When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker?
In the mid 1980s I worked a vintage in the Barossa Valley and really enjoyed the industry. From there, I applied and was fortunate to get a position as a cellar-hand, followed by later working in the laboratory. It was with the advice of a great mentor, James Irvine, who noticed my enthusiasm for winemaking [that then encouraged me] to start doing wine-specific courses that led into winemaking.
Please tell us about your career so far.
For the past twenty-three years I have been the senior winemaker for Majella Wines, and developed years of wine industry experience primarily in the Growing up in the Barossa Valley with thirty-seven the cellar style that has made Majella Wines so successful both nationally and internationally production of premium red wine, I gained experience at both large and small wineries – including the likes of Penfolds Wine, Woodley Wines and Peter Lehmann Wines in the Barossa Valley, as well as brands like Brands Laira Wines in Coonawarra – prior to my appointment at Majella Wines. I am a keen supporter of the wine show system and have judged at Barossa, Rutherglen, Limestone Coast and Stanthorpe Wine Shows, as well as being on the Winestate tasting panel.
What do you love most about being a winemaker?
Other industries have several chances at getting it right, but the wine industry only get one opportunity a year to make a wine that is true to style and something our consumers want to enjoy. The challenge to do the best you can with the season’s fruit is very rewarding and satisfying.
What is your favourite wine, and what food do you typically pair it with?
I don’t have a favourite – it depends on the company I am with at the time. In saying that, I do enjoy a good cabernet sauvignon around the campfire with a camp oven stew.
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
If I am developing a new wine, we refer to the winemaking style of the vintage, and we keep as close to the Majella style as possible. Mother Nature may change that plan, but we endeavour to keep close to our pre-determined process. Majella is a small family winery so new wine styles or a change in the winemaking direction is a team discussion.
Is there any vintage you’re particularly proud of creating? Why?
I’m proud of all the vintages I have been involved with, but the older vintages – ten years plus – that we have made are more memorable. Our long-time customers who have contacted the winery to say how much they enjoyed a wine over dinner or with friends is very rewarding to me.
How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?
Majella has been growing grapes and making wine for decades – and although some vintages have different challenges, we have been very fortunate in Coonawarra. Our terroir and climate, although changing with lower rainfall over the winter months, produces excellent fruit and as a result gives us an opportunity to showcase that fruit and produce some very fine wines.
Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?
My go-to after work drink would be Majella Sparkling Shiraz.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve during this time?
Our winemaking has evolved and will continue to adapt to the conditions for the next several years. Our customers are going to drive any Majella wine style direction. As a winemaker we can only have subtle influence on the wine.
From Wineries of South Australia Issue 5. Edited by Bethany Hayes.