When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker?
I grew up in Adelaide, so I knew I wanted to be a winemaker from a very young age. My father was a strict Methodist so there was never any wine in the house – perhaps it was about obtaining what I could not have! I have never stopped chasing what I am passionate about.
Please tell us about your career so far.
In 1974, I completed a Science Degree at the University of Adelaide, before studying winemaking at Charles Sturt University. After working in Orlando and Kaiserstuhl in the Barossa Valley and SIMI Winery in California, I joined Wolf Blass in December 1987. For the next nine years, I was the senior winemaker and was responsible for Wolf Blass’ white and sparkling wines. In that decade, I was fortunate enough to be awarded forty trophies and create more than 200 gold medal-winning wines. I was also responsible for steering the success of Wolf Blass’ white wine range, which ultimately set the groundwork for our export success. In 1996, I was promoted to my current role as chief winemaker to which I oversee all of the winemaking at the winery.
What do you love most about being a winemaker?
First and foremost, what I love most is taking what started out as a hobby and turning it into a rewarding and successful career that I am very grateful for and proud of. No day is the same and no two vintages are the same, so I find myself constantly challenged, which keeps me inspired and motivated
What is your favourite wine, and what food do you typically pair it with?
I am particularly proud of our White Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. It is an elegant wine that features great depth of flavour and pairs well with many dishes. I particularly like it with barbecue prawns in a mildly spiced Asian salad.
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
We are renowned for making wines that have great depth of flavour without being too heavy with plush, round mid–palates and soft balanced tannins. Any new wine must carry Wolf Blass’ overarching style, but we also like to innovate and evolve to ensure we keep consumers engaged and excited, as well as staying relevant to the current era.
Is there any vintage you’re particularly proud of creating? Why?
The 1976 vintage is very special to me. Not only was it my first vintage that kickstarted my career, but we also made award-winning wines of outstanding quality. Vintage 1998 was also very important to me because I had been promoted to chief winemaker at Wolf Blass, the 1998 Black Label won the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy and the 1998 Platinum Label Shiraz was awarded Best Shiraz in the World at one of the most prestigious wine competitions – the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC).
How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?
What the French call ‘terroir’; the climate and soil, is what determines the potential character and quality of the fruit. It is the winemaker’s role to nurture that potential throughout the winemaking process. This process ensures the finished wine reflects its terroir.
Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?
I enjoy all styles of wine from around the world. However, as I live in Barossa my go–to wine is a Barossa shiraz. My favourites from our own portfolio include the Gold Label Barossa Shiraz and the single vineyard Platinum Label Medland’s Vineyard Shiraz.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve during this time?
Although I am now in the last phase of my career, retiring is not an option for me. I am still so passionate about the wines we produce and I love coming to work every day, even after spending almost half my life there! I will always work with the winemakers, but I plan to spend more time promoting our great wines around the world for as long as I can.
From Wineries of South Australia Issue 4. Edited by Bhria Vellnagel.