When did you first know you wanted to become a winemaker?
“The Narkoojee vineyard and winery is situated on a property previously owned by my grandparents, who ran it as a dairy farm. As a child visiting the farm, I developed a strong desire to become a dairy farmer. This motivated me to begin a degree in agricultural science after graduating from high school. However, by this time my parents had begun planting grape vines on the property. I soon found myself helping
them with the vineyard and making the early wines, where I enjoyed watching the fascinating process of turning the fruit into wine. My father had been winning many accolades for his early wines and this success soon rubbed off on me.”
How would you describe your career so far?
“After completing two years of a degree in agricultural science at La Trobe University in Melbourne, I wanted to study a more hands-on course related to grape growing and winemaking. The course I chose was an Associate Degree of Winegrowing at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. During this time and after graduating, I worked with my father at the winery as a vineyard manager. After he semi-retired in 2013, I added to my responsibilities and became the chief winemaker.”
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
“While my father dabbled in wild yeast fermentations, I have devoted more time to mastering this process with each new vintage. The process involves acquiring the correct level of nutrients in the fruit at vintage, while avoiding the introduction of excessive alcohol, judicious temperature control and the discreet use of sulphur dioxide in the juice.
The result is a wine with more savoury characters, rather than a ‘fruit bomb’, and features more complexity and a mineral-acid structure.
“The most important part of producing wines from a new vintage is the health and status of the vines; without first having quality fruit, a great wine cannot be made. The parameters necessary in the fruit at vintage are ensured by keeping the vines canopy open to avoid shading and disease, while having the level of fruit low enough for the vine to easily ripen the fruit.”
What do you love the most about your job?
“I love the excitement at vintage time and the anticipation of creating a new wine using the fruit grown on the vines, which have been carefully tendered through the season.
“Then there’s also the deep satisfaction of fashioning the wine through its development in oak barrels. This is when I tweak its flavours and sensory properties before putting it safely into bottles ready to be enjoyed by the consumer. I also enjoy the satisfaction that comes from the rapport developed between the winemaker and the enthusiastic wine-loving consumer.”
What is your favourite food-and-wine pairing?
“It’s difficult to name my favourite wine, because each variety is best enjoyed with food. Having said that, our site in Gippsland produces excellent examples of all the varieties we grow, but is particularly suited to chardonnay, shiraz, pinot noir and merlot. Many foods are suitable to accompany these wines, particularly those that have the characteristics of truffles or game.
“The pinot noir and merlot varieties are intriguing; they are particularly sensitive to weather conditions and trace elements imbued by the vines. This allows each vintage to present an interesting challenge for our vinification techniques.
“Merlot captures my imagination the most. A ‘good’ merlot was described by a vigneron at a chateau my parents visited in Pomerol, France as having an aroma reminiscent of ‘freshly gutted rabbit’, which we [interpreted as having] a bloody or gamey character.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“We have recently expanded our vineyard with new plantings. When these vines come on stream in three to four years, we will need to employ more staff to handle the greater tonnage of fruit. The winery itself will need to be extended, as well.
“I also anticipate that by then, my father may have retired from his role as Narkoojee’s managing director, in which case it could also be part of my new responsibilities.”
From Wineries of Victoria – Issue 10, edited by Bhria Vellnagel.