Stretching back into mythical mists of time, the wine industry has been a predominantly male domain where festive chaps like Dionysus and Bacchus lauded the fermented grape over cooing crowds of intoxicated maidens – with a certain sense of glee.
Fast forward to the present day and again, men are in the cellar, while the women are outside, often snipping bunches and practising pigeage with their perfectly pedicured toes.
In South Africa (and around the world) wine remains the hallowed ‘boys mostly’ country club with very few women visible on any side of the barrel: be it making, selling, commentating or judging. Fortunately, in October 2012, Kathy Jordan decided to do something to change the status quo.
Kathy wanted to create opportunities both locally and abroad through the Women in Wine initiative. Launching with a Ladies Press Lunch at her High Timber Restaurant in London, she invited women sommeliers, educators, marketers and writers from the wine industry to attend – and gained valuable support for the project from highly respected international wine journalist, Jancis Robinson.
The driving desire was clear: to empower women in the industry through education, opportunities, networking and collaboration. Back home, Kathy selected a woman who was passionate about pursuing a career in wine, sponsored her International WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 1 and 2 courses and invited her onto the Jordan estate for more practical experience. Kathy believes by investing in the women who work in areas that support the rarefied winemaking realm, will benefit the industry since these women, in their position as waitress, saleswoman, journalist or sommelier, act as informal but powerful ambassadors for South African wine.
The initiative has grown and inspired other ethically-minded estates to get involved. Women in Wine is now a project of Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA) who encourage affiliated wine farms to sponsor their own promising candidate. As a member of PIWOSA, we chose delightfully effervescent Raymonda Booysen.
Ray, as she is affectionately known, began her career in the hospitality industry by waitressing at the Wimpy after she finished school, was soon promoted to supervisor and on hearing of an opportunity in Cape Town’s prestigious One & Only hotel, transitioned effortlessly from fast food to five star. Within 8 months Ray was promoted to head waitress in the bustling banqueting department.
Speaking in a conference call with Ray and her supervisor, Marcus, she explained how she’d observed elegant people sipping glasses of wine and had wondered “What’s the hype about? What makes wine so different from beer or whiskey?” Thrilled to be selected as The Drift Farm’s Women in Wine candidate, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience of tasting and learning about different wines through WSET and this fuelled her desire to understand wine’s complexity & character in greater detail. She’s become a fan of unwooded Chardonnays and savours the spiciness of a good Cabernet Sauvignon.
Successfully completing WSET Level 1 has been positively empowering for Ray: acquiring skills such as how to pair wines with food, as well as how to serve and pour, have allowed her to do her job with greater confidence.
“I still have to ask Marcus sometimes but it’s nice knowing I can represent South African wines to our customers.” She often finds that if she catches the hint of a bouquet, it brings back facts she learned about the wine. Marcus adds “Ray is even more enthusiastic now: she has really stepped up. She’s proactive and asks a lot more questions when we do wine selections. It’s great to see how much pride she takes in her job. And right after she had finished the course, she saved the day by picking up that one of the wines was corked before it was served!”
Ray hopes to share her knowledge by ‘simplifying things’ and making the world of wine more accessible to other women. It is her dream to become the first female sommelier in banqueting at The One & Only. We sincerely believe she will