Three sisterhoods of wine
Family wineries are common, indeed they’re the lifeblood of the wine industry, and siblings working together to produce wine are also far from rare. But sisters doing it for themselves, as the song goes – now that’s a story.
Here are three pairs of sisters making their mark in wineries. There are others. Kim and Tennille Chalmers of the Chalmers family vineyard at Heathcote spring to mind. The Campbell family of Campbells Rutherglen boasts three sisters, two of whom (Susie and Jane) work in the business while a third, Jules, is making wine in the Barossa. All stories for another day.
Z Wine – Janelle and Kristen Zerk
When you’re born with a name like Zerk, why look further for a distinctive brand-name? Z Wine is a relatively new business based in the Barossa hub of Tanunda, established in 1999 by sisters Janelle (winemaker) and Kristen (marketing, sales and exports) Zerk. However, there’s a five-generation family history behind them, and a family vineyard at Lyndoch. Their ancestor Joachim Daniel Zerk settled in the pioneer Barossa village Hoffnungsthal in 1846. Today, the girls produce an impressive array of red wines from shiraz, grenache, cabernet, mataro and various blends, as well as Eden Valley riesling. Several of the wines are sourced from very old vines. Their second label is Rustica. In 2017 they opened a cellar door in Tanunda’s main street.
Bremerton – Rebecca and Lucy Willson
The Willson sisters lay claim to being the first sisters in Australia to run a winery. Their parents Craig and Mignonne established Bremerton at Langhorne Creek in 1988. Today, Lucy is marketing manager and Rebecca (‘Bec’) is chief winemaker. Both are also hitched to winemakers: Bec to Tom Keelan (The Pawn Wine Co) and Lucy to Ben Potts, both of whom run their own separate wine ventures. Bec was nominated as a finalist in Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine’s Winemaker of the Year Award 2017. She is very faithful to the Langhorne Creek region: even her white wines are Langhorne Creek-grown while others might be tempted to source white grapes from a cooler region such as Adelaide Hills. Bremerton has a substantial 120-hectare vineyard from which the majority of the grapes are used in their own wines.
Brown Brothers (Sisters!) – Katherine and Caroline Brown
Katherine and Caroline Brown are daughters of Ross and Judy Brown, Ross being the company’s former CEO and currently executive director. Katherine has made the transition from marketing to winemaking, having gained her winemaking degree from Charles Sturt University. She’s now in her third vintage at Brown Brothers, one of five winemakers at the Milawa headquarters. She made the 2017 1889 Rosé that won the rosé trophy at the 2017 Victorian Wines Show. Caroline is public relations and corporate communications manager, based in the Melbourne office. She jokes that they are still lobbying to change the name to Brown Sisters, as there are eight Brown females in her generation. Her youngest sister Emma is also in the wine industry, presently employed elsewhere as part of the family’s mandatory policy of working at least four years outside before joining the company.