Like many people, Emma Rice's journey into the wine industry came after she caught the bug while working in hospitality. Unlike many people, however, her introduction included the wine legend Jancis Robinson. “The very first wine dinner that I worked as a waiter when I was 19, she was there. I served her Krug 1979 in double magnum,” Rice tells me. After, as Rice puts it “having my plans to go off to university scuppered by the fact I’d been having too much of a good time and not applying myself to my academic studies,” she moved into a role at Oddbins in Chichester, where she became “absolutely fascinated by wine,” and started doing her WSET courses.

She then moved to London, and moved into a role as wine editor for Mitchell Beazley, which had her working across publications like Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book and the World Atlas of Wine. “It was in the Pocket Wine Book that I read about Plumpton College and doing winemaking courses,” Rice tells me. “Until that point, I’d had no idea that you could study winemaking in the UK. It wasn’t an option when I was leaving school.” She made what she calls a “fairly snap decision”, enrolled in the course and moved to Brighton.

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“I was 29 when I went, but I was by no means the oldest – in fact I was one of the youngest people on the course, it was a fairly even split between men and women as well at the time.” Rice tells me. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made. It led to me going to work in California and then Australia and coming back to England and ultimately getting the job I have now.”

Rice says landing in Napa Valley felt like coming home. “I loved California,” she tells me. “There’s such a transient population, because so many people make a beeline to go to Napa to work there. So, you know, there are lots of people coming and going and passing through, so it was really easy to make friends in the business. Everybody I knew was in either wine or food, so everyone was on the same wavelength.” She worked for a winery where she was the first woman to have ever been on the team, but, she explains, she never felt sidelined. “I really really loved going to work every day,” she adds. Visa issues meant she could no longer stay in the USA, so she headed to Tasmania, the small island at the southern tip of Australia, where her experience was starkly different.

“Tasmania was the polar opposite of California,” Rice tells me. “It’s beautiful, as most wine regions are – beautiful country, beautiful countryside, some fantastic wines – but my god it’s remote. Compared with being in Napa Valley just outside of San Francisco, to then go into rural northern Tasmania, where Launceston is your nearest town. Yeah, it was a culture shock.” It wasn’t just the physical environment, but the social one too. “It was one of the most culturally challenging work episodes of my life,” she says. “There was a certain element of machismo in the winery, and maybe in the Australian industry as a whole, where they would try and test the women.” She tells me about going into night shifts and being made to do extremely physical jobs which are best suited to larger, stronger employees. Even aside from the sexism and thinly veiled aggression of it, Rice makes the good point that it’s “just not a good use of resources.”

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“I did my damnedest, but it would still take me four times as long,” she continues. “It was almost like they’d set a challenge, and set you up to fail.” The experience encouraged her to come back to the UK, with the intention of regrouping and heading back out to try work in another wine region, but the burgeoning industry here made her rethink. “I got back to the UK and discovered just how much was happening here,” she says. “The opportunities here were far greater for someone like me. You know, Australia or California are very big ponds where I was a tiny fish. I saw there was more of a chance of me becoming a bigger fish here.”

She joined Hattingley Valley and helped take the vineyard from a ten-hectare former chicken farm that might produce 10 or 20 tonnes of wine, to a fully functioning winery that produces half a million bottles of wine a year. Having recently joined Vinescapes as consultant winemaker, Rice made her name at Hattingley Valley as the brand's director and head winemaker and, while the industry has no doubt diversified over the years, as a woman at this senior level she still remains a minority within the industry as a whole. She tells me about some of the casual, everyday sexism she faces; occasionally hosting tours at the winery and having key elements of the winemaking process explained to her by an attendee who is “usually a man”, only for them to eat their words when they find out her senior role at the end; or helping unload lorries, when drivers ask her to make them a cup of tea.

It’s part and parcel of being a woman in a male-dominated world, but Rice’s work at Hattingley Valley speaks for itself. “I don't think there are many people or many regions in the world which are enjoying the coverage, the press, the attention, the price that we command for our wines,” Rice says when I ask what she thinks of the growing English winemaking industry. “We're fighting off clients, customers, right? We're allocating stock. We're like, 'If we service this client, we can't service that client, because we don't have enough stock or it's not ready yet.' We simply don't have that kind of stock sitting there ready to go. It takes three years to make the stuff.” It’s a testament to her talent and her influence on the UK industry as a whole, and her work ethic. This is a woman who has not only helped spearhead the UK industry, but also carved out space for other women to follow in her footsteps.