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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Sarah Ahmed

Sarah Marsh, a freelance journalist, is the first new Master of Wine of 2005. There are now 55 women among the 246 Masters of Wine, representing 22% of the total. The first female Master of Wine, Sarah Morphew Stephen, passed the exam in 1970, 17 years after the first exam in 1953. Figures released by the Institute of Masters of Wine suggest that, despite this later start, women are catching up. While there are still significantly fewer female Master of Wine students than men (currently 79 of 230), in the past 20 years, the pass rate for women Masters of Wine has increased from an average of around 30% of those taking the exam to nearer 40%. Fiona Barlow MW chaired the panel which set the Master of Wine's compulsory contemporary issues exam question in 2004, entitled In wine, women are more influential than men. Discuss.' Asked if women's increasing success in the Master of Wine exam influenced this choice of question, Barlow replied: Certainly, the apparent increase in the number of women involved in the world of wine makes this a topical issue.' Julia Harding MW of Waitrose took top honours in the Master of Wine in 2004, winning the Tim Derouet Award. She said: Some women can be more influential than men, but it is dependent on the individual.' Harding added: Given the predominance of men in the trade, it takes more than a few individuals to bring up the category.' Cathy Van Zyl hopes to complete her dissertation and become a Master of Wine this year. She said: Women play a greater role than men on the consumer front, but in the trade, my progress in South Africa would be halted or stalled because of my gender. South Africa's industry is much like Australia's - characterised by a handful of dominant companies, where males seem to dominate, and myriad smaller, family-owned properties, where women stand side by side their husbands or fathers to assist the steering of the family's fortunes.' Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines in Margaret River, a former Quantas Winemaker of the Year, who will be in London for the Australia Day tastings, does not think that women have more influence in wine. She is, however, optimistic. Cullen said that there are more women in winemaking and judging in Australia each year'.