Saturday, 12 August 2023 16:25

Women in Wine: A passion for wine and governance

Written by  Sophie Preece
Dr Jo Cribb Dr Jo Cribb

In 2022 Dr Jo Cribb celebrated a significant birthday with the Sauvignon Blanc her husband Mike made in the bathroom, using grapes from their Martinborough vineyard.

"The lesson was that we are going to leave winemaking to those who know what they are doing and have the equipment," she says with a laugh, recalling the moment they realised spilt must was fermenting in the floorboards. "We will always pay homage to the expertise of a winemaker."

Her own expertise is in governance, strategy and diversity, and Jo was recently appointed as an independent director on the board of New Zealand Winegrowers, bringing a wealth of experience to the table. Jo relishes the strategic aspect of governance, with the intellectual challenge of taking an organisation's knowledge, "and charting a way forward". She's also practical, with a "desire for impact", noting that the most amazing vision for the future of an industry is worthless if it cannot be operationalised to "meet the needs of today and tomorrow".

That future-focussed mindset drove her previous career in strategic policy, research, and leadership roles, including as Chief Executive of the Ministry for Women, Deputy Children's Commissioner, and leader of the Commissioner's Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty. Jo's Doctorate in Public Policy investigated the contracting relationship between governments and NGOs, and she now works to increase the impact and profile of the NGO sector. She has authored books, won awards - including the 2021 Women in Governance Community Award - and works with companies and organisations to increase diversity and inclusion and develop better boards. "The only way a board is really going to be effective is if it draws on many perspectives," she says. "I guess I have seen good and bad over many years so that diversity piece is incredibly important to me. I think it's essential for a high performing board." In 2021 she co-founded MindTheGap, challenging pay disparity in New Zealand, and her columns in Newsroom skewer ethnic and gender bias, and offer insight into where power lies and how change can be wrought.

Meanwhile, Jo has a side hustle in wine, with her Instagram page Winesauvy dedicated to showcasing 300 bargains under $30, while banishing wine snobbery. Her new weekend wine column in Stuff kicked off on the same topic, because there are plenty of people intimidated by wine and how others will perceive their choices. "Wine is there to be enjoyed and whatever you like is the perfect choice for you. I am passionate about that. There are so many great choices at all different price points."

Jo's wine appreciation began after her father invested a small amount in the vineyard aspirations of a friend, so that the family had bottles of St Helena Estate wine on the table in their Christchurch home. That was the 1980s, when mainstream culture in Canterbury was "very much flagons of beer", says Jo.

In their 20s, she and Mike did blind tastings and wine appreciation at the local polytechnic, and built a cellar of wine - which they effectively consumed before setting off for travels. Wine has been a "delicious" part of her life, Jo says, calling her current work towards her WSET diploma, "intense and hard, but you have to put your money where your mouth is". Meanwhile, their two harvests as vineyard owners, awake to agricultural risks, have taught Jo and Mike a great deal more about the wine they drink. "Now we are amazed that any grapes get into the bottle."

They live in Wellington, but plan to move to their vineyard when their last child has flown to the coop, "to be grounded by our grapes", Jo says, happy to be bringing her governance skills to an industry she cares deeply about. "They are woven together and hopefully I can be of some value."

And while they're not likely to pick fruit from the edge of the vineyard for another bathroom vintage, a still bought in the first Covid-19 lockdown does keep them in good gin supply. The base alcohol is mad of sugar and tomato paste, which you can always get your hands on, Jo explains. "It's one of those enduring good hobbies."

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