Earth works: “We not only need to be good winemakers, we need to be good businesses to survive,” says Aaron Mercer, senior winemaker at Tamburlaine Wines.
You grew up in a coal mining family in Cessnock. Did that influence your decision to study environmental sustainability, biological farming and ecological management?
Definitely. At the time, coal mining was the largest employer of environmental scientists in the region.But my plans changed when I found the wine industry.
Coals versus foalsisa continuing battle in the Hunter. What’s your position?
The most sustainablebusinesses should be fostered.Mining has been a major economic driver of the Hunter Valley for many years but we are now in transition to a more sustainable and environmentally sound energy industry.
At university you did a case study on Tamburlaine, given its sustainable agriculture