SENIOR WINEMAKER AT ASHBROOK ESTATE
“From trellis to table … our lives are dictated by the vines and the wine; it is a passion.”
When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker?
My transition into winemaking seemed to happen organically. I have always had an interest in biological and chemical science and have a great emotional connection to Wilyabrup, so when the opportunity arose to return home to work in the family business, it felt very natural.
Please tell us about your career so far, including your education, work experience etc.
I completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in biochemistry and molecular genetics at The University of Western Australia, then worked for seven years as a medical research assistant at the Telethon Kids Institute, until an opportunity at Ashbrook presented. I completed a Masters in Wine Science and Viticulture (with Dean’s Honours) through Melbourne University whilst working and made the move back to Ashbrook for the 2010 vintage. I was assistant winemaker to Tony and Brian Devitt until 2014 when Tony retired, and have been senior winemaker at Ashbrook since.
What do you love most about being a winemaker?
Apart from living and working in one of the most beautiful regions in the world? Ashbrook is a single-vineyard estate operated by a core family unit. This means we are all heavily involved with every aspect of grape-growing, harvesting, processing, bottling, packaging and sales. From trellis to table, every year, our lives are dictated by the vines and the wines; it is a passion and a lifestyle.
What is your favourite wine, and what food do you typically pair it with?
Chardonnay, with anything. Or nothing. Haha, it really depends upon what I’m eating. Every now and then you have a perfect food-wine moment, usually when you’re with people you love. Fresh oysters and riesling, WA dhufish and semillon, chilli crab and verdelho, scallops with saffron risotto and chardonnay, confit duck and syrah, open-fire, char-grilled lamb and cabernet are some of my most vivid memories.
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
Our philosophy at Ashbrook has always been to showcase the varietal integrity and purity achievable in Wilyabrup. We want the fruit to shine, which is why 90% of our vineyard is grown on a lyre trellis, all hand-harvested and processed on site. Any wine we make is treated meticulously and if it sees oak, it is French oak of the highest quality, and the wines matured appropriately in our underground cellar prior to release.
Is there any vintage you’re particularly proud of creating? Why?
I am lucky enough to be making wine in one of the world’s most ideal grape-growing regions. In our forty-six-vintage history, the number of sub-optimal ripening seasons can be counted on one hand, and even in those years, there were still some beautiful wines produced. In recent times, 2017 was a memorable vintage due to its unusually cool, wet finish which impacted the ripening of red varieties in the district. Thanks to Ashbrook’s unique lyre trellis, open vine canopy and hand-harvesting, we were able to maintain excellent fruit quality and our reserve cabernet sauvignon from that vintage has just received two gold medal reviews.
How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?
The maritime climate in Wilyabrup, Margaret River is heavily influenced by the Indian and Southern Oceans, the westerly airstream, the Leeuwin Current and our latitude (33˚ 96’S). These factors conspire to moderate temperature, enhance winter rainfall/reliability and provide long ripening periods typified by warm sunny days and cool nights with low disease pressure and low frost/hail risk. Our geologically ancient soils consist of a gravelly loam over clay. It is friable and drains well and once the vines have worked their roots down 1.5m, the clay layer provides moisture year-round. It is a vintner’s paradise, resulting in exceptional fruit quality consistently. Meticulous vineyard management and careful winemaking ensure Ashbrook’s wine style is reflective of terroir, through fruit purity, structure, balance and integrity.
Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?
Chardonnay. It’s like drinking sunlight in a glass laced with beautiful French oak spice.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve during this time?
In five years, I will hopefully be just shy of completing twenty Ashbrook vintages alongside my family. Every year we make improvements, small or more significant, in the vineyard and winery. All these ‘one percenters’ add up, as we strive to make the best possible wines that are true to our style every year.