drying grapes; and then apricots and pears. As a young girl, driving a tractor from the age of nine (tractors were her main form of transport), she would work on that block after school. That's what rural kids do. She'd cut the apricots. Then they would go into the sulphuring tent, before being put out on the drying greens to dry. That's when at least a couple would find themselves heading into Mary's mouth. She describes those apricots so well it makes your mouth water.
Retallack is a third generation viticulturist but it wasn't the most straightforward of paths to do the same work as her family. At 16, she decided to leave Renmark (that's what rural kids do and she still has lovely memories of her childhood) and become a park ranger. But the degree didn't guarantee a job and neither did a postgraduate diploma on natural resource management. Somehow, Retallack fell back into the wine industry, obtained a teaching degree and began teaching people how to grow grapes.
From there, she helped set up viticulture and wine studies at TAFE in South Australia.
Now she's doing a doctorate on how to get more ladybirds and spiders in vineyards. Don't ask me why. Must be something to do with having a bigger web. Sorry.
This award is not the first recognition she's achieved - Retallack is a Fellow of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation (Course 15), a past participant of the wine industry's Future Leaders Program and past non-executive director of the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation.
So even though she is a baby at 38, she's matured well. And despite all the success of her own business and her impressive track record, she knows women find it hard in viticulture and wine-making.
Retallack is keen to make it easier and the award she received last October comes with thousands of dollars for that exact purpose. She wants women to shine - and she doesn't even describe herself as a feminist. For her, it's that the industry is missing out on extraordinary talent because that talent is too busy doing other things in the bush.
''There's no excuse for that social divide,'' she says. ''Women have always been very hard-working in a male-dominated industry.'' And not necessarily with lots of recognition.
Which is one reason why it was rather nice for Retallack to receive this award.
Already, she's networking with other female viticulturists to apply for awards and put themselves out there. She says that women have gravitated to marketing roles in the wine industry - or to the rockstar section: the role of winemaker.
But she says it is really vital for more women to get involved in the back room, the engine room, of the wine industry. That's where decisions get made and where policies are formed that will affect the entire industry as it tries to adapt to the big changes it has experienced since the end of the wine boom.
Retallack is working at it and always trying hard to make sure women get a say at the start of the new season.