1. Home
  2.  | 
  3. Meet The Winemakers
  4.  | Meet The Winemaker – Helen McCarthy
Helen McCarthy - St Hallet

Helen McCarthy



St Hallett Logo

When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker? 

It was when I was eighteen and finalising my course choice for university. I had put down pure science degrees until my best friend suggested winemaking. He got one of his wine marketing subject lecturers to call me, and we talked for two hours about the industry, winemaking, and his passion for said industry. He infected me with the wine industry bug and I changed my preferences at the twelfth hour. Luckily, I got in and enrolled on my eighteenth birthday and I haven’t looked back!

Please tell us about your career so far.

I have a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Oenology) with First Class Honours and a Master of Business Administration. When I finished my undergraduate degree I joined Southcorp Wines as a graduate winemaker and spent time at Lindeman’s Wines in Mildura, Wynns in Coonawarra, Seppelt Great Western in the Grampians and Penfolds in the Barossa.

In late 2002, I took a position as winemaker at Taylors Wines in the Clare Valley. The eight-year period that I was at Taylors was a massive growth period, and after two years I was promoted to senior winemaker.

The calling of home – Barossa – was too strong, and I began working for Thorn-Clarke Wines in late 2011 as senior winemaker/manager. The role included managing a vineyard estate of 280-hectares. Working at Thorn-Clarke sparked a passion in me for Eden Valley.

In 2015, I took on the role of chief winemaker at Mountadam Vineyards. The focus during my time at Mountadam was on not only chardonnay but also on lifting the profile of Mountadam’s red wines. I loved being part of a small, tight-knit team of people who were passionate about maintaining such an iconic

and important brand to the Australian wine industry. In late 2019 I was presented with the opportunity of joining St Hallett as senior winemaker and manager.

What do you love most about being a winemaker? 

I love the variety in the job – I get to walk around the vineyards, get my hands dirty, and use science and art to produce something. I also get to travel and eat and drink in places that I probably couldn’t [otherwise] afford! What’s not to love?

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

My favourite variety is riesling, I love the purity and diversity of style. Typically I’ll drink a glass by itself, but it’s also great with a range of dishes from salad right through to spicy curries.

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

My brain is quite creative, but my personality is more structured so the process I follow is to look at what is already on the market (that may be within Australia and also outside Australia). From there, it’s to taste as many different wines as I possibly can, and learn as much about that target style or variety as I can. Then I create a style brief that considers what I’m trying to achieve and what I have at my disposal. This brief includes key descriptors about how the wine should smell, taste and feel. Then it’s about spending lots of time planning how we are going to achieve that brief, doing it, and then blending and finishing the wine off.

Is there any vintage you’re particularly proud of creating? Why? 

The 2021 vintage is in my mind, the best one I’ve ever been involved in – everything is just amazing. I’m proud of the wines we’ve created, but we really can’t take the credit. In reality, all the stars aligned!

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

Local climate and soil has a significant effect on the wines that we make. There is a massive difference between fruit sourced in different areas of the Barossa, or even within the same vineyard. It’s our job to highlight and respect these differences – our aim is not to make everything look the same.

Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in? 

At the moment, I’m enjoying a lot of the 2018 St Hallett Higher Earth Syrah and a new release, which is a new take on what it means to be a Barossa shiraz – 2021 St Hallett Blockhead Shiraz Nouveau.

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

[In five years] I’m planning to still be making wine at St Hallett – still learning about Barossa shiraz and finessing our approach to making outstanding wines that have a sense of place, and that respect the vineyard they were sourced from.

From Wineries of South Australia Issue 5. Edited by Bethany Hayes.