SENIOR WINEMAKER AT HOUGHTON AND BROOKLAND VALLEY WINES
When did you realise you wanted to become a winemaker?
I took my first steps towards becoming a winemaker when I was in the later years of school, deciding I wanted a career with a difference that combined art and science in a unique way.
Please tell us about your career so far, including your education, work experience etc.
While studying at Curtin University in Western Australia, I gained hands-on experience in vineyards in the Swan Valley and Perth Hills. I also worked at Margaret Rivers Redgate Wines, where I learned the ins and outs of winemaking. After finishing my studies, I did a vintage at Tambourlaine Wines in the Hunter Valley. A year later, I landed a cellar hand job at Houghton Wines. Originally, I planned to work the vintage there and then travel abroad for more diverse experiences. But things took a turn when the winemaker and manager offered me a permanent position, and I couldn’t resist. I’ve just completed my twentieth vintage with Houghton and I’ve never looked back.
What do you love most about being a winemaker?
I do love the blend of art and science that is winemaking. I love that each year we start a fresh with a new season full of hope and promise and I enjoy the journey of envisaging the final wine that we might be able to create in the vineyard and then taking each of the steps along the way to make that vision a reality.
What is your favourite wine, and what food do you typically pair it with?
I am very seasonally driven when it comes to my favourite wines. In the warmer months, I love riesling and chardonnay, and in winter, pinot, shiraz and cabernets. And any time of year sparkling! My indulgence is probably a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate.
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
In this regard I am probably quite science-driven in my approach. It typically begins with an idea, followed by thorough research involving tasting similar wines as benchmarks. From there, I devise a winemaking plan. However, before any winemaking takes place, it’s crucial to focus on the fruit itself and ensure we are cultivating the highest quality fruit for the desired end product.
Is there any vintage you’re particularly proud of creating? Why?
I’ve been fortunate to witness a few standout vintages throughout my career. One of the most memorable was 2004, which was truly a unicorn vintage. It was a rare combination of a long, warm Indian summer followed by a dry autumn. This allowed winemakers to make picking decisions without feeling rushed, resulting in wines with exceptional flavour, balance and intensity. Another remarkable vintage was 2013, which showcased exceptional qualities. And more recently, in 2020, we experienced a rather hot vintage. Surprisingly, this heat yielded some outstanding chardonnays and intensely flavoured red wines. It’s fascinating how different climatic conditions can influence the character of each vintage.
How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?
I am fortunate enough to be able to make wines from across the West Australian grape growing landscape. Each of the regions is unique and a product of the local climate and the differing soil types. The Margaret River region itself is a patchwork of microclimates and differing soil types and quite different to Frankland River, where the climate and soil types are more uniform.
Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?
The Brookland Valley Chardonnays. I love making these wines from a single, close-planted vineyard site.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve during this time?
This is a hard question for me to answer. The wine industry is going through such an incredible amount of change at a phenomenal rate right now. I hope that I am still making Houghton Wines and respecting the incredible legacy of winemakers that have gone before me. I expect that we will see more new varieties coming out of WA that are suited to our Mediterranean climate and a reimagining of some classic varieties such as Chenin Blanc.