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Janelle Zerk - Z WINES

Janelle Zerk



Majella Wines

When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker? 

I started picking grapes as soon as I could reach the vines – but it was when I was in Year Twelve at school that I started dreaming about a winemaking degree at university.

Please tell us about your career so far.

Immediately after graduating high school, I put myself through a winemaking degree – a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the prestigious Adelaide University. After two years of fulltime study, I took a year off to work for St Hallett in the Barossa Valley. It was such a great experience that I went straight back to university to finish the degree as fast as I could, taking extra subjects and holiday courses. I then travelled the world, gaining experience in some of the most famous wine regions, including Tuscany in Italy, Sonoma in California and Puligny Montrachet in Burgundy, France.

I also spent time working in multi-regional wineries, and even spent several years in the Hunter Valley, where working for Brokenwood Wines was a particular highlight. I started Z WINE with my sister Kristen, who was completing her wine marketing degree also through Adelaide University. We made our first wine – a Barossa Valley shiraz – from fruit purchases from our father in 2006. We now have several grapegrowers and make more than twenty-five different products.

What do you love most about being a winemaker? 

Travelling and drinking wine! I also love how primary production, art, science and marketing are all intertwined when you present a bottle of wine – it is a constantly evolving challenge.

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

[I love our] NEVAH Eden Valley Chardonnay with home-grown baked figs and blue

cheese, or our JULIUS Barossa Valley Shiraz with a locally-sourced smoked meat platter.

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

New wines, and the expansion of our range, always seem to happen spontaneously as opposed to strategic planning! The wines lead the way and we just focus on sourcing amazing fruit to make the best wines possible.

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

Our 2018 JULIUS Barossa Valley Shiraz won the 2020 Great Australian Shiraz challenge, so we are particularly proud of this achievement from such a great vintage.

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

We are blessed in the Barossa Valley to have a perfect climate for growing grapes, that being warm and dry, which is particularly well suited to red grape production such as shiraz, grenache and mataro. My winemaking is centred around these three traditional varieties, but I also love experimenting and have a few alternative varieties in the portfolio.

For white wines, we source our fruit from Eden Valley – which is elevated approximately 400-metres above the valley floor, so the difference in temperature can be around five degrees Celsius. This means that the white wines can ripen slowly while retaining fresh acidity.

The soils are ancient and variable – they can have a huge impact on the flavour of the wine. For example, our old vine grenache is planted in sandy soil over ironstone – which helps control the vigour and yield of the vine resulting in amplified flavours. Each variety and parcel of fruit is kept separate in the winery, so that subtle nuances from individual sites can be fully explored and considered when it comes to the time of blending for each of our wines.

Our ‘Single Vineyard Series’ allows you to immerse yourself in the terroir of the Barossa Valley. We have three different shiraz sites (old vine, dry grown and ancestor vines), mataro (ancestor vines, biodynamic) and grenache (survivor vines) that you can explore.

Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in? 

Grenache and mataro are my everyday go-to wines at the moment, as the lighter styles suit the warmer weather and lifestyle that accompanies it.

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

I love the spontaneity of owning my own wine brand, and the future is anyone’s guess. But I hope to keep making great wine from this amazing region, and continue to share it with the world for many, many years to come.

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