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Tuesday 12 February 2019

Fifty-year milestone for Australian women winemakers

At a time when women winemakers are the new normal in the Australian wine industry it is extraordinary to note that Ursula Pridham was the first commercial woman winemaker in Australia in 1968 - just 50 years ago.

Pridham (below) was born Ursula Rauschl in 1935 in Austria and was educated in Germany and Austria, training as an electrical engineer.

She migrated to Australia, married Geoffrey Pridham in 1961 and established the Marienberg Winery in 1966 in McLaren Vale. Her first commercial vintage came a couple of years later under the guidance of the late Sid Hamilton.

Pridham used to say she made wines in a "feminine way" which garnered a lot of media publicity for the brand. She was one of the first winemakers I interviewed when I started writing about wine in the 1980s.

Marienberg Wines was sold in 1991 but Pridham was a true pioneer, ahead even of Pam Dunsford, who a few years later became the first Australian woman to gain a oenology degree.

No-nonsense Dunsford was the first woman to be accepted into Roseworthy Agricultural College, back in 1972 as a 22-year-old, where she studied alongside 180 men. 

She was armed with a degree in bio-chemistry and horticulture from the University of Adelaide, but told she would not get a job in the male dominated industry.

Dunsford worked as a consultant at Wynn's Glenloth and was chief winemaker at Chapel Hill for almost two decades, also doing vintages at Krug in Champagne. 

This duo helped pave the way for today's industry leaders including Sue Hodder at Wynn's, Vanya Cullen at Cullen, Louisa Rose at Yalumba and Sarah Crowe at Yarra Yering, among dozens of others.

# Three years ago, Ben Pridham, Ursula's son, purchased the Marienberg business - so look for a serious Marienberg revival. Dunsford, meanwhile, was today recognised as a "glass ceiling smasher" in the Adelaide Advertiser.

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