Next weekend is International Women’s Day and to celebrate that we came up with the idea of an “Inspirational Women” blog linky over on the Team Honk Blog. Asking people to blog about the women who inspires them. On Team Honk it is Davina McCall. The woman is a phenomenon.
On my blog though, and personal to me is my mum, Olivia. I am the only person who gets to call her mum and I chatted to her about deciding to be a stay at home when I was growing up, going back to university at 40 to do a degree, and then taking on the French in the wine business. Turning around a virtually derelict Chateau, with wine being sold to the Co-op to a stunning home with award winning wines stocked in Waitrose and shipped all over the world.
You made a conscious decision when I was growing up not to work. How important was it for you to be at home for me?
Very important. Having picked you up from the childminder with bruises on the side of your face with a flaky explication of how you got them I decided that the priority was to stay ay home and look after you until you were old enough for me to work. That is why I did Citizens Advice, Open University and ran keep fit classes, because I could organise them around school.
Also I had strong memories of my childhood when my Mum worked and could not be there to see me in School drama productions or be there for GSE award presentations etc. Pushing my bike home from the launderette or with cans of paraffin balanced on it are part of my childhood memories. We didn’t want that for you. So financially there were sacrifices but it was the right thing to, being a stay at home mum and I have no regrets at all.
Some might say that you gave up a lot by not working, having me when you were quite young and not working. What made you decide at 40 to go to university?
I had enjoyed my OU studies and always liked learning. My friend Gail had started at University and I thought why not have a go. Maybe a different life starts a 40 but it was worth every minute
Was it hard being a mature student or did you enjoy the challenge?
It was hard because I was 41 and they were 18 so it was like studying with their Mum. We had absolutely nothing in common! I was living at Chelsea Harbour and commuting at the weekends to Strasbourg and then to Brussels, where your dad was working. It was hard trying to hold it all together. They never did the reading so tutorials were a bit one sided! I can’t lie, it was a very lonely experience but maybe being an only child got me through that. I felt it was was a privilege to have a place at Uni – they could have given my place to an18 year old, I felt I really had to show that they had made the right decision. Another plus point was that the professors liked mature students because they worked and were there because they wanted to be and not because their parents had pushed for it.
Fifteen odd years ago you bought a vineyard in France. What on earth made you do that?
17 years ago! Dad and I were looking for a retirement project and whenever we talked about what to do, wine seemed to feature in our ideas (see where I get my Martini obsession from 🙂 ) . Having done a degree in French I felt that a vineyard could be the right idea. The learning curve at university would be replaced by a learning curve to do with wine – just another vocabulary to learn. The life style element also appealed as there was no boss. Often a romantic dream for so many people that we would actually be living. Part of my “Well let’s have a go” philosophy. (Now you see where I get that from, too!)
Also we loved France and had a chalet which we could escape to.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to face with being a woman, and an English woman, in the very “male dominated” wine world?
The challenge of three French guys working for me. An English woman who knew nothing about wine making but wanted to make the Petrus of Bergerac. I was totally responsible for making it work as we had invested all our money in it. We HAD to succeed because we had three guys who were relying on us to make a living and Eric had turned down working at Mouton Rothschild to work for me.
It meant though that actually I rose to the challenge that ‘’The English woman” was not mad and would still be there after a year and in fact was there for 11. At meetings when I was probably the only woman there I enjoyed the idea that my French was better then their English and because I was a woman I had a higher profile in the Bergerac wine circle. I have always been on the outside since childhood because of I had divorced parents (unheard of really in the early sixties) so I am used to being an outsider full stop
What was the best thing about running your own business?
FREEDOM!!!!! I could make the decisions with advice from Eric but I had ultimate power. A wonderful opportunity to use my instincts, my languages, my interior design ideas, my selling skills , people skills and live the dream without being afraid of hard work. It meant working 7 days a week sometimes for 12 hours a day. But what a success it became.
Reputation , press articles, gold medals , travelling all over Europe and to the USA and Canada. Giving so much pleasure to people with our wines.
If you could turn back the clock, would you do anything differently?
Maybe I would have been stricter with Eric and what he was making with the wine in some vintages. But I am a proud of what I have achieved and had a chance to realise my potential. I have left behind a Chateau looking the best it ever has. I have always tried to do the best I can for everyone in my life . Life is a learning curve and I am still learning. Turning the clock back is great with hindsight !!!! But if I chose to do things differently would I be sitting in Barbados now ????