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From farm to fine dining: Sophia Gannon awarded Australian Organic Wine Awards’ associate scholarship

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Sophia Gannon at her workplace Wines of While. Daniel Wilkins
Camera IconSophia Gannon at her workplace Wines of While. Daniel Wilkins Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

A love of wine has propelled former farm girl Sophia Gannon into the world of fine dining, with the well-known sommelier awarded a prestigious scholarship to take her training to the next level.

The 23-year-old was this month named the recipient of the Australian Organic Wine Awards associate scholarship, which aims to promote female talent and leadership in the wine industry.

The stunning setting of Perth small bar Wines of While is a world away from the small farm Sophia grew up on at Moonyoonooka, 13km east of Geraldton, but she has fond memories of the Mid West.

“My parents both passed on their passion for the environment and organic practices,” she said.

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“Mum owned an organic health food shop in Broome, and after they moved to Geraldton my Dad opened a garden nursery where he made a conscious effort not to sell synthetic fertilisers.

“Instead, he educated his customers on organic practices in the home garden.”

Ms Gannon said she was both “shocked and thrilled” to find out she had won the coveted scholarship, which provides her with mentoring sessions from industry leaders in the organic and non-organic wine industries, specialising in wine tasting and judging.

She will also join the judging panel for this year’s Australian Organic Wine Awards, alongside industry heavyweights Mike Bennie, Ramon Arnavas, Alexandra McPherson and prior scholarship recipient Olivia Evans.

“I was actually telling a friend about the scholarship that morning and assuming it had been awarded to someone else, so to say I was excited at receiving the news is an understatement,” she said.

“The scholarship intrigued me . . . because it focuses not only on women in the industry but organic practices as well.

“It is helping to create a safe space for women to be heard and show their capabilities within the industry.

“While female representation is on the rise, there are still only a handful of women in WA who are known in the industry.”

It’s a fact Ms Gannon is eager to change, and her love of wine has opened many doors — and introduced her to what she said was a plethora of “fun and vibrant people”.

“I’ve always viewed wine as creative,” she said.

“It is art, and I can’t think of a better career than helping someone sell their art and make a name for themselves.”

After dipping her toes into a Bachelor of Agricultural Science, she started working in a small wine store in her late teens and discovered a love for the hospitality industry.

Ms Gannon spent time working at a winery in the Swan Valley, before completing the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications before starting working at Wines of While.

“The bar has a huge focus on minimal intervention wine,” she said.

“I believe organics is the most sustainable option for all industries . . . plus, I think it tastes better.”

Australian Organics Limited chair Mike Brown congratulated Ms Gannon, saying her entry was representative of the “rich array of talent across the industry”.

“The quality of entrants really highlights the quality and variety of home-grown organic wines that our thriving industry is producing,” he said.

“Organic wines are highly sought after around the world and this competition allows our hard-working producers to benchmark their best drops in competition.”

Last year’s event drew a record number of entries, with 238 bottles submitted by 58 producers from around Australia, and Ngeringa’s 2019 Single Vineyard Iluma Syrah from the Adelaide Hills taking out the coveted Cullen Wines Trophy for Wine of Show.

Applicants for the Australian Organic Wine Awards closed on June 9, with the winners set to be announced in September.

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