Celebrating International Women’s Day With Penfolds’ Stephanie Dutton
The trailblazing winemaker discusses women’s role in the evolution of the wine industry.
Like many industries, the wine world has long been dominated by men. From sommeliers to importers, winemakers to critics, there has been a notable lack of gender equity. But now, thanks to wine professionals such as Stephanie Dutton, country of origin group winemaker at Australia’s iconic Penfolds winery, the formerly hypermasculine world is beginning to change for the better. Below, Dutton discusses women’s role in the evolution of the wine industry.
How did you get your start in wine?
My first attempt at forging a career after school was in the narrow and niche field of genetics. Like many university students, I would race from class to an evening hospitality job, and I was lucky enough to land in some of Melbourne’s most esteemed restaurants working with some of the greatest wine lists, which showcased the very best from around the world. I found this supplementary job to be far more enjoyable than my daytime classes. It was social; I was often a part of marking moments and celebratory milestones; I was opening some of the finest wines and part of the culinary world. It was inevitable that curiosity would eventually lead me to winemaking from here.
Do you think the wine world is more accommodating for women now than it was when you began?
The change has been gradual but constant. It isn’t until I mindfully reflect back on my early years in the industry that I do really see the measurable progress. Seeing the female representation in leadership positions is probably the exciting part, but also how workplaces have adapted to ensure that the vintage/harvest period can still work for young families and primary caregivers. Vintage can be all-consuming with long hours and the feeling that you always need to be “on” and connected. During the weeks after having both babies, I still craved involvement in the vintage process but realized it needed to look different for me with a young family. The support from colleagues both within and outside of the brand was overwhelming.
What led you to your personal success at Penfolds? Is there anything you would like to pass on to other women thinking about going into wine?
My personal success has been a team game, with so many that have been generous with their time and knowledge along the way. The combination of being a good listener, always wanting to contribute towards the team’s success, and the backing of mentors and colleagues that were an ever-present support has been the perfect combination of good luck and commitment/conviction. For other women thinking about going into wine, I would remind them that there are so many inspirational individuals you can learn from. We are lucky that the industry has so many people willing to share their experiences and knowledge. And if you are lucky enough to be on the receiving end of that, don’t forget to pay it forward when the time comes and you are in a position to do so.
Penfolds has a number of women in prominent winemaking positions. What has it done to support you and your colleagues?
Penfolds has always had an enduring philosophy of wanting to be the best of the best, and this applies to viticulture, wine quality, innovation, and perhaps most importantly, winemaking culture. We’ve had flexible working options and targeted sponsorship programs. We’ve also been acutely aware of how team dynamics thrive when diversity is embraced. We all notice the difference. For this reason, it is no surprise that social equity has always been promoted in the workplace. Penfolds has also had some strong male champions for the cause, and I’d like to think that our female team members have always felt the support from their male colleagues.
Are there any women in particular that you look up to in the world of wine?
So many! A winemaking colleague in California is Margo Van Staaveren, and I couldn’t admire her more. Fiona Donald here in South Australia was a predecessor of mine at Penfolds, and whilst we never worked closely with each other, her progress and contribution to the brand is never something I’ve taken for granted.
Describing wines as feminine or masculine—useful or not?
Using those terms on their own hasn’t ever been useful for me as I struggle to understand what characteristics someone is wanting to refer to. What detail are they wanting to articulate? Using words like ethereal, graceful, silky, muscular, structural, saturated, etc., are all terms that reveal and communicate so much more to me, and my feeling is that these terms are often implied when feminine or masculine are instead used.
Which Penfolds wine should NUVO readers celebrate IWD with, and why?
Penfolds Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon from our California Collection: a testament to our infinite curiosity, our willingness to break rules and cross boundaries, self-assured yet graceful, made in the pursuit of excellence but also manages to throw the rule book out the window. So many of these themes are relevant on International Women’s Day. And it would be remiss of me not to mention Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz from our Australian Collection, a refined classic that never fails to impress.