It is mind boggling to think that 6 years ago, we decided – as a family – to upturn our professional lives in Melbourne on a quest for a vineyard in country Victoria. Hugh and I were in pursuit of a dream we both had to make quality wine from vine to bottle!
We spent almost every weekend in the lead up scouring the state.
Three hours out from Melbourne, near Beechworth in North East Victoria, we found our perfect vineyard – and after much due diligence, we turned the key to our forever home in 2016 . Our first commercial offering of wine was from the 2017 vintage, and we established the ‘Weathercraft’ brand.
Fast forward to 2020, I decided to throw my hat into the ring for the Australian Young Gun of Wine competition. It has been very exciting to be a part of this collaboration of emerging talent. In March this year, I was shortlisted for the Top 50 winemakers and as we get closer to finding out the results (voting closes 30 May), I thought I’d share my original interview with Young Gun of Wine.
For those of you interested in learning more of how I came to be a winemaker: this will provide a glimpse into my perpetual journey of learning to mastering an ancient ‘craft’.
Q) How did your career in winemaking begin?
I don’t come from a traditional winemaking space. Yes, there were home-made wines growing up, but backyard winemaking was never the aim in our new venture. I did have the chemistry, and most of the viticultural studies behind me, before my husband Hugh and I purchased our vineyard four years ago. Importantly, I chose to find myself a mentor (one as OCD as I am!) to teach me and guide me through my winemaking.
I am a big believer in “you don’t know, what you don’t know!”. Given I was pretty much throwing myself in the deep end, I wanted to have someone deeply experienced who would listen to my ideas and winemaking plans and guide me, rather than tell me what to do.
My previous line of work was in the legal field where I ran my own business successfully for about 10 years. I went back to university after selling my business to study nutritional bioscience and chemistry, and later viticulture and oenology – gearing towards a second career as a vigneron.
Q) Tell us more about your studies.
Despite having watched and helped dad grow vegetables and fruit throughout my childhood, my parents steered me towards law after high school, and I spent a decade in the legal and finance field.
After successfully selling my own legal business, I hit the books again in my early 30s to study nutritional bioscience and chemistry as I had always held an interest in biological solutions. As our quest for the right vineyard gained momentum though, I pivoted my studies towards viticulture and winemaking.
I’m now well into a Wine Science degree at CSU, having had a few exemptions, but progress is slow with a vineyard, a child, winemaking, and off-farm business responsibilities.
In a vertically integrated business like this, nothing truly cements knowledge quite like hands on experience in all aspects!
Q) Who are your key mentors and key influencers?
I’m so fortunate to have two gurus of grapes!
My mentor in the vineyard has been Mark Walpole of Fighting Gully Road. He is a wealth of knowledge and an absolute gentleman. I’ve bombarded him with so many questions and the hours spent with this man learning stuff one would normally need years to understand have been priceless.
My mentor in the winery has been Mark O’Callaghan, ex-senior winemaker at Accolade and a respected wine judge on the circuit. Mark has been instrumental in helping bring my ideas to life. Yes, there have been a few eyebrows raised at some of my suggestions, but he’s encouraged me to experiment and has provided priceless knowledge of techniques, methods and ‘what ifs’ in all aspects of winemaking. My barrage of questions never fazes him, and he is as OCD as I am!
I have also been deeply influenced by my friend, Dr. Mary Cole, a leading plant pathologist and ‘soil champion’ for her biological methods. We implement many of her best practices in the vineyard, (such as compost tea sprays) and have appreciated the positive difference in our soil’s health. We are very focused on biological methods in the vineyard.
Q) What are your winemaking philosophies and aspirations?
I have a passionate belief in the term ‘vigneron’, and the maxim that you can only make great wine from great grapes, holds true. Thus, I wanted to control the growing aspect, by owning the vineyard, to maintain fruit integrity through to bottle.
Hugh and I could have started our wine enterprise much earlier by setting up a winery and buying fruit, but this was not in line with our philosophy. So, we worked very hard for a few more years to save up enough money to be able to buy a great site, grow great fruit and make wine the way we wanted to.
Quality, for us, is paramount.
My family background is Spanish. In fact, I am the first in my family born in Australia. Naturally, I have a strong interest in all Spanish wines, though my true passion is for high-quality Tempranillo.
We are both fortunate enough to have spent quite a bit of time traveling around Europe. Our current wines are reminiscent of our European loves: Syrah (Shiraz) from the Rhone region, Tempranillo from Ribera and the great Chardonnays of Burgundy. My rosé is also made traditionally with minimal skin contact and time spent in barrel – absolutely no saignée!
Whilst there are some amazing examples of Australian Tempranillo and this country has many sites that suit the variety, in general, we feel Australian Tempranillo has a long way to go before it approaches the best of Spain.
My dream is to one day make a Tempranillo that rivals Spain’s best.
When we bought our site, I undertook considerable research on soil composition, climate, including diurnal variation and various other factors. From a meso-climate perspective, I chose a mix of three clones from the Ribera del Duero region in North Western Spain that perfectly suited our site. These clones are from the same region as Vega Sicilia and Alejandro Fernandez’s ‘Pesquera’ vines. We are one of the first in Australia to have fruit from these clones in bottle.
I couldn’t be more excited for our Tempranillo. Most clones in Australia come from Portugal if not Valdepenas, Rioja, or the Toro region of Spain. To have Ribera clones is very special.
Q) Why did you choose to produce wine from your region?
Speaking as a winemaker: the synergy of soil, climate and grape variety in Beechworth is amazing.
Speaking as an inhabitant: as well as being our physical place of residence, the region of Beechworth is also our spiritual home.
Winemakers here are a diverse bunch, but universally, they make wine on a small scale, normally using traditional European methods and with an abundance of passion.
At times, this can lead to both laughter and disagreements! We are fortunate though, to have some of Australia’s best-regarded boutique houses as our neighbors. I am sure Hugh and I have bias in our passion for the Beechworth region. We feel very blessed to live – and to make a living, doing something we love – in this unique pocket of the wine world.
If you are keen to try the 2018 (Young Gun) Shiraz and the 2019 (Young Gun) rosé that won me a place in the Top 50 for Young Gun of Wine, head to our store here. If you happen to have tried the wine and like our story, I would LOVE you to cast your vote for me in the competition: you can vote here.
Thank you to all who have supported Hugh and I on this amazing journey! It is one thing to make wine, but to have people buy it > enjoy it > and come back for more … well … that is just wonderful!