Through much perseverance, Kate Goodman, a former biomedical science student, rose from cellar hand at some of Australia’s most iconic wineries to owner of her own label. She’s also chief winemaker of Penley Estatein Coonawarra, South Australia, a brand she turned around in just three years.
Today, Goodman commutes regularly between her home in McLaren Vale to Coonawarra and the Yarra Valley, Victoria, where she crafts wine under her Nikkal Wines brand.
She is also a mother, recent breast cancer survivor and a consultant for myriad wineries around the globe.
Through it all, she has remained an all-around tireless and talented professional, honored as the Winemaker of the Year at the 2018 Australian Women in Wine Awards.
“Winemaking allows me to connect the dots between nature and life.” –Kate Goodman
Why did you want to become a winemaker?
I fell into winemaking by accident. Having studied biomedical science at university, I rapidly worked out it wasn’t for me. I investigated other industries that would utilize fermentation and microbiology.
I found wine, completed a harvest and have basically never left. I like to joke that I was into fermentation before it became cool. Winemaking allows me to connect the dots between nature and life.
Each year, I can make something that reflects the growing season and that others can enjoy. I love it.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being a part of the reinvention of Penley Estate. In just three years, we have totally modernized the wine styles, increased sales by 400% and made our wines available in [more than] 20 countries. Our experiments and risks have paid off. This has been immensely satisfying.
And beating an illness and coming out the other side a stronger person. In 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Naturally, it was a stressful time, but one that helped build resilience and changed my outlook.
I was surrounded by a supportive community that assisted in keeping my solo wine business running and my mind healthy. Anything is possible.
What was the most surprising experience or encounter you’ve had as a female winemaker?
It’s no secret that the wine industry has a significant gender imbalance. Approximately 15% of production roles are fulfilled by women. There’s a lot of conversation about how difficult it is being a woman in the wine industry, however my own experience does not support this.
I have worked with wonderful male mentors, peers and colleagues. Gender has never prevented me from doing anything I wanted. I’ve worked hard, maybe sometimes harder than the men, but I’ve still tasted success. I feel the issues women face in the wine business—sexual harassment, inappropriate behaviors, and the challenges posed when you decide to start a family—are no different to women in other fields. Gender does not make you a better winemaker, however it may make you a different winemaker, communicator or manager.
What is your advice to young people interested in entering the wine business?
Give it a go. Be aware that winemaking is not all tastings and long lunches. It can be dirty but rewarding work. Find yourself a harvest job in a winery, get amongst it and listen to everything. The first job will be the hardest to get. After that, the connections and community will lead you places. Surround yourself with others who are into wine, taste A LOT, travel. You may not end up making wine; you might discover that viticulture, sales or marketing is your thing. Winemaking is a fantastic career. You won’t regret it.