Big push for women in wine
Woolworths wants winettes
by PHILIP WHITE
“I don’t look at gender,” Renée Geyer said on the local ABC radio. “I think it’s just about singers.”
Geyer was being interviewed by Ian Henschke, who’d congratulated her on coming second in a poll of professional Australian singers who’d been asked to nominate their selections. While she was voted seventh amongst the list of human singers, regardless of gender, she’d also come second after Tina Arena in the female list.
Henschke seemed to think the gender-specific award held more weight, and was fulsome in his congratulations.
But Geyer was curtly dismissive, making it very clear she’d rather be seventh in the inclusive list than second on the females-only chart, and used her husky growl to push the conversation along.
This just happened to occur in the middle of an ongoing discussion – mainly on Twitter – about the emergence of a group called Women in Wine. WIW seems to be the work of Woolworths’ own Dan Murphy chain in association with Wine Australia (formerly the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation), and the winemakers themselves.
“Some of Australia’s finest female winemakers are set to showcase their premium wines,” said the promotional sheet from spindoctor Elyse Dudgeon. Finest female winemakers? If they must concentrate so determinedly on flogging wine by the gender of its maker, surely Dudgeon meant to write “Some of Australia’s finest wines are set to be showcased by their winemakers, who happen to be female,” no? Like what does “finest female winemaker” mean? The one with the best legs? The one with the prettiest voice? The highest IQ? According to whom?
|Sophia Loren and Jane Mansfield|
While it’s most likely to be an accident of syntax and grammar, this does set one’s linguistic curiosity humming. It brings to mind an annual luncheon exclusively for women which takes place in McLaren Vale. Diners associated with the local wine business invite others; the lunch is a fundraiser for the winemakers’ association; the table waiting staff are volunteer males, mainly young winemakers, who are auctioned to later attend dinner with their buyers, thus raising a little more cash. A few years back when I found myself by far the oldest geezer there attending table, the lasses brought in a team of muscly young firemen who’d just made a cheesy calendar to raise money for their own organization. While their wives and girlfriends waited nervously outside, these admirable blokes stripped to their firemen’s trousers and conducted a beefcake routine in their red braces, flexing biceps and tensioning six-packs and generally raising a lusty wave of giggles and screams from the boozy diners, who then passed on a big donation to the fireys.
Apart from my revulsion at my own ancient form, all I could think of was the outrage there’d be amongst women if the lunch had been exclusively for winemakers with penises, entertained by a phalanx of busty female strippers, and waited on by the youngest female winemakers in the district, who would then be auctioned.
Some women have explained to me that as responsible marketers, they do feel there’s a large group of Australian females who need specific counseling in wine appreciation, and should be encouraged to cease being humiliated or belittled by male wine buffs or by your basic generic drunks with penises. Women in Wine provides them the opportunity to come out and “enjoy”, as they say.
This could be why the Dan Murphy’s propagandist is promoting tonight’s big Women in Wine knees-up in Sydney with bait like “Easy Entertaining Workshops, sharing tips on how the professionals make entertaining stylish and easy without breaking the bank - or spending hours preparing!”
Deary me. At the height of the revolutionary feminist years, I was proud to be trained by the most severe and savvy women’s liberationists. To pluck a rare gastronomic marketing reference from that time, one of the most common big-screen cinema and television commercials promoted the Egg Combo for the Egg Board. Sponsored partly by Sunbeam’s electric frypan division, these promoted the consumption of eggs by showing how easy it is to chop onions, mushrooms, capsicum and bacon, cover them with a dozen or so busted eggs, and dance there in your hipster flares and saddle-stitched bodyshirt while the sheilas cut up the cooked omelette thing and served it seductively from beneath their Gossamered beehives. It looked like an antipodean version of The Thunderbirds. You could almost hear the scratchy sound of the pantyhose.
|Blaze Starr by Diane Arbus|
That campaign had a multifold motive: sell eggs; sell Sunbeam frypans; and help men and women see how easy it is to cook stuff. The ad did have the odd glass of wine in it, I recall: those tiny thick stem glasses we used in the days when the draft cards and brassieres were burning.
