Sandrine Gimon left behind her homeland of France for a bold move to the New World wine region of Coonawarra, in South Australia. This has provided Sandrine with the perfect opportunity not only to grow her career and take on more responsibility, but to marry her French technique with Australian grapes, producing elegant cool climate wines.
Here is Sandrine’s fabulous story!
When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?
In the middle of the 90’s, I was a student in biology and biochemistry, trying to find something practical to do. My uncle is the winemaker for Louis Latour in Ardèche, I saw that winery being built and worked during vintage. I might also have used the large concrete floor area as roller skate park, outside of vintage. The whole link with nature, making wine, tasting and having food, looked like a pretty good combination, with a lifestyle potential too!
Where has your career taken you so far?
I’ve trained in Champagne, with an internship at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin and Burgundy; worked in Bordeaux and Pomerol, at Château L’Enclos, the Languedoc Roussillon at Domaine de La Baume, Romania, the Swan Valley, Houghton in WA, Padthaway and now Coonawarra in SA.
You are senior winemaker at Rymill Coonawarra. Can you tell us the story of why, when and how this happened?
I was working in Padthaway for vintage 2005. A French winemaker, Clémence Haselgrove, mentioned that she was moving on from a position at Rymill Coonawarra. I applied and got the job as winemaker. In 2008, I became senior winemaker. So, it was a French female connection that got me the lead to the job I guess, chick networking!
What is the philosophy behind Rymill Coonawarra?
We have our own sustainably managed vineyards, all in Coonawarra, and our own winery. It’s a pretty good spot to be in, because if I decide to pick grapes tomorrow, 99% of the time we can do it! That independence and complete control is very rewarding. That is one of the major advantages of working in Australia, you can be your own master.
So, going back to Rymill’s philosophy, I’m working on respecting and capturing the personality of the fruit. Making sure that the strength we see in the vineyard, will be guided by an adventurous and curious mind to frame pioneering wines.
What grape varieties do you make wine from at Rymill Coonawarra? And where are they sourced from?
I’ve got a melting pot to work with, this is actually pretty good fun. With our vineyard and winemaking crew, picking from our own vineyards, we start with the sparkling varieties, chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, then for the still whites we have chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and gewürztraminer.
For the reds, we have merlot, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot. An eclectic bunch of varieties, great for a curious team and to challenge our customers, sometimes…
What are your personal favourites from those you produce, and why?
Diversity is fun and I do love making wine. The identity of the variety doesn’t faze me, as long as the finished wines reflect its vineyard of origin, this is my main goal.
But if you insist, favourite child might be Cabernet Sauvignon, for all the layers and facets that variety can morph into, creating wines of purpose and power. Wines that will last. This is quite special actually.
And then the gewürztraminer for the bang! The epitome of the aromatic variety!
What role do you have within the business and what’s a typical day like for you?
Being the senior winemaker, the calendar year can be divided in 2 big parts: harvesting time, and the rest of the year.
During vintage, it is a bit like, early morning phone call to check on colleagues and harvest progress, going to the winery, tasting all the juices and ferments, talking shop with Fede, my colleague winemaker, fine tuning how to manage each juice fermenting in each tank. The list of samples before us can be anywhere between 1 and nearly 50. Then being in the vineyards, hopefully before 10am, making final decision on the picking pattern for the next 24 to 72 hours. Then remembering to get something for lunch, and back at the winery to organise more work, before rushing out to get the kids, if it’s my turn…
With your French heritage and winemakers training. How does this translate to your day to day work?
Lost in translation moments are not infrequent at Rymill Coonawarra… laughing about it can help! But back to winemaking, I’m emphasising on putting wine in people’s life, not necessarily making wine for my sole benefit… who, when, where and why will this bottle be enjoyed? Each will have, potentially, a fascinating story. This is good fun! But mainly, making wine to enjoy it with food.
Once the wine is finalised and before it goes to bottling, the simple exercise of taking a sample back home, can be a trigger point. This is the real-life test, how will the wine fit outside of the winery, away from the tasting bench. Will it be matching the food on the plate that evening…the most important question of all!
What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?
Being French, the way we look at it is to pair the dish and the wine from the same area. Most of the time, they both evolved side by side, making now the perfect match. Like the zingy crisp vin blanc de Savoie and the fondue (cheese fondue, that is) or the Bordeaux vin rouge and a cote de boeuf, cooked on vine cuttings with chips and green salad. Or you can challenge people, I love to pair red wine and fish, white wine and cheese! Done properly, it can be a revelation.
As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?
The answer would be yes. But is it particular to the wine industry? Or is it just woman and working? I would also like to add that overall, I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with some great people. Both women and men individual’s influences contributed to shaping up my work path, and where I’m at today. I’m very mindful of the stepping stones effect too, helping others along the way. This industry can be good at that, this is very valuable.
In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?
I would say yes. I tell a story about the wines, I’ve seen some people concentrating on numbers and data, maybe not as much fun!
What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?
Be adventurous, explore, and you will find what you like. It is a very personal experience, defined by deep memories from your childhood. Eventually, you will build your own library of references, by associating sensations and words. If you’re really enjoy it and crave to get better at it, try to have regular wine theme dinners with a pod of dedicated friends. It should be organised enough to be very enjoyable!
If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?
Wine is fascinating because it will be a companion for life. What you like in your 20’s is different from what you might like in your 30’s. Same goes with what and how you eat. Life evolves and change. Wine can match that! And take your time, whilst tasting and enjoying your meal. Make it your special moment where you can relax and focus on sensation instead of a thinking process. It’s a way to shift your mind after a day of hard work! Enjoy!