Written by Victoria Clark

As a 20-year-old, determined to learn all she could about wine-making, Emmanuelle David knocked on numerous winery doors, before finally meeting a vintner who didn’t turn her away.

In her home-country of France, the wine industry is steeped in tradition, she says, and very much a man’s world.

“Eventually, I found Jean-Francois - a wine-maker near a tiny village called Chignin. He was surrounded by women; his wife and three daughters – and told me he’d never employed an apprentice before, but he said: ‘why not?’ and he took me on. That was in 1996 and, ever since, he has only employed female apprentices.”

Alternating in fortnight-long stints for two years, Emmanuelle studied at an agricultural institute in the Beaujolais region, where students are accepted on the condition they can secure an apprenticeship at a winery at the same time.

“I loved it. I was learning, I was working, and I was independent. When I think back to those early days, I didn’t even know grape-vines needed to be pruned!”

Despite that solid start, Emmanuelle once again found doors closed on her when she applied to study viticulture and oenology. She applied to several universities; only one granting her an interview.

“I walked in to see four men sitting behind a long desk,” remembers Emmanuelle. “They told me my family had never been wine-makers, making wine wasn’t a field for women, and I should try being a school teacher. One of them even asked me if I realised I was a woman,” Emmanuelle laughs. 

Jean-Francois arranged for Emmanuelle to work a harvest with his vintner friends in Capetown, South Africa. On returning to France, she gained her two-year viticulture and oenology university degree in Burgundy, and then began a lifestyle of alternating between hemispheres to work the harvests in vineyards in Australia and Europe.

Twelve years ago, with her now-husband, furniture-maker, Olivier, she set her sights on New Zealand. The pair arrived as back-packers and took on seasonal work in vineyards in various locations and, for five years, Emmanuelle was a member of the wine-making team at Anchorage in Riwaka. In 2013, she joined head wine-maker Neil Todd in the winery at Kahurangi Wines, where she now holds the position of wine-maker.