Interview with the Winemaker

As we celebrate 20 years of wine making at Vineyard 28, and 25 years in business, we thought it would be a great opportunity to sit down with our Winemaker, Mark, and ask him some questions we’ve always wanted to know the answers to.

Winemaker Mark contemplating a glass of wine

How did your wine drinking journey begin?

My first experience with wine was with Champagne, French champagne to be exact. In my Uni days I worked in the kitchen at the Parmelia Hotel in Perth, mostly washing glasses and occasionally at the end of a shift, late at night, the barman would say there’s half a bottle of Veuve or some other French Champagne left, would you like it? I’d say sure I’ll give it a go. I discovered I really liked it and my introduction to wine commenced from there. I was terrible, I used to go out and buy, $20 bottles of French Champagne, you know, I only earned $5 an hour. Remember this was back in the 70’s. Everyone used to be my friend when I’d come home with a bottle of bubbles.

What are your favourite styles of wine?

I tend to lean towards white wine styles over red because of their subtleties. To me they have a little bit more elegance about them as reds can be big and bold. I love trying lesser known varieties. I’m enjoying exploring the Austrian variety, Gruner Veltliner at the moment.

Do you have a memorable wine tasting experience?

There’s a couple with Granny and Grumpy Smith (family friends) in Euroa. We had some really nice reds. Tim Knappstein’s Cabernet was one that I always enjoyed, we’re talking here back in the late 80’s to early 90’s.

The most memorable was a Sauterne, that Pip and I had somewhere in France, near Lyon. It would have been in 1992, during a holiday in the south of France, whilst we were living in the UK. I still remember it. It was such an outstanding, sweet style wine, just breathtaking.

First harvest memories – what was your first vintage like? Early family photo

The very first vintage was the 2002 Cabernet, because we only had Cabernet in the ground and we picked fruit from here and we also got a little bit of fruit from Ferguson Falls in the valley, and it was taken down to Flying Fish Cove who had only just started at that point in time because they were solely a contract winemaker back then. I think we only made 120 cases or something like that. We sold it for $10 a bottle.

My best memory was when I started making wine here at the vineyard in 2011, because prior to that either other people made it or I was working with other people to make it. Finally I was in total control of the process from beginning to end.  Louis Simian a senior winemaker from over east had a hand in educating me, working with me during 2010.

What was the vineyard like?

We broke ground on the vineyard in 1998 when we planted an initial 4 rows. We were naive but thought instead of planting a whole vineyard let’s try and see what this game’s about and learn as we go. We planted a row of Shiraz, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Of those four rows, the Cabernet is the only one that still exists today. I chose that Cabernet because it’s  a good clone, so if we want to regraft Cabernet in the future, this is a clone we can use. The first thing I learned was that I didn’t want to grow Shiraz because on this soil it was like a creeper. It went absolutely everywhere, I hated it. So it was the first thing to come out of the ground. 

First vintage as a winemaker on your own?

What stands out in my memories of that time is the equipment that I bought. I purchased a basket press and instead of having a stainless steel basket I had the traditional wood basket. I quickly learnt that you can’t press white grapes in a wooden frame basket easily. It was an absolute disaster, yields were low that year and because I lost so much that may have been what contributed to the success of the Arneis at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine show. Could’ve been serendipitous, who knows?

Is there a grape variety you have a love/hate relationship with?

Muscat Petit a Grains Rouge (Moscato). It’s a pain. It’s a slip skin; it’s impossible to press in a basket press without it going everywhere; it’s messy. I think in the 12-14 years of taking fruit off the vineyard, I’ve managed to bring it in when I wanted it to, probably 2 times. It’s like a moving beast sometimes, but at the same time, I think I produce some really fantastic Moscato’s. Making sweet wines are challenging, where as making dry wines we simply allow them to ferment to dryness with the added protection of carbon dioxide from the ferment.  I can leave them there 3-4 days or a week and they will be alright. Whereas with Moscato, as you get towards the end, you are testing it at least twice a day to ensure you stop the ferment at the desired sugar level. It is then filtered and any last adjustments are made. You’re stopping something mid- process as opposed to letting it complete.

You’ve done 20 vintages now, what do you consider your best wine so far?

I’ve done 13 as sole winemaker, 1 as an assistant winemaker and the rest were made at contract facilities. The 2021 Fiano was a stand out for me as it was the first time I’d used oak in making a white wine. It was highly succesful, gaining the award for Best Geographe White Varietal at the 2021 Geographe & WA Alternative Varieties Wine Show.

The 2011 Moscato, is another memorable wine. It had a beautiful aroma, was really crisp, and was like a sherbet. It was absolutely stunning. That was one of the 2 years I got it dead right from my perspective. 

The Nebbiolo is my life challenge. It is a wine that is made in the vineyard. Having an assistance winemaker in 2021 who hails from Piedmont was of enormous benefit. There were many discussions about how we grow it in the vineyard. The 2021 Nebbiolo will be a stand-out. Drinking that in another 10-15 years will be gobsmacking. 

What do you love best about making wine?

It begins today. I was in the vineyard slashing and watching bud burst happen, thinking this is the year I’m going to make my best wine. It’s the old building a better mousetrap scenario all the time. Always wanting to do better than you did previously. For many years we’ve been consistent with our wines and have had some great standouts. I get very excited about Sparkling wines and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do over the next 5 years with Pignoletto and its derivatives. I’m experimenting to see where I can take it and focusing on getting the pick date and process spot on. One day I’d like to be able to do the tirage and secondary ferment here. I’m going back to my beginnings – a love of Sparkling wine. 

What inspires you to keep making wine?

Wanting to make each wine better than the last. It’s always that challenge.