Jodie Opie is the fabulous winemaker at Aravina Estate in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.
When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?
I studied at the University of Adelaide in 1996 after completing a Science degree to pursue a career in medical research. A unit in Microbiology and a practical placement at Lenton Brae Winery in 1994 signalled the point of no return. From that point on, I made a definitive decision to follow a career in winemaking.
Where has your career taken you so far?
I believe that some of the best wines in the world are produced right here in Margaret River and as such, I am happiest on my own patch. A lot of winemakers like to travel to develop their craft. However, I have worked for some fantastic wineries right here. My first winemaking role was at Lenton Brae and over the past fourteen years I have worked at Voyager Estate, Xanadu Wines, for vigneron Franklin Tate and for a number of smaller producers.
You’re currently the Winemaker at Aravina Estate in Margaret River. How long have you been there and what attracted you to work with Aravina?
I have a passion for showcasing the quality of the fruit produced in the Margaret River Region. When the vineyard and winery was Amberley it had a reputation for exceptional fruit and as producers they had an exceptional name. I have been working for Aravina Estate’s owner, Steve Tobin, for 2 years and love the challenge of creating a similar reputation for Aravina. I am confident that as a team we can achieve excellent results.
What is the philosophy behind Aravina? And how does it fit with your own personal winemaking philosophy?
My winemaking philosophy is that a winemaker should strive to exceed expectations. Sometimes, the job dictates that we make wine to a formula or to a price point, but the quality of the wine must always over deliver.
If, as a brand, we are able to develop this reputation then we will be able to create a solid position for ourselves. This philosophy differs a little from many who aim to impose their view of what great wine is to the market. For me, if our market is happy with what we are producing then I am also happy. I don’t need my name up in lights.
What grape varieties do you make wine from at Aravina? And where are they sourced from?
The majority of our fruit is sourced from the Aravina Estate vineyard (there are a couple of varieties we have sourced from neighbouring properties for specialist products).
We have a classy piece of dirt and I believe that it should be receiving the accolades rather than the winemaker. The easy bit is turning the fruit into wine. We make all of the regions’ usual suspects – SBS, barrel fermented Semillon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Rose, Shiraz, Shiraz Tempranillo, Cabernet Merlot, and Cabernet. We’ve undertaken further planting this year including a polyclonal planting of “Pingus” clone Tempranillo and a small amount of Malbec. We also make a Sparkling vintage Pinot Chardonnay.
What are your personal favourites from those you produce, and why?
I love the 2013 Chardonnay that we’ve just blended and the 2012 Cabernet. These are the varieties that Margaret River hangs its hat on and the wines out of Aravina Estate are no different. They have complexity and varietal definition as well as regional characteristics. They are also unique to the patch of dirt they are grown on.
Does your technique or approach change depending on whether you’re making entry level wines or high-end single wines? If so, how?
Yes: cost. A wine needs to over deliver but it has to do so at a price point. There is an art to making wine to a price point. It can be done by creating efficiencies considering everything from processes in the vineyard through to the packaging. The quality of lower price wine really suffers when processes are inefficient.
Super efficient processes at the high end also offer the opportunity to “do more for less”. The moral of the story is to create efficiencies and this will help at all price points. Higher price points allow the opportunity for a more hands on approach. Elements such as whole bunch pressing, hand picking and premium oak come at a significant cost so need a higher price. Personally I prefer to take a minimalistic approach to winemaking and let the fruit speak for itself.
What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?
I love Pinot as a food match due to the fact that it pairs well with almost everything. I’m told Cabernet is great with meat however I’m a vegetarian! I love Chardonnay with richer dishes and I find that Riesling goes well with Japanese. My opinion is that the wine should not overpower the food.
As a young woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your age or gender has ever been an issue?
I think it has been advantage!
In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?
No I don’t think so. I mix well with all my male colleagues; I’ve never had a problem.
What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?
Taste before you drink but don’t become over involved in the process. When I say taste I mean look at the bottle, note the variety, vintage, GI. Get what you can from the label, and then pour a small portion into the glass and taste. Think about the wine, come up with a couple of descriptors and think about if you like it. If so, why? If not, why not? And then move on. The process doesn’t need to be a giant ceremony, have a think and then have a drink!
If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?
Don’t drink too much Rose at Melbourne Cup luncheons. That stuff can get you into real trouble. On a serious note – drink what you like and in moderation!