Celebrating Women in Wine: Janelle Zerk, Z WINE
Z WINE (Z for Zerk) is the creation of two extraordinary women in wine, sisters Janelle and Kristen Zerk. With over 170 years of Barossa Heritage behind them they grew up together in the Barossa Valley on a vineyard that has been in the Zerk family for 5 generations. Hear more about winemaker Janelle and her experience below.
"My sister and I started Z WINE in 2006 to showcase our family heritage and intimate knowledge of the area – it has been important for us to remain independent and we are proud to be one of the only 100% female owned and operated wine businesses in the Barossa."
What I wanted to be as a kid: “Lots of things – farmer, hairdresser, veterinarian, teacher, shop assistant, mother etc. etc, too many to mention!”
When I first realised winemaking could be a job:“I think I just always knew because of my family history, but I started seriously considering it when I was 15 years old and it influenced my subject choices at school to include maths, physics and chemistry.”
The reason I chose to make wine here: “The Zerk family was one of the original German pioneers of the Barossa Valley over 170 years ago. They settled in Hoffnungsthal and I grew up on adjoining land that was a mixed farm including vines – the house was made from the stone on the property. After graduating a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (oenology), I did a lot of travel. I have completed vintages in Italy (Tuscany), France (Burgundy, Puligny Montrachet), USA (Sonoma), as well as a 7 year stint in the Hunter Valley (NSW). Working away from home cemented what was so special about the Barossa Valley as a region. My sister and I started Z WINE in 2006 to showcase our family heritage and intimate knowledge of the area – it has been important for us to remain independent and we are proud to be one of the only 100% female owned and operated wine businesses in the Barossa.“
What winemaking means to me: “Finding the best grapes and making them taste so good that they can’t be ignored! Making high quality small batch wines means that everybody involved in the process from the ground up can be proud of the bottled product“.
“Work hard & don’t let anyone ignore you, especially if you are making wine just as good as your peers!”
My biggest win & fail: “There are so many amazing achievements, but I’d say my top four are:
Opening a cellar door & wine bar in Tanunda
Exporting our wines to the USA, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand
Becoming a ‘The ‘St Martin’ Great Australian Shiraz Challenge’, TROPHY WINNER
WINESTATE 2022 ‘winemaker of the year’ (I was only the third female in four decades to be honoured with the title, which is earned from the merit of the wines).“
Who I look up to in the wine industry: “Entrepreneurs – it’s a hard industry to crack from scratch. Plus my sister and business partner, Kristen Zerk, who has a degree in wine marketing also from the University of Adelaide.“
The biggest barrier for women entering the wine industry: “Lack of support and lack of leadership roles, as well as ownership. The leadership roles across the industry are lacking not just in winemaking, but in vineyards, bottle shops, restaurants, export partners etc.”
What I would like to see happen next for Women in Wine: “See above - I’d like for there to be an increase in leadership roles across a broad range of industry jobs and representatives.”
Advice I would give to women wanting to enter the wine industry: “Work hard & don’t let anyone ignore you, especially if you are making wine just as good as your peers!”
My wine of choice to relax on a Friday: “Champagne, Chardonnay, Grenache or Shiraz (probably in that order!).”
My current music jam: “Live acoustic music from local musicians in our Cellar Door/Wine Bar on weekends – as we like to say “linger longer …& be spoilt like a Barossan!””
We're committed to ALWAYS having wines available that are made by women. In an industry that’s still dominated by men, we believe in celebrating the incredible work women are doing. Here’s to our Women in Wine!