Congratulations on being awarded Vintage Cellars’ Winemaker of the Year 2019. You’ve received a spate of awards over the past 18 months. How does it feel to have your hard work recognised at such a high level?
It’s a little bit humbling, though I think the Winemaker of the Year award is more an achievement of the winery, rather than just a person. I’ve been at Deep Woods for over eight years now and we’ve worked really hard to bring it to the level it’s at now. It’s awesome that our wine program has impressed people so strongly; I think both the wine program and our winery team are starting to receive the recognition they deserve.
What stands Deep Woods Estate’s winemaking practice apart from other wine producers?
It sounds a bit corporate and PC, but Deep Woods has a great culture and great people working within it. We put a lot of effort into finding the right people and developing camaraderie and teamwork; when everyone is singing from the same songbook, you start making really great wine.
Lots of producers have wonderful resources or great wine knowledge, but we’re focused on getting everyone in the team on the same journey. Deep Woods is a medium-sized producer for Western Australia, and small in the context of Australia. It’s a quirky little winery, too – the process can be a bit piecemeal, but it all works very well.
You spent time working at larger wineries such as Wynn’s Coonawarra before moving back to Margaret River. How is Deep Woods different?
Wynn’s was one of the great winemaking experiences of my life, and the year I was there we made as much wine as the entire Margaret River region in 2018 – a slightly different experience!
Wynns’ Senior Winemaker, Sue Hodder, was quite inspirational and very empowering, which meant a lot to me as a young winemaker, especially one working on such an iconic brand. Working in a winery of that size is a different beast – it’s very regimented and, in a way, formulaic, whereas at Deep Woods we’re a little more hands-on with more of a creative focus.
You’ve always worked with cabernet sauvignon. How does Margaret River cabernet sauvignon differ to that of other regions?
To me, cabernet sauvignon is Australia’s best grape variety, and as a region, Margaret River is cabernet nirvana. Even the hottest day of the year doesn’t reach over 30 degrees and, in the afternoon, sea breezes come in to cool everything down; overnight temperatures usually sit at about 12 to 14 degrees, which is perfect for cabernet.
It ripens slowly, so we get lovely tannin development without too much sugar, which results in fully ripe, medium-bodied wines that aren’t monstrously high in alcohol. That’s exactly what we want to achieve. I also think Margaret River cabernet is quite an international style – it has that lovely, lush tannin ripeness without the “heat” you might get from warmer regions.
I believe it has more in common with international regions than it does with South Australia or Victoria, with a level of complexity that I don’t see elsewhere in Australia. I believe that in Margaret River, we can make the best cabernet in the world, which is pretty exciting. That said, I love old Coonawarra cabernet and I really enjoy Yarra Valley cabernet, too.
What drew you to wine?
My dad worked in grapevine disease research in the early 1980s and as a small child I followed him around a few vineyards. We also had lots of wine at home; Mum and Dad were avid wine drinkers and collectors.
After school I headed straight into studying marine biology. I loved surfing and diving, but it rapidly became obvious that it’d be fairer on the fish if I didn’t do that (and the research aspect of marine biology wasn’t really for me). I had a year off then moved to South Australia to study winemaking – and I haven’t looked back.
What makes Margaret River so special?
It’s one of the world’s most unique places. It’s gorgeous but has intrinsically great qualities for winemaking. We have a diverse range of soil types, and in the best places, the wines absolutely shine. That’s exciting enough but when you couple it with big concerts and some of the best restaurants in the country, it’s an entire package. It’s awesome.
Are there any other Australian wine regions you’re enjoying right now?
I have a number of friends making delicious wine in Tasmania and it’s very different to the wines we produce in Margaret River. Tassie pinot noir and chardonnay are getting better and better; those wines are becoming so much more sophisticated.