Why did you become a winemaker?
…..good question. My mother wanted to send me to Australia for University and I was very good at science and all analytical things but wanted a career that brought happiness to people. I was not such a good artist or writer. We went to the Australian high commission and read through the university calendars and we were both enthralled and inspired by reading the story of Pam Dunsford the first woman to graduate winemaking at Roseworthy college in Adelaide. It sounded perfect. I wasn’t from a winemaking family, I grew up in Newtown and Cuba st. At that time winemaking was still very much family based succession and who you knew. I didn’t get into the course but into a BSc so I skipped the 7th form and left on the plane to Adelaide. I had a fabulous time and loved university and being surrounded in the wine industry and environment. I did my first harvest in the Clare Valley after Honours to really see if I wanted to pursue wine. It was hard work but I loved the atmosphere. I got into a PhD program within the University of Adelaide wine department and the Australian WineResearch Institute. It was the best way to see everything. I loved it and loved university. A perfect life. Paid to enjoy pubs, beers, wines, students and research my interests. I also did a couple of harvests during this period in California and McLaren Vale. This is what being 20 something at the start of ones career is all suppose to be about. Meeting amazing people, travel, great food…there is always good food in the wine industry… and drinking amazing wines.
What’s your winemaking philosophy?
It’s all about the vibe. I learnt my trade in Australia in a very technical environment, and then travelled the world and saw other techniques. All of this has grounded me in feeling confident in the grapes. If you have good grapes and care for them, then the winemaking should be easy, feel confident to let them be in their own ferment and journey. Always keeping a watchful eye and having the knowledge and experience to look after them but pretty much slow and watchful. Cleaning also. A good wine comes from a winemaker and great cellar-hands who love the karcher (water blaster)…a clean winery always feels better and makes better wine.
What has been a memorable moment in your winemaking journey to date?
This takes some thought, perhaps its not accolades or an amazing wines I’ve tasted but the adventures and people I have met. I loved being on the learning journey, when I was a cellar hand, no heavy responsibility but opportunity to absorb everyones thoughts and techniques. Living on site in a ramshackle house with strange and inspiring people and making exploding sparkling barrels of some probably totally funky chardonnay in Australia while working non-stop all through the nights. The total hedonistic life in Sonoma, working in Oregon with Krug Rose and pizza served for lunch. Experiencing a traditional Burgundy Estate harvest with more coffee and food time allocated than processing time. Now seeing the young graduates come to our winery and hopefully experience some of the same as I did. I am now more inward focussed within my career. I have my opportunity and my focus has changed, more about my personal winemaking expression and adventures at home with my son. But great seeing the young energy!
Tell us about your latest release?
2014 Amisfield Pinot Noir. This wine I will admit has perplexed me, I am not afraid to say this, marketing department maybe shocked but I think as a winemaker at Amisfield that allows for our grapes, our environment and our harvest weather to express itself then I should have honesty and be open to discuss our wines with their natural personalities. 2014 sugars ripened quickly, the acid was softer. Our organic blocks were adjusting. It is a Pisa wine, it expresses its place but it also expresses its period in time. It is a bolder style of Pisa, aromatic fruits and also has a forward broad palette. I personally prefer the cooler years at Pisa, where there is acid drive. It is what makes Central Otago unique. But our story is also the 2014 Amisfield Pinot Noir with its plushness.
Which wines have you been most proud of?
Obviously I returned to NZ to make Pinot Noir. I love the complexity of Pinot Noir, the taste of it, the acid and tannin interaction. It is the wine that makes me think on an intellectual level. However it is probably the wines that I least expected that I am most proud of. The wines I never really considered but now love. Our Sauvignon Blanc Fume. A barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc. It was the previous winemakers at Amisfield that set us on this journey by planting Sauvignon Blanc in CO, unusual. I have for the past 7 years taken over the responsibility of “making” or looking after this wine, I love it, it is natural in all aspects but I have to care for it.
The diners at our Bistro seem to like it and one of my favourite moments was Oz Clarke pulling me aside, when I was trying to run away, and saying “there are only a few people in the world who know how to make barrel Sauvignon Blanc and you are one of them”. I was thrilled, it was a time when I needed a confidence boost and the 2013 Amisfield Fume Sauvignon Blanc gave it to me. Oh and I love making proper Rosé …a rosé made for rosé. It causes me the most heartache during its fermentation. A very difficult wine to look after.
What makes Amisfield wines unique?
We are here to stay. We (and I mean myself, my assistant, our vineyard people) are just a little time in Amisfield’s history. We have committed owners who are looking forward to the future, a slow and true path. As a winemaker it is a wonderful place to work as the culture of the work environment is at the forefront of the ethos of the work. If we have people working for the right and true reasons then we are appreciated and allowed to explore our ideas. Amisfield is committed to true expression of site.
We are here for the future, to make wines with integrity and truth. We are converting to organic viticulture as we believe it makes better wine, it will care for our land into the future and it is better for the people who work in the vineyards. I believe what makes our wine unique is our commitment to expression and that is brought about by a great work environment with the land and the people.
What’s one wine you would like everyone to try?
Riesling. If it is on a wine list try it. I love the surprise, don’t be afraid of the surprise. It maybe sweet or it maybe dry, appear dry but actually be sweet but the acid balances it. Follow the lead of your sommelier or your wine seller. Riesling holds lovely surprises.