PAVING IT FORWARD
Armed with a flair for numbers (“It’s a skillset that gives any entrepreneur confidence, when they understand how business is flowing and whether there’s long-term viability”) gleaned from her days as a PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant, coupled with the advice bestowed by her father to “get a job in a man’s world”, Meiburg marched her way to success in the wine industry with confidence, and an entrepreneurial spirit – all of which she is eager to pass on to other women.
“I believe so sincerely in helping women, and I’m dedicated and devoted to it,” she says. “At one point, we had 22 team members in my company that were all women. For me, especially at this stage of my career in the industry, I want the best for everyone and I want them to be successful.” Meiburg also emphasises the importance of agility when it comes to navigating the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship. “I hear people say that with COVID, one needs to pivot; it’s the big buzzword. I feel like I’ve been pivoting my business for 12 years.”
It was during one of those pivots – on a quest to fill a shift in market demand for direct customer engagement – that Meiburg conceived the Women of Wine Festival. “Women make up such a high proportion of the wine-buying market, yet I never saw women out with wine importers. Women consumers weren’t being reached. So I thought, ‘How can I start that conversation?’ The idea was: let’s promote wine made by women and wine importers who are women, and let’s open the conversation women-to-women and try to build some special relationships.”
Since 2017, the annual event has shone the spotlight on female-produced wines from more than a dozen regions, from Italy and Napa Valley to lesser-known regions such as Georgia and Austria. The event has also counted the likes of English actress and winery owner Trudie Styler; the former CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Hong Kong, May Tan; and champion amateur MMA fighter Tricia Yap among its illustrious guest speakers. “It was so striking and exciting to be with women who had broken the mould in all of their industries,” enthuses an impassioned Meiburg. “In those moments, I felt so proud to be a woman – to even know these ladies and be able to present their stories.”
Indeed, there looks to be no stopping the world’s burgeoning force of women in drinks. In China alone, female wine drinkers have steadily climbed five percent year-on-year, composed largely of millennials. As the once-restrictive industry continues to open up and pave the way for greater diversification, it’s fascinating to watch where it’s headed next. Tai, who calls Singapore’s bar scene “extremely hospitable – it makes me feel like home”, is focusing on honing her craft and fuelling her passion. “What I love the most about bartending is being with friends late at night, and meeting great people in and out of the industry. Plus, there’s nothing like seeing the customer in a good mood when they’ve been served a drink they like. To me, it seldomly feels like work.”
Alongside her fervent work in wine education and mentorship, an “important step forward” Meiburg hopes to see is an increased representation of female sommeliers across Hong Kong, particularly in high-end and Michelin-starred restaurants. “This will help set the tone for other restaurants,” she says. “Sommeliers are a really valuable piece of the business for restaurants and we have extremely talented women, but proportionately, they’re not the ones to get the job.” Meiburg also has words for women on unabashedly owning their space. “I suppose my advice to any woman is just to be oblivious. Don’t worry about it and just ignore the noise. Focus on what you want to achieve and you’ll get there.”
Similarly, representation is key for Frerson as she strives to preserve the maison’s top-quality cuvées and to team up with chefs around the world to imagine the perfect pairings, following on the heels of a collaboration with Eric Räty of Hong Kong’s The Arbor last October. For her own team, comprising both men and women, she doesn’t place too much emphasis on gender, instead prioritising talent and individual sensibility. “For me, there are no male winemakers and female winemakers – just winemakers,” she says. “What makes the difference is how one manages to bring passion and transform wine into emotions.” Frerson poignantly sums it up, “Hopefully, when a new generation of women arrive at the heads of the houses, this topic about gender won’t even be a question they will be asked.”