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Tuesday 19 December 2017

Leading female winemaker ousted in Coonawarra

At a time when gender politics are under the microscope like never before, it would take a brave wine company to replace one of Australia's leading female winemakers with a young male just a week before Christmas. 

Particularly if that winery owner is a Chinese company that has only recently taken control of a long-established family winery for which said winemaker has worked for 12 years. 

Sandrine Gimon, the French-born senior winemaker at Rymill Estate (below), has been told that her services are no longer required. The news apparently came as a surprise and she was offered a redundancy with short notice. 

Other staff, including an assistant winemaker and a vineyard manager, have also departed recently, although apparently for completely unrelated reasons.

"Redundancy" in Gimon's case is an interesting term as you generally need a winemaker to produce wine. 

Gimon travelled extensively between 2000 and 2004 including in Romania, the Swan Valley, Languedoc Roussillon and Pomerol. She joined Rymill Coonawarra in July 2005 and was appointed senior winemaker in November 2008.

She is married with two young children and lives locally. She was a recent Len Evans scholar.

I contacted Rymill's long-standing Sydney-based PR Alex Burgener to ask about Gimon's retrenchment and was told: "It is true that Rymill Coonawarra has undergone some restructuring and Shannon Sutherland has just been appointed the new role of general manager (not starting until mid-January 2018).

"With this in mind, Sandrine was offered and accepted a redundancy package."

Sutherland started at neighbouring Jack Estate for the 2012 vintage and has worked vintages in Great Western, Marlborough, Hastings River, Napa Valley, Okanagan Valley, Beajoulais and Geelong. 

Andrew Cheesman from Rymill got back to me at 9pm on Tuesday, pointing out that an independent consultant had advised that the Rymill business needed to go in a new direction and the decision had little to do with the owners.

"We needed someone with business skills and other strengths to take control of the business," Cheesman said. "We have given Sandrine what we consider to be a very fair financial deal and we love her and respect her dearly. 

"We believe the way we acted has been sensitive and appropriate."

Gimon said she was "saddened and surprised" but recognised Rymill's prerogative to make changes. 

She will join the Coldstream Hills lab for the 2018 vintage in the Yarra Valley before seeking a full-time job in Victoria, her husband's home state. 
Some advice to any winery planning to remove a long-standing and successful female employee (I was told not to use the "sacked" word) with a younger male. Put out a press release stating your reasons. 

And preferably don't make a decision a few days out from Christmas, without an announcement, in the hope it might get overlooked. 

# Chinese businessman Gang Ye purchased Rymill from the Rymill family 13 months ago - his first wine investment. The Rymills no longer have any equity in the business.   

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