When, where and how did you first enter the wine industry?
I was working as a nurse when I first discovered wine and I quickly became very curious about what went into the glass. I decided I needed to know more about it, and the more I looked the more I liked what I saw! So I ended up going back to University and studying Winemaking.
My first job was at Amberley Estate in Western Australia in 2005, and I was just discovering fortified wine at that stage so the next stop was Chambers Wines in Rutherglen. I was very fortunate to learn about fortified wine production from Bill and Stephen Chambers, but I also learned a lot from the Rutherglen Winemaking community. They are all so generous with their time and knowledge.
You’re currently producing your own range of fortified wines. How long have you been doing your own label, and what does your role involve day-to-day?
My husband Rob and I were thinking about making our own label for quite a while. Rob also has winemaking experience having worked at Leeuwin Estate for over a decade. Rob was running the family sheep and beef farm so we decided to diversify and go into small scale wine production in 2011. My day to day role changes depending on the seasons and whether its vintage, calving, lambing or shearing! But basically we do everything ourselves, from picking the grapes to bottling the wine, and then getting out and selling our wines!
Your labels have recently won some awards. Can you describe what they were for?
We entered the Association for Australian Boutique Winemakers Wine Label Design Competition. Our ‘Ruby Slipper’ label – which is inspired by Roller Derby – won a trophy for the Best Designed Wine Label in the Boutique Dessert Wine Class. We have also won a Bronze Medal for the same wine in the Blackwood Valley and WA Boutique Wine show last year.
Why fortified wines? Aren’t they rather old fashioned?
Unfortunately fortified wines have an image problem… and we want to help change that! Fortifieds are a challenge as they often are a blend of many different batches and vintages and to get the balance right takes patience, persistence and perseverance. They are beautiful wines, its just about knowing when and how to drink them. They shouldn’t just be left to the end of the night, try them as aperitifs, chill them in the fridge, make spritzers with them in summer, try them with a main meal and of course sip them slowly after dinner to unwind.
How does the process of making fortified wines differ from producing table wines?
Fortified wines are generally picked, processed and fermented the same as a table wine, however during fermentation an addition of spirit (high strength alcohol) is added to stop the ferment at the correct level of sweetness for the final product.
This is the challenge with fortified wines, as once the ferment reaches the predetermined ‘Baume’ for fortification, all the rest has to be done then and there without delay! Often it can be in the middle of the night, so my nursing skills come in handy as I’m often up all hours during vintage carefully ‘observing’ my ferments. Then we age our wines in very old cognac barrels as oak characters are not desirable, so the older the barrel the better. Each year all the barrels are tasted and we will blend together several different barrels to make our wines. The whole family generally likes to participate during blending!
When would you serve fortified wine?
There are many types of fortified wines so it would depend on what you’re drinking. We have two wines, one of which is our ‘Ruby Slipper’ which is a young, fresh, medium-sweet style. I think it’s pretty good as it is on a cool night, but we have also been known to drop a splash of it into some bubbly to make red bubbles.
You can also chill it in the fridge in summer for a pre-dinner drink. Our ‘Glass Slipper’ is a slightly drier white fortified, and is great splashed into a tall glass over ice then topped up with tonic or soda water and a wedge of lime. We also make a pretty mean ‘Drunken Cake’ with Glass Slipper as the star ingredient. Really you are only limited by your imagination, there are no rules!
(Want that recipe for Drunken Cake? Erm…YES PLEASE! Then click here.)
What is your personal favourite from the range of wines you make?
We have started to put a few barrels away each vintage to age into Tawny style fortifieds. I love Tawny styles from both Australia and Portugal. Hopefully in a few years our tawny will be ready to be unleashed to the market. I also love dry Apera’s so I’m hoping to start making a few barrels in the next few years although I suspect a Pedro Ximenez could be on the horizon too!
Describe your favourite food and wine pairing and why?
I have to say I have an incredibly soft spot for Champagne! I can’t go past a nice creamy brie, some pate, a good strong cheddar and quince paste with a good bottle of bubbly… and then if there’s still cheese left a very old Tawny would do the trick.
Best way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
Good friends, good wine, good food and good music… however, recently I have become a Mum so hanging out with my 4 month old and watching how she is discovering the world is pretty special!
If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine lovers out there, what would it be?
Don’t worry about how much you know or don’t know about wine. A good wine is simply a wine that you enjoy drinking. So drink what you like, when you like, and how you like – without worrying about the so called ‘rules’!