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Dan McNicol

Dan McNicol



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When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker?

Growing up on a small property in the McLaren Vale region, I enjoyed being outside and always saw myself doing something hands on. My first taste of the industry was working in vineyards at a young age, which eventually progressed into a vintage within the cellar where I gained a fascination around the process from vine to wine. Continuing to work within the industry alongside some great mentors cemented my desire to pursue a career in winemaking.

Please tell us about your career so far.

I started a Certificate I in Viticulture at fifteen years of age, as mentioned I had started working in vineyards and saw this as a career pathway. So, I continued to study whilst at school through the Vocational Education and Training (VET) program until year twelve where I finished my Certificate III in Viticulture. This pathway led me to study Viticulture and Oenology at Adelaide University upon completion of my schooling. During my time at university, I was contracted to assist and work within some premium vineyards, wineries, and a brewery within McLaren Vale. All the while, I consistently worked in the vineyards, cellar door and winery at Wirra Wirra for eight years. In 2018 I travelled to Spain and Sicily attending the International Terroir Congress in Zaragoza and exploring the beauty of Mt Etna and diversity of its wine growing areas. This trip, along with my time spent within the wine growing sector of the industry created an aspiration for me to work within a region renowned for its sense of place, unique soil formation and microclimate, such as Coonawarra. Which is where my, now wife, and I moved to in late 2018 as I started the next step of my journey at Katnook Estate. Starting as assistant winemaker, I am now proudly the lead winemaker of this historic brand

What do you love most about being a winemaker?

I love the diversity of the job, from exploring vineyards, getting covered in wine/grape juice, to blending beautiful wines, it’s a great combination of art and science. I enjoy working in a team of like-minded people who share the same passion: making good wine, while having a good time. What I enjoy most is having something to show for the hard work that we endure as a team – being able to open a bottle of something we crafted together and reflect on memories and stories is something special.

What is your favourite wine, and what food do you typically pair it with?

This is a difficult question to answer, I don’t have one particularly favourite wine – I typically like to enjoy great wine with good company alongside fresh produce. I love the purity of riesling, and when I’m lucky enough to pluck one from the ocean, I’ll enjoy it with crayfish. I love to cook over charcoal and naturally enjoy pairing cabernet with a char-grilled scotch fillet.

Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?

Research is key, understanding what is already in the market – tasting wines from both domestic and international markets, and talking to other winemakers to understand different styles and determining what you want to achieve. Ultimately the fruit, the vineyard you source from, and the season are very important factors to consider when it comes to making a new wine.

How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?

Coonawarra is unique, it is characterised by its well-known Terra Rossa soils and maritime climatic influences, which supports us to make beautifully expressive wines. Something unique about this region, is our proximity to the Southern Ocean, which brings the Bonney Upwelling. This cold body of water comes up from Antarctica, resulting in cooler temperatures on the coast near Coonawarra from November to April. It’s a rare phenomenon that occurs through our ripening period, supporting the grapes to spend an extended time on the vine to develop complex and intense flavour while retaining lovely natural acidity

Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?

With the region I live in, how could I not love to indulge in cabernet. Although I can’t express enough how underrated I think Coonawarra shiraz is, I love the purity and elegant styles this region produces with beautiful spice and perfume. For example, our 2021 Katnook Prodigy Shiraz, soon to be released.

Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve during this time?

In the future, I see myself continuing to make wines for the Katnook Estate portfolio. I believe my winemaking will continue to evolve year on year as I deepen my knowledge of the vineyards and region. Through this, making wines that reflect a sense of place, region and history will always be at the forefront of my mind.


From Wineries of South Australia Issue 6. Edited by Emily Axford.