Loud and proud – celebrating diversity in the Australian wine industry

Ben Hine (left) and Ben Mullen from Geelong's Mulline Vintners.
Ben Hine (left) and Ben Mullen from Geelong's Mulline Vintners. Photo: Simon Schluter

The Australian wine industry has a lot to be proud of, but until recently, diversity wasn't top of the list. That's changing, thanks to proud, outspoken winemakers such as Alysha Moscatt and her partner Lucy Kendall.

When they're not making wine for their Gippsland-based Allevare Wines, the couple runs Joans of Marc, a project dedicated to promoting and supporting women and marginalised groups in the wine industry.

Moscatt and Kendall do so through thoughtfully curated wine packs, the proceeds of which are donated to support meaningful causes such as Mudgin-Gal Womens' Centre in Redfern, Sydney.

Joans of Marc foudners Alysha Moscatt and Lucy Kendall with their dogs Oli and Winnie in West Gippsland.
Joans of Marc foudners Alysha Moscatt and Lucy Kendall with their dogs Oli and Winnie in West Gippsland. Photo: Priscilla Moscatt

The latest in Joans of Marc's curated series is the Pride Pack, which shines a spotlight on the industry's queer community.

The six-bottle pack features wine by Mulline Vintners, Briar Ridge, Steels Gate, Ruth Lewandowski Wines, La Petite Mort and Allevare Wines. Each drop was chosen by and made by a member of the queer community, including media, retail and hospitality.

"We wanted to showcase as many people as possible," Moscatt says. "Some winemakers heard what we were doing and reached out. Some said, 'this is really great, but I wouldn't feel comfortable promoting myself like this in my workplace'. It's really sad that in 2021 people are still feeling like that."

"It's a nice place to be": Ben Hine and Ben Mullen from Geelong's Mulline Vintners.
"It's a nice place to be": Ben Hine and Ben Mullen from Geelong's Mulline Vintners.  Photo: Simon Schluter

The pack is a rare chance for winemakers like Ben Mullen to wear pride on their chest.

"I think inclusion and diversity in any industry is important," says Mullen, who runs Geelong's Mulline Vintners with his partner Ben Hine.

"It gives everyone a fair chance to feel included and supported, and increases their personal and business performance. Wine, in particular, is normally situated in rural communities. Often people who are part of a marginalised group will find it harder to be themselves and find other groups of people they mesh with."

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Mullen spent most of his early career trying to fit in. "I was trying not to let my sexuality affect the way that my career would go," he says. "I didn't want to draw focus to this part of my life and potentially lose opportunities because of someone else's ideas about who a person is.

"Now, making my own wine and being completely open, I have not had a single instance where I have felt it defines me in a negative way. Everyone is open and accepting and it's a nice place to be."

California-based winemaker Evan Lewandowski finds the conversation fascinating. "There has never been a more accepting and affirming time than now," he says.

"We winemakers and viticulturists – and subsequently, those in sales and journalism – bang on and on about 'biodiversity' and the 'health of a system,' where each individual part is thriving and contributing to the wellbeing of the whole.

"From soil composition, microbes and nutrients, to beneficial insects and natural predation… if one thing suffers, the system is thrown off balance. That's basically all we're ever trying to do in the vineyard or winery; keep it balanced and healthy.

"Why shouldn't we extrapolate that very same idea over to who we're hiring, mentoring, promoting and supporting in our fields and warehouses? Shining a light on these diverse yet marginalised groups is the first step towards the health of our system and of our industry."

Moscatt agrees. She also believes greater transparency and acceptance will result in better booze. "When you feel like you have to hide a part of yourself it limits your creative capacity," she says.

Creativity involves more than just slapping a rainbow on a label, however. Labels can be an effective tool for social change.

When Adelaide's Kari Allen and Rose Kentish launched Sparkke Beverage Co. in 2016, their poignant slogans caused a stir. They included 'Nipples are Nipples' Hard Lemonade encouraging gender equality, 'Consent Can't Come After You Do' Apple Cider, and 'Change the Date' Pilsner.

"In the early days of Sparkke, we got a lot of flak from a very conservative part of society," Kentish says. "Sparkke's whole mission is about asking questions and sparking conversations – the difficult ones. The millennials of today are ripe for these conversations – they're the conversations they have every day."

The beer industry is on board, too. US-based craft brewery Samuel Adams' Love Conquers All Ale and Adelaide's Gayle beer and cider company donate sales proceeds to their local LGBTIQ+ communities.

Overall, the signs are promising but there's a long way to go. When they aren't working at Melbourne wine merchant Blackhearts & Sparrows, Moira Tirtha publishes independent wine magazine Veraison.

They launched the print publication during Melbourne's lockdowns, with the hope to create a space where learning about wine feels like a conversation between friends. Diversity is at the core of what they do.

"Women are making noise and actioning some much needed change at the moment but I still think there is much to do," Tirtha says. "I still feel underrepresented and would love to see more representation of BIPOC and QTPOC in the drinks industry."

Tirtha would also like to see diversity and inclusion targets being set in wine judging panels, in government statutory corporations, and at wineries.

"Marginalised communities shouldn't be the only ones pushing for change," they say. "We need to be seeing big commitments from those who do have the power in the industry."