CELEBRATING WOMEN WINEMAKERS

By Rose Murray Brown MW   Published in The Scotsman 4 March 2023

My pick of a dozen top female winemakers from across the globe in South Africa, Spain, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, Germany, Sicily, Bulgaria and Hungary.

South Africa: CHARLA BOSMAN – Sijnn Wines
Talented winemaker Charla Bosman (pictured above) makes superb wines from low vigour bushvines on a remote farm near Malgas on the Breede river.  She has been key to Sijnn’s success, a vineyard and winery set up by pioneer David Trafford who discovered this isolated spot with its stony alluvial and weathered shale.  Enjoy the pure berry fruits and deep slate minerality of her Syrah/Touriga Nacional/Trincadeira blend Sijnn Red 2016 (£30 Raeburn Wine).

Spain: PAOLA MEDINA SHELDON – Williams & Humbert
Paola Sheldon (pictured below) is one of the new generation of sherrymakers pushing boundaries in the historic Jerez region.  She joined traditional bodega Williams & Humbert in 2010 and is now master blender and technical director; on my recent visit she conducted an incredible tasting of statically-aged single vintage sherry highlighting Jerez’s terroir – but also oversees the W&H range.  Try Don Zoilo Dry Amontillado 15 year old (£17 The Wine Society) : delicious candied fruit, caramel and savoury nutty notes.

Germany: DOROTHEE ZILLIKEN – Geltz Zilliken
With her father Hanno, Dorothee Zilliken (11th generation to run the estate) makes exquisitely fine Rieslings in previously unfashionable Saar valley south of Mosel.  Working their 11 hectares on impossibly steep south-facing slate-strewn Raush vineyard must be hard work – but pays off with her beautifully taut minerally spine-tingling Rieslings – Rausch Riesling GG 2021 (£37 Howard Ripley).

Hungary: ZSOFIA KOVESDI – Jammertal Wine Estate
This young dynamic winemaker is raising the bar in Villany region in southern Hungary.  Hungarian-born Zsofia worked in Australia, Portugal, California and New Zealand and aims to keep the Villany traditional style with some New World influence – with a keen eye for experimentation with others grapes like Alicante Bouchet or Touriga Nacional.  Her Chardonnay, Syrah and Kekfrankos are impressive – but I particularly liked her Koh-i-Noor Cabernet Franc 2012 (n/a in UK).

Sicily: ARIANNA OCCHIPINTI – Occhipinti
Arianna comes from a famous Sicilian wine family and first began making wine when she was 16.  She has now branched out on her own working with biodynamically-grown Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes in Cerasuolo di Vittoria.  Try her fresh vibrant cherry-fruited, plummy SP68 Rosso 2021 £24 BuonVino – named after the SP68 road where her winery is based.

Portugal: MARIANA SELVADOR – Textura da Estrela
A new face in the remote Dao, a region often overshadowed by neighbouring Douro.  This new Dao winery – founded in 2018 – focuses on low intervention fresh fruity styles using local Dao grapes with Mariana Selvador as winemaker.  Mariana’s favourite is local Jaen grape which she expertly blends with Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro grown on granite in Textura de Estrela Tinto 2018 £18.68 Justerinis


Argentina: SUSANA BALBO – Susana Balbo Wines
I first met the indefatigable Susana Balbo in Mendoza in early 1990s when Argentina’s modern wine industry was in its infancy.  Today she is the most celebrated women winemaker in the country, with an outstanding range.  She has a particularly good feel for the coaxing freshness and vibrancy from the tricky aromatic Torrontes grape – and is a trailblazer for Argentina’s flagship white variety: Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontes 2021 £17-£22 Noble Green


Austria: HEIDI SCHROCK – Heidi Schrock & Sohne

Rust-based Schrock (pictured below) runs her small family winery on the west side of Lake Neusiedl in eastern Austria; best known as one of the leading producers of Zweigelt and Blaufrankish reds in Neusiedlersee region.  She has also gained a reputation as one of the few Austrian growers of Furmint (usually found across the border in Hungary).   Heidi Schrock Furmint £19 Lockett Bros; Fine Wine Musselburgh has baked apple fruit and minerally depth.


Australia: VIRGINIA WILCOCK – Vasse Felix
Wilcock is chief winemaker at this Wilyabrup-based pioneering winery in Margaret River, Western Australia (Virginia is pictured here pouring wine to guests during my Australian wine tour).  She makes the best Chardonnay in Australia from Vasse Felix’s Heytesbury vineyard: Heytesbury Chardonnay 2020 £50 Specialist Cellars; Lay & Wheeler is a masterclass in restraint and elegance with its fabulous dense texture – but for a cheaper option try Filius Chardonnay 2021 £12.99 Majestic Wine as introduction to her style.


Bulgaria: DESI HITOVA – Orbelia
47% of Bulgaria’s wineries have female winemakers, significantly higher than any other country.  Hitova is one of the new young band of women winemakers here.  She worked for Two Hands in Barossa Australia before returning home to Orbelia estate (pictured below) where she still consults, experimenting with everything from Pet Nat fizz to fine-tuning the Melnik 55 grape (an early ripening cross created in Bulgaria in 1980s).  Try fleshy super-ripe Melnik 55 2020 Orbelia £15.50 The Old Cellar which tastes similar to New World Merlot.


Hungary: KATA ZSIRAI – Zsirai
A leading winemaker in Tokay in north east Hungary, Kata and her sister Petra (pictured below) took over their family estate which their father founded in 2005.  Her dry Tokajis are particularly good – with a steely Riesling-like Furmint from her cool-sited Kozephegy vineyard and rich honeyed intense part barrel fermented Zsirai Harslevelu Dry Tokaji 2016 £15 Jascots Wine.


New Zealand: HELEN MASTERS – Ata Rangi
Masters has been Ata Rangi’s winemaker for 30 years and with her superb Pinot Noirs has helped raise the profile of Martinborough – but she believes there is also great potential in Chardonnay in the region too.  For a good introduction to her style and quality, try Crimson Pinot Noir 2019 £22 Laithwaites; ND John Wines: she recommends matching with savoury umami flavours of Japanese cuisine.

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