When did you realise you wanted tobecome a winemaker?
After completing Year 12, I was contemplating a career in either politics or [working] in the family business as a winemaker… I decided on the family business!
Please tell us about your career so far.
After secondary school, I attended Roseworthy Agricultural College to complete a Diploma in Oenology. After graduating in 1975, I accepted a position as the winemaker at Mildara Wines in Coonawara – then owned by the Hazelgrove family and now by Treasury Wine Estates, before returning to Tahbilk in 1978.
What do you love most about being a winemaker?
I love the whole process; from growing the grapes, turning those grapes into wine, and then ensuring that the blends made from the various blocks on the estate are true to pedigree for each variety. It’s important that we continue to improve our pedigree each year, and we endeavour to consistently overdeliver on quality and value-for-money basis [to benefit] everyone that drinks our wines. I also love dealing with the challenges of different weather conditions from season to season. There is no typical day and as executive winemaker, my role is to ensure that the vineyard, winemaking and bottling teams have the capacity, resources and authority to do their part at a very high level.
What is your favourite wine, and what food do you typically pair it with?
I love drinking old, great complex wines… and by old I mean wines that are at least forty years and even in the excess of 100
years of age. It is a joy to be able to drink wines at their best; whether it be an aged Tahbilk or a wonderful wine from other Australian or international winemakers. There’s no one dish that will be perfect with every old wine. I think about the wine that I am about to drink and then pair what I think will be the perfect accompaniment to that wine.
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
At Tahbilk we strongly believe that a wine should be an expression of the grape’s variety and terroir, and we have been able to consistently deliver a quality wine from year to year. We continue to plant a lot of European varieties on the estate in the hope that we will find some [varieties] of which our Nagambie Lakes climate is perfectly suited. When we’re confident that we’ve found a variety that will consistently deliver a quality product each year, then we will release it to our wine club members. And, should they fall in love with the new wine, we’ll then consider making it available on the domestic and international markets.
Is there any vintage you’re particularly proud of creating? Why?
There have been many great vintages where the weather conditions were ‘just right’. 1986, 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2010 spring to mind, but the most memorable would be 1979 – my first Tahbilk vintage. [It was this vintage] when I created the 1860 Vines Shiraz; a single vineyard wine solely from shiraz, planted in 1860. Alongside the wine writers, we tasted this wine in a vertical – which included all of the 1860 Vines Shiraz in 2015. It was unanimously voted in the top three of twenty-nine wines tasted, along with the 1996 and 2010 vintages.
How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?
The terroir (soil and climate) is everything, and we take great pride in enabling this to show in the wines. Tahbilk is situated in Nagambie Lakes GI, which has its own microclimate. It is one of only eight wine-producing areas in the world, and the only region in Australia where the climate is influenced by inland water masses. The average temperature here is 3-degrees lower than the surrounding Goulburn Valley, and the soil is an ancient, volcanic type. The combination of our unique climate and unique soils gives our wine quality and character.
Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?
My white wine preference is for our marsanne, which can age for more than fifteen years, and in reds [my preference is] for cabernet sauvignon which are thirty-plus year propositions.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve during this time?
In five years I aim to have stepped down from active winemaking running the company, and my role will be chairman of the board; where I can help the next generation guide Tahbilk. Tahbilk has also commenced conversion to organic grape growing and organic and vegan winemaking. We will continue to perfect those practices as we also continue to reduce emissions and maintain our carbon zero status and accreditation.
From Wineries of Victoria – Issue 12, edited by Bethany Hayes.