The UK wine industry has gone from strength to strength with our sparkling wine beating the champagne growers of France in competitions, on the shelves in the supermarkets and in our wine racks at home. And there are some seriously cool women leading the charge.
From the pleasant rolling hills of the Cotswolds to the famed wine lands of Kent, trailblazing women sommeliers and winegrowers are picking the finest grapes and producing the most exquisite vintages. And they’re leading the way for future generations.
1. Fiona Shiner, Woodchester Valley
The picturesque Woodchester Valley vineyard is in the heart of the Cotswolds. Known for its crisp dry Bacchus and deep pink rosé, the vineyard is a family affair, set up by Fiona Shiner in 2007.
Fiona had heard about the rich history of wine-growing in the area through the Doomsday book, and after some research, planted the first Woodchester Valley acre. Originally a lawyer, she undertook wine-making courses and put together a talented team to build what is now a 55-acre vineyard. Ever the hands-on winemaker, she can be found tending to the vines all year round and works alongside her daughter Chloe who runs the accounts (and also helps with all the day-to-day running of the business, from market stalls to wine tasting sessions).
Where: Convent Lane, Woodchester, Stroud, GL5 5HR
2. Laura Rhys, Gusbourne
There are only 34 Master Sommeliers in the world that are women, and only 6 in the UK and Europe. And Gusbourne’s Global Brand Ambassador Laura Rhys is one of them. She has been a Master Sommelier since 2010, although wine wasn’t her first passion either – she had originally set her sights on law. But after unearthing a passion for wine and completing wine courses to become a sommelier, Laura got a job at Winchester Hotel du Vin, where she spent three years honing her skills.
Eventually she became a Master Sommelier in 2010 and joined the Gusbourne team in 2015. Laura works alongside the winemaking team at the blind tasting and blending stages and also hosts wine dinners and tastings – just check out their website for info on the latest ones.
Where: Kenardington Road, Appledore, Ashford, TN26 2BE
3. Sam Linter, Bolney Estate
Near Haywards Heath in Sussex, is the Bolney Estate, a vineyard that’s been awarded a lot of prizes. Heading up the Bolney Team is Sam Linter, the managing director and head winemaker who took over the company in 1995 (she is also the daughter of the founders Rodney and Janet Pratt who founded the vineyard back in 1972).
The 104-acre estate has a real family feel to it. The vineyard merged with the Pookchurch estate (another small family business) and is known for its Bacchus wines, as well as Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
There might be a third generation of female wine growers to continue this woman-led success story, as Charlotte Linter from the Bolney Estate and Pippa Wood from the Pookchurch Estate are both part of the ever-expanding team.
Where: Foxhole Lane, Bolney, Haywards Heath, RH17 5NB
4. Lynsey Verillo, Blackbook Winery
Lynsey set up a winery with her husband Sergio back in 2017… in London. Yes, that’s right. Blackbook Winery is nestled under an archway in Battersea and they get all their grapes from vineyards neighbouring London, with a particular focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Lynsey has spent the majority of her career in consultancy. However, wine has always been a huge passion and when her husband started constructing plans for an urban winery near their home in London, she quickly jumped into the thick of it.
Lynsey heads up a lot of the marketing, planning and finances, and, as with any small wine business, gets her hands dirty during harvest season. She can often be seen shovelling grapes, punching down a tank of pinot or rinsing out a barrel.
Where: Arch 41, Broughton Street, Battersea, SW8 3QR
5. Alex Valsecchi, Albury Organic Vineyard
Nick Wenman started Albury Organic Vineyard in 2009 after retiring from the IT industry, and the team now includes Nick’s daughter Lucy (who does the marketing and events). The vineyard is focused on organic and biodynamic wines under the expert eye of vineyard manager Alex Valsecchi, one of the few female vineyard managers in the UK.
Alex and her dog Attila can be seen rushing about the vineyards on the southern slopes of the North Downs in the Surrey Hills. The vines produce Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, as well as some Seyval and Pinot Gris all without the use of chemicals such as herbicides and fungicides.
Alex received a doctorate in Horticultire at Milan University in 1996 and after several years of practical experience working on vineyards in Italy and New Zealand, she joined RHS Wisley. And then found her new home at Albury in 2009.
Where: Silent Pool, Shere Road, Albury, Surrey, GU5 9BW
6. Tamara Roberts, Ridgeview
Ridgeview was founded in 1995 in rural Sussex on the edge of the South Downs. They focus mainly on producing sparkling wines with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varieties. Every single grape is handpicked and selected for the perfect balance between ripeness, sugar and acidity.
The business was set up by Mike Roberts MBE and was later passed down to his children Tamara (now CEO) and Simon (head wine maker).
Tamara joined the business in 2004 and became CEO 10 years later. She’s overseen the growth of vineyard from 25,000 bottles each year to to 400,000! Not only is she an expert of wine, she’s also a qualified chartered accountant and keeps all the finances up to date.
Where: Ditchling, Hassocks, BN6 8TP