Dual loves of hospitality and science led Clare Halloran to pursue a career in winemaking. Centred on the premium wine regions surrounding Melbourne, Clare’s star has rightly risen to the position of General Manager & Winemaker at TarraWarra. Here Clare has had the opportunity to work closely with the viticulturists to realise the TarraWarra philosophy of: “Producing wines that best encapsulate our land.”
Here is Clare’s fabulous story!
When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?
I’d been working in hospitality in various restaurants in Melbourne, and first started to learn about wine. I had a science background, and was fascinated by the whole process. So I decided to study winemaking.
Where has your career taken you so far?
Not very far! I first worked as assistant winemaker at T’Gallant on the Mornington Peninsula, and after 2 and a half years came to TarraWarra. That was in July 1996. I became General Manager in 2013.
You are winemaker and general manager at TarraWarra. Can you tell us the story of why, when and how this happened?
After being winemaker and second in charge for 16 years, it was a natural progression to become General Manager.
What is the philosophy behind TarraWarra?
Our philosophy is to produce wines that best encapsulate of our land. To achieve this we spend a lot of time focussed on our vineyard, and making sure every block is achieving its potential.
What grape varieties do you make wine from at TarraWarra? And where are they sourced from?
All of our wines are made from grapes grown at TarraWarra. Most of the vineyard (28 hectares) is planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Since 2006 we have gradually changed the mix in the vineyard, and now make Merlot, Shiraz, a white Rhone blend and, most recently, Barbera and Nebbiolo.
What are your personal favourites from those you produce, and why?
This changes all the time! I love all the wines we produce, each one has its purpose. At the moment I’m loving our Roussanne, Marsanne Viognier blend, and also our Nebbiolo.
But every time I look at a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir I get a bit excited too!
Within the business, what’s a typical day like for you?
This really depends on the time of year.
During vintage it’s very much in the winery making wine, processing fruit, and constantly checking every ferment. There’s also quite a lot of laboratory work.
At other times there’s marketing, financial work, administration, and a lot of time planning for all the areas of the business and making sure they all work smoothly.
How does your overseas experience translate to your day to day work?
Working overseas helps inform your winegrowing and making.
However, each vineyard is different, so while broadening my knowledge, our decisions are made on what’s best with our vineyards.
What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing?
Oysters and Rose.
And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?
Balancing the weight, flavours and complexities of both food and wine in a harmonious way.
Neither should be dominated by the other.
As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?
I can’t think of a particular challenge due to being a female, but I’ve been fortunate enough to work for people for whom it was irrelevant.
The industry is very male dominated, but so are most industries.
In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?
I can’t generalise in this manner, everyone is different, and gender to me is not that relevant in how we speak about wine.
What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?
If you like a wine, that’s the most important factor. Trust your own palate, it is not the same as anyone else, so be confident with your own taste.
If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?
Learning about wine and discovering different wines is a fabulous journey, but also a very individual one. Don’t listen to wine boors who try and impose their taste and opinions on you.
It’s a way to shift your mind after a day of hard work! Enjoy!