I’ve never seen or heard of an egg combo, saddle-stitched bodyshirt, or can of Gossamer since. A preponderance of male chefs has taken over the nation’s restaurant kitchens, but I suspect this would have more likely occurred as a cocky reaction against that horrid ad, if indeed that had anything to do with it. The male raid on the chefwit sector has been so successful that it seems as if the Dan Murphy’s people are entirely reactive, rounding up a few star restaurateur type females to teach the ordinary lasses how indeed to make something stylish and easy to eat without breaking the bank before getting all tiddly.
Funny thing is women already buy more than fifty per cent of all wine sold in Australia.
|Mizzo Mannik at Crazy Peter's 1973 - photo Philip White|
The early ’seventies were dramatic in their polarisation. At university, a huge rufous lesbian called Big Ooma punched me because I opened the door for her in the gentlemanly fashion, and stood back to give her ingress ahead of me. “Sexist pig,” she grunted as she pushed through. Does Women in Wine cater for the Gertrude Steins, Violette Morrises, or Janet Flanners of our day? Which is not to deny stern women of taste perfect humour. In her 1972 preface to Paris Was Yesterday, Janet Flanner wrote of Hemingway “his heroes, like Ernest himself, were of outsized masculinity, even in small matters.”
|Janet Flanner and Ernest Hemingway|
But I digress. In the ’eighties, newspaper editors would push hard to have me interview female winemakers, so the yarn could run beside photographs of them leaning over fermenters (especially if their breasts were large) or standing on tank ladders (especially if their legs were long). I would suggest that people with vaginas were just as likely to make shit wine as were people with penises, and say there’s nothing new about females making wine, usually citing Mary Penfold (1820-1896 below) as a significant contributor on the finer wine side. There would be no Penfolds without Mary.
I recall interviewing Rosie Ritchie, the young female winemaker at Delatite in about 1983. I reported her account of the boring parts of winemaking, like doing the sulphurs, and took a photograph of her, fully-dressed, backlit at an outdoor restaurant table, so her blonde hair lit up like a halo. In other words, a compromise. When the thing appeared in print, some boofhead had written a headline which still makes me cringe. “The sulphur girl,” it blared.
That’s thirty years ago. I thought we’d got past all this. See-sawing is boring. This brand of reactive is surely long past.
“The expert panel includes some of Australia’s most talented women,” the gumph shouts. These are Emma Plumridge, Sarah Limacher, Maeve O’Meara, Sharon Foulis and Carolyn Ryan.
The female winemakers Woolworths has involved are Emma Bowen, Penny Jones, Maxine Harris, Katherine Brown, Janice McDonald, Corrina Wright, Rebecca Willson and Rebekah Richardson. “Stellar viticulturists” - Prue Henshke, Liz Riley and Rachel Steer - “will be on-hand guiding guests through the science of wine,” says the press release. “While female sommeliers from some of Australia’s most awarded restaurants will discuss wine and food matching.”
Just personally, I’m with Renée Geyer. Or, to get back to Twitter, journalist and broadcaster Helen Razer, author of the Bad Hostess blog. Her current offering is “Confidence is a useful tool for all. I would suggest it is lacking equally in all, despite gender.”
For your convenience, here’s the recipe for a dish I dubbed The Hamilton: something stylish and easy-to-eat invented by a person with a penis, me, in 2004. I named it after the street we happened to be in. It takes 15-20 minutes, and is excellent served cold and crunchy next day if you make too many. Wash a bunch of silver beet; take a cup of pine nuts, a Spanish onion and a lump of fetta. Slice the silver beet; dice the onion and the fetta. Add salt and fresh-ground pepper as you mix everything in a bowl. Take a sheet of frozen puff pastry, place it on an oiled bench so the back of the pastry is slimy. Put the chopped ingredients on the middle of the pastry, pat them down, fold it into a rectangle and crimp the ends with your thumbnail so it looks like a pillow. Put your Hamilton into your George Foreman grill, or your Helen Keller grill, or whatever type of sloping grill with a lid you may have. Push the lid down gently and cook until golden. Present on a trencherboard with a knife and a glass of whatever wine you can afford at the time.