Nicole Reschke, Koonara Wines

Nicole Reschke is one half of the team behind Koonara Wines. Together with her husband Dru, they grow their grapes using organic principles in their vineyards in Coonawarra and Mount Gambier. But how did a career in hospitality in one of the world’s leading hotel groups prepare her for a life of wine? Read on to find out.

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When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?

I started my career working through the food and beverage departments of Hyatt Hotels so really started in the wine industry back there. But then officially joined the industry as a sole focus when I moved to Coonawarra to be with Dru. I thought I would work with him for the summer while I looked for a job, but here we are 10 years later fully engrained in the business.

Where has your career taken you so far?

My career has taken me many places. I started career with Hyatt International working as an intern on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina USA. Then I moved back to Melbourne as a part of the opening team for the Park Hyatt Melbourne. I then was transferred to a Food and Beverage Traineeship at Hyatt Regency Adelaide, where I worked through all facets of their food and beverage operation, from all day dining, fine dining and sales. I then continued by career as the Conference Manager for several years. After tiring of doing long distance to Coonawarra for a while I resigned from my job and took a leap of faith moving to the Country without a real plan of what I was going to do.

How and when did you start Koonara Wines with your husband Dru?

Dru was full time on the wine label in 2005 and opened the cellar door. Previous to that he was making a small amount of wine each year being sold through Melbourne and Sydney markets. I joined the team in 2005 and through out joint efforts we expanded the business rapidly, to grow to national distribution and exporting small amounts. Looking back we are proud of where we have come as this really probably was the toughest time the industry has ever seen with the grape glut.

What is the philosophy behind Koonara Wines?

As we live on the vineyard with our two young daughters we have created a mini ecosystem in the vineyard where chemicals are not needed. We want to produce the very best wine we can which shows the genuine flavours from the grapes, by not having any residual sugar, gentle pressings of our grapes and ageing them in French oak without any oak substitutes and low yields (on average we have about 1-2 tonnes per acre).

Our philosophy incorporates a small family business that has been in the Coonawarra area for over 100 years.  We have been organic for 10 years in practice but only just going through certification now.

What grape varieties do you make wine from? And where are they sourced from?

We make a wide variety. Grown on our home blocks in Coonawarra we grow Cabernet and Shiraz. At our vineyards in Mt Gambier (which is the coolest wine region in mainland Australia) we grow Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. With temperatures nearly identical to Burgundy our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been greatly awarded.

What are your personal favourites from those you produce, and why?

Its situational; it really depends on what I am doing or eating. I do love our Pinot Gris, a fresh crisp fruit driven wine over a chip and dip plate with friends. But then I do love a gentle savoury Cabernet with dinner – especially in these cooler months. Or I can be easily persuaded to have a glass of bubbles when celebrating. Sometimes the celebration can be just opening the bottle.

As well as Koonara you also design your own jewellery range – Lucy & Alice Jewellery – and run a homewares and gift store. What’s a typical day like for you?!

A typical day is pretty full on. I tend to go like the wind while I am at work so that when I pick the girls up from school and I can really devote my attention to them. During the day my thoughts and duties switch constantly from one aspect to another depending on what is the focus at the time. And actually that is what I love – I get to do a range of things and when I am tiring from one I can switch to the other. I think I have been blessed from my parents with a good work ethic and efficiency that helps me not be distracted. I don’t want my work to be all consuming; I want to achieve a balance and not miss out on my girls growing up. And I am a planner and an organiser, so my days and weeks are planned well in advance.

What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?  

My favourite way to dine is just grazing away, so I do absolutely love natural oysters with lemon juice and fresh pepper with a crisp sparkling wine. And I do also love a chargrilled steak with wasbi mascarpone with a savoury cabernet sauvignon. Matching food and wine: try to keep in mind flavours that would go on the dish you are creating, with flavours that are traditionally found in styles of wine. For example a young Riesling has lemon notes and lemon goes well with fish. Pinot Noir has hints of cherries which goes well with pork.

As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?

I cannot say I have ever had any issues where my gender is an issue, but more so that naturally the figure head is the male. And the natural conclusion that many come to is that they are what drives the progress of the business. And often that is the way we choose to portray it. But sometimes it is really nice to be recognised that it is the woman or women or team that are making the man look good. Dru and I actually have a really good balance that he is an ideas man and the one willing to take more chances than me, that he sometimes talks me around to or I talk him around with my realistic outlook. But more often than not it is me that implements them and gets them off the ground.

In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?

I think so. I think women enjoy the ceremony and the experiences that catching up over a glass of wine leads too. We are happier to talk about how the wine relates to things that we have going on in our lives at the time. When I first moved to Coonawarra and these wine makers would bring wines they had just finished making or discovered and if they banged on too long about it I would fine them $2. A couple of minutes is enough – you don’t need to dissect every last mls. I like my wine talk at dinner to be fun and then be the gateway to lead onto other topics.

What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?

Always look for the good in the wine first. So many wine makers go looking for faults instead of what is great about a wine. Life is too precious for that outlook!

If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?

Studies have shown that women have a better sense of taste and smell than men so trust your instincts. Taste a wine like you choose your friends; if the good bits are really good any small faults don’t matter.

Loved that? You can meet Nicole Reschke in person at two upcoming fabulous events this May!

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