When did you first know you wanted to become a winemaker?
“I’ve always been interested in wine, but I didn’t plan on becoming a winemaker as my passion when I left school was engineering. After we planted the vineyard in 1998 as a way to diversify the farming operations, my interest in winemaking grew and the natural evolution was to produce our own wine. So, I returned to university where I attained a degree in wine science from Charles Sturt University.
“I believe in keeping the winemaking simple, but also understanding that biology and chemistry are important. I’ve always focused on growing quality fruit and getting it into the bottle with minimal interference. Producing a bottle of wine is very satisfying as you get to oversee the whole process, from growing the grapes, to making the wine and seeing people enjoy it at our cellar door.”
How would you describe your career so far?
“When I finished high school, I studied agricultural engineering at the University of Melbourne, which gave me a good grounding in many disciplines. This proved invaluable in my first position as a design engineer for an agricultural machinery company in Albury.
“After returning home to manage the winery, there was always an opportunity to utilise my engineering skills in designing and modifying the vineyard equipment. I returned to university in my early 40s to study oenology, which was challenging with a young family and full-time management of the family farm to juggle. However, the knowledge I gained was excellent. I also enjoyed the interaction of learning and working alongside other winemakers who were very generous in sharing their extensive knowledge.”
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
“Our small winery enables me the freedom to easily experiment and embrace opportunities when they arise. Ideas for new products are often generated over Friday night drinks with staff and friends, or suggestions from our customers. Someone once asked if we can create bubbles in a viognier wine, so we created our now popular Sparkling Viognier. The cellar door also gives us an excellent opportunity to trial these new products.
“I enjoy the challenge of working with nature, and my philosophy is minimal interference in the winemaking process. I like to let the vineyard direct the winemaking. Since each vintage is different, it’s important to be flexible and not push the wine in a preconceived direction. However, I’m always interested in experimenting with new varieties in the vineyard and releasing obscure combinations. There is a trial row with nebbiolo, sangiovese and barbera in the vineyard, which will make for a terrific Italian blend.
“Our six-year partnership with winemaker Robert Paul and viticulturalist John Runting has established a nursery for a red Turkish grape varietal, bog˘azkere. While this variety has never been grown in Australia, it has recently been bottled and released.”
What do you love the most about your job?
“Each day is different, and I enjoy that diversity. Tallis Wine is run alongside traditional farming enterprises that include wheat, canola and sheep, so life is never dull. I enjoy living and working on our property, where I closely monitor the development of our vines, grapes and wine.
It’s really rewarding to oversee the whole process from vineyard to cellar door.
“I really love getting my hands dirty and using science and engineering to solve problems in the winery and vineyard. Converting an old horse stable and grain store into a winery and building a straw-bale barrel hall to store wine were both rewarding experiences. I’ve had huge satisfaction in adapting old pieces of equipment to enhance the winemaking process.”
What is your favourite food-and-wine pairing?
“That’s a difficult one as there are so many interesting wine-and-food matches to experience. I love a viognier with fresh oysters, but you can’t beat a rare roast beef and a Tuscan sangiovese. At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than having a picnic with family and friends in the Tallis Wine paddock while overlooking the vineyard.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“Continuing to expand the vineyard with new varieties and experimenting with wine blends, growing interesting varieties that suit our climate and turning them into the best wine possible, as well as some travelling, learning, innovating, and drinking good wine.”
From Wineries of Victoria – Issue 10, edited by Bhria Vellnagel.