Vintage Cellars

Meet the first ladies of liquor

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, we asked three leading makers how they got to the top of their game, and what they’ve learnt about their craft along the way.


So many clever and creative women are at the forefront of many wineries and distilleries, bringing imagination and inspiration to their creations in a bid to bring people together and wow their palates.


Inspired by International Women’s Day, we asked Simone Furlong, co-CEO of Leeuwin Estate, Narelle King, winemaker from Tar & Roses, and Lesley Gracie, Hendrick’s master distiller, about their unique paths. These first ladies of liquor share a dose of insight and candour for anyone curious about the origins of their favourite drinks.

What was your path to your current role?

Lesley: “I was very science-y at school and later studied chemistry before working in the pharmaceutical industry experimenting with ways to mask the bitter flavour of medicine so people would want to take it. Later, I took a job in the lab at William Grant & Sons, developing various new liquids. One day, Charlie Gordon, our late life president, asked me to create a new gin – one with more depth and character that would be quite unlike any other. Now I have my own lab at the Hendrick’s Gin Palace and free reign to experiment as I please.”


Narelle: “I was working as an accountant when I travelled through South America and met an Australian winemaker who was doing a vintage and I thought ‘Wow! I’ve always been into the idea of that’. So I enrolled at Charles Sturt University in the wine science degree by distance education and after a really long time, resigned from my accounting job in Sydney to take a job at Mitchelton in Victoria. Come 2005, my winemaking colleague Don Lewis and I joined forces to create Tar & Roses, with our first vintage in 2006. We’d seen the fruit in Heathcote and thought it was pretty special – we thought we could use it to make incredibly good versions of Mediterranean wines like sangiovese, tempranillo and nebbiolo.”


Simone: “I was two years old when my parents bought a cattle farm in Margaret River that was near my father’s favourite surf beach. It was an incredible parcel of land that they soon developed into vineyards and a winery. After university, I worked in public and investor relations, first in London and then back in Australia. In 1990, after I had my daughter Lucy, I joined Leeuwin to work part-time. I looked after marketing while I raised my three children, and it grew from there – I’m now co-CEO with my brother, Justin, and today Lucy is managing our marketing while raising her children.”

What do you love about your job?

Lesley: “I’ve always been really into plants and flowers, so it’s amazing to get to play around with botanicals and experiment with different flavour combinations all day.”


Simone: “The people I get to work with. From winemakers, viticulturalists and wonderful people in the wine trade, through to great chefs, artists whose paintings appear on our labels and musicians who have performed at our concerts.  And then of course, the people who enjoy our wines! It’s all thanks to this incredible parcel of land in Margaret River that my parents were lucky enough to purchase and is ideal for producing fine wines.”


Narelle: “Finding incredible fruit. I remember in the mid-2000s, Don and I were walking down different paths at vineyards in Heathcote and I’d be yelling, ‘Are you getting this?’ and he’d be yelling back, ‘Yeah, I can taste it!’ When the planets align, winemaking is terrific. It’s really exciting. There’s no recipe – every year is different and throws up different challenges.”

What would you say to younger women starting their journey as makers and producers?

Lesley: “Just do it! Do your best work and there’s nothing stopping you. There are so many different dimensions you can take flavour in. So, use your imagination, experiment and have fun with it.”


Simone: “Remain curious and say yes to any opportunity you get to taste wines and experience the many different facets of the industry.”


Narelle: “There’s never been a better time to enter the industry. Twenty years ago I was rejected from a job because they said I’d be the only woman in the cellar and it would ‘cause issues’. These days, women are across all roles – you’ve got senior winemakers, assistant winemakers, women driving tractors and in senior decision-making roles. Women are everywhere and they’re more visible.”

Now try these drinks

Say “Happy International Women’s Day” and raise a glass to the work of these trailblazing women with these top drops.


Leeuwin Estate Art Series Shiraz

A cracking Margaret River shiraz, this has cardamom and blueberry aromas and hints of raspberry and coffee beans on the palate.


Leeuwin Estate Prelude Cabernet

This elegant cabernet features aromas of lavender, beetroot and rosemary, with earthy chocolate and forest fruit flavours.


Leeuwin Estate Prelude Chardonnay

Made with 100% chardonnay, this is delicate and fruity with chamomile, miso and pineapple aromas.


Tar & Roses Tempranillo

This medium-bodied blend delivers dark cherry sweetness that matches effortlessly with spiced lamb kofta and saffron rice pilaf.


Tar & Roses Pinot Grigio

Clean and crisp, this classic all-rounder from King Valley and Central Victoria grapes begs to be poured alongside roast pork with crackling and apple sauce.


Tar & Roses Sangiovese

Medium-bodied with an earthy dried-herb palate, this cherry red drop is the ultimate match for fresh pasta with a puttanesca sauce.


Hendricks Gin

Created from 11 fine botanicals, this one-of-a-kind gin was created in two different stills before being combined and infused with rose and cucumber to create a curiously refreshing and impeccably smooth gin.


Products featured are available from 06/03/23 to 11/04/23, while stocks last. Some products or varieties featured may not be available in all stores.