When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker?
It started back in 1983 with an interesting meeting with Andrew Garrett; one that took place at the local pub over a pork pie and a beer! It was then that I agreed to plant a vineyard. A few years later came a chance meeting with Rob Cootes, who at that time was the senior sparkling winemaker at Yalumba. We went on to make our first pinot noir chardonnay sparkling in an old milk tank, with a homemade basket press.
Please tell us about your career so far.
After attending primary school in Paracombe and a short stint in secondary education, I began doing many jobs and running small businesses. From there I purchased a burnt-out dairy farm in 1983 and planted a vineyard – despite no formal background or experience in grape growing. Following this, I then established a self-built winery operation.
What do you love most about being a winemaker?
What I love most is where the process starts. I love developing the vineyards, matching grape varieties to soil types and aspects, as well as setting out irrigation and trellis among other things. The same love has been physically building our winery; bringing in our own tanks, cooling, processing and filtration methods right through to bottling, packaging and distribution.
What is your favourite wine, and what food do you typically pair it with?
One favourite is Tattinger Comte, and in particular, shared with my late brother Neil at the remote “Bluey Vaughan” Kimberly Fishing Camp – enjoying it with freshly caught and cooked mud crab.
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
When we plant new varieties, we will always try to match the known traits to aspects and terroir, and then harvest at various maturity levels. We also do small batch vinification, and draw some preferred features from different sites and maturity levels.
Is there any vintage you’re particularly proud of creating? Why?
We grow grapes at 425-metres above sea level, with 900-milimetres of annual rainfall. In 2011 we had so much summer rain that for the first time botrytis was appearing in the vineyard. But with a super selection of fruit, we made some of our most highly-awarded wines.
How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?
The soil on our Paracombe plateau is 1.7 billion years old. We are blessed with regular, high winter rains that fill our clay, ironstone and quartz rock subsoils. The vine roots penetrate the subsoil, drawing on minerals and moisture to develop a fruity, long line finish in our wines.
Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?
Riesling is a must on Friday with fresh shucked oysters, and our cabernet franc is super with some aged prosciutto, d’affinois cheese and roman pitta.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve during this time?
After forty years, I still love establishing vineyards. Over the next five years, I will have planted most of our suitable sites. I will be extremely fulfilled if my site and variety selections all work, along with persisting to evolve and pursue creative winemaking to continue this amazing journey and beyond, here at Paracombe. I also want to thank and acknowledge our small and incredible team at Paracombe – they are an integral must for it all to work. A huge thanks goes to my wife Kathy, for sharing our amazing journey since 1983.
From Wineries of South Australia Issue 5. Edited by Bethany Hayes.