When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker?
Throughout school I always had a keen interest in science, which led onto university where I completed a science degree majoring in chemistry and microbiology. My first role in the wine industry was as a microbiologist at Yalumba, where I worked quite closely with the winemaking team. During a chance tasting one day I had a defining ‘lightbulb’ moment. I was completely fascinated by how distinctly different the aromas and tastes of each wine were – even though they were all produced from the same variety. It was at that moment I realised that I wanted to become a winemaker.
Please tell us about your career so far.
After my tasting epiphany, I enrolled at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga and proceeded to complete my second science degree – this time majoring in wine science – by distance education. During my studies I worked in the cellar at Yalumba getting my hands dirty, and then transitioned into a trainee winemaker role. Once I graduated, I was appointed as a winemaker and from there, with a few more years’ experience under my belt, senior winemaker. Throughout my career I have been fortunate to be able to work with a very diverse range of varieties and styles covering both red, white and sparkling wines. Initially I worked with commercial, large volume brands for a number of years, then later assumed responsibility for premium and single vineyard brands from cool climate regions including the King Valley, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania. I have spent a large part of my winemaking career focussing on white and sparkling winemaking. After many years at Yalumba I joined the Petaluma team earlier this year as the winemaker for Petaluma and Croser.
What do you love most about being a winemaker?
It’s so hard to name just one thing – there are
so many aspects about winemaking that I love. The diverse nature of the role means that every day is different – you’re never doing the same thing – and no vintage is ever the same. I love the combination of science and creativity, which appeals to my inner science nerd, but is balanced by the more intuitive, sensory aspects of winemaking.
What is your favourite wine, and what food do you typically pair it with?
From Petaluma it would have to be the Hanlin Hill (Clare Valley) Riesling. I recently tasted the 2002, which still looked amazingly youthful. I love the fact that riesling produced from classic regions such as the Clare Valley can be enjoyed on release as a fresh, vibrant wine but then also has the ability to age gracefully for many years. Either option makes it a great pairing with food – particularly a modern Asian style cuisine, which fits with the Australian climate and lifestyle.
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
As a winemaker it is exciting to be involved with developing a new wine, particularly in the case of emerging varietals or styles where the only brief is to make the best wine possible. I think my approach to the process is to think about the wine style and what I want the finished wine to taste like, and to go from there. It’s not necessarily as straightforward as that, but that would be my starting point. The fun is the journey of discovery along the way.
Is there any vintage you’re particularly proud of creating? Why?
It’s hard to name a specific vintage. Each year is so different and provides different challenges. Strangely I think the ones I’m most proud of are the less than perfect ones, where there have been challenges to overcome. It’s stressful at the time but very satisfying to come out the other end with an amazing wine.
How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?
It can’t be underestimated how much impact there is from the climate and soil. I continue to be amazed by how much a specific vineyard site (and the associated soil type and weather conditions) determines how the final wine tastes – and how consistent those characters are from vintage to vintage. There’s a reason the French coined the term ‘terroir’, as there really is no better way to define how the characteristics of a specific vineyard site are expressed in the finished wine.
Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?
My go-to varieties are always chardonnay or riesling. I enjoy riesling for the reasons listed previously but I also love chardonnay – either as a table wine or a blanc de blanc sparkling. Both of these varieties offer such diversity and have the ability to be paired with food for any occasion.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve during this time?
[In five years’ time] I will still be a winemaker doing what I love. I’m looking forward to getting to know the vineyard sites intimately over time. It takes a few vintages to really get to know each site and get the very best out of them. Petaluma has an impressive winemaking heritage and I want to respect that whilst continuing to evolve the style gradually.
From Wineries of South Australia Issue 5. Edited by Bethany Hayes.