Interview with Virginia Willcock – Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year 2012

It’s a GIRL! Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year Award 2012: Virginia Willcock


The Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year 2012 award was last night won by Virginia Willcock – Chief Wine Maker at Vasse Felix in Margaret River, Western Australia.

Of the eight finalists, Virginia was one of only two women (the other being one half of husband-and-wife nominated duo Steve & Monique Lubiana from Stefano Lubiana).

Perth-born Virginia has over two decades experience of Margaret River vintages, and has also worked extensively around the world. She joined Vasse Felix as their Chief Winemaker in 2006.

When our Chief Fabulous Lady, Jane Thomson, finally stopped dancing around the room in celebration of a female wine maker taking out the award, she was able to talk to Virginia about her win. Here’s what she had to say:

Congratulations on this momentous win Virginia! Let’s go back to where it all started. Why did you become a winemaker?

For me it was really about the joy of growing grapes on a farm, harvesting the fruit and then turning it into an even more amazing product. From my earliest memories wine is something that always seemed to make people very happy! Wine was all about joy, it was something fun. And I wanted to be part of that.

You say that the “fun” side of wine appealed to you. Do you think that the industry has become too serious and that some of the fun has gone out of wine?

Absolutely not! For us anyway, it’s still all about the fun. We’re making something that’s enjoyable, unique, that stands out. If it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t still be doing it! But to keep it fun you do need a group of people involved who all fully believe that making great wine is worthwhile.

What is your approach to winemaking and what makes your methods award winning?

I think it’s the uniqueness – of the region, the area – and the magnificent fruit. Really, the answer is Margaret River & the Vasse Felix vineyards.

And then I just let the grapes be.  Allowing solids and natural fermentation so the vineyards can express themselves in their natural way. For me it tends not to be a polished wine making thing. But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it as carefully. For every decision to NOT do something is as big a decision as to DO something. It’s just as hard to let it be, as it is to intervene!

Vasse Felix location & vineyards

How do you know when you’ve got a really special wine on your hands?

Because it just smells and tastes amazing. Literally – that’s what it is! If you get amazing fruit to start with and you make sure it follows its pathway so you’re getting the very best out of it, then you know you’re going to get something truly great.

What is your favourite style of wine to make, and why is it your favourite?

I really can’t say there’s just one! Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are VERY different and I love them both. They’re both very different in how they need to be handled and managed, and I enjoy the challenges of each and also learning how to best express the Margaret River fruit. The thing with Cabernet Sauvignon is that it should be elegant. People think that Cab Savs should be big wines – but really, they can be gorgeously elegant with lovely tannin profile. Chardonnay on the other hand needs very careful handling to express itself.

You’re a woman winemaker in what is still a very male dominated profession. What’s it like?

Honestly, I don’t notice! I guess I’m just like one of the boys! I think if you’re passionate about wine and you are ready to work for your passion it doesn’t matter what gender you are. I don’t think being a woman has in any way affected my career.

What’s the one thing about your job that may surprise people?

Probably that it’s a 100% commitment. Making wine is like bringing up children. Every barrel is its own little creature that you’ve got to be committed to bringing up right. You have to know them inside out and you can’t turn your back on them for a minute!

You also need to have an intimate knowledge of every single step of the winemaking process – from how to grow great fruit to the harvesting and processing of that fruit, through to the manufacturing process. And you need to be an excellent manager of people and an outstandingly good communicator. If you can’t make people working with you understand what you want, then you’re never going to achieve it.

A winemaker’s greatest challenge is sharing your vision with everyone else who is involved in the entire process. If you can’t communicate those ideas to everyone involved then you won’t achieve your dream. Only when everyone is working in pursuit of the same goals and the same vision can you create something truly unique.

We like to have a little fun around the office here by matching wines with their perfect shoes. If you had to pick a shoe match for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, what would you pick? 

Well, for Chardonnay, I’d have to say Bare Foot! And for Cabernet Sauvignon it would have to be something elegant and stylish, with a leather sole.

Virginia’s shoe match for Chardonnay? Bare feet!

Now that you’ve won the Winemaker of the Year Award, where to from here?

Keep working hard and respecting what we’ve got so that we can make the most of it. I’ve traveled the world as a winemaker and I still think that Margaret River is one of worlds best wine regions, but we’ve got to keep working hard to raise it’s profile and get that out to the world. There’s nowhere more beautiful and magnificent than Margaret River. Sure, it’s isolated and that creates challenges. But it also creates amazing opportunities that I think should be celebrated.

 Congratulations Virginia! If you’d like to congratulate Virginia on her win, please do so by leaving a comment below.

1 comment

  1. david waterhouse

    a big fan-well done

Comments are closed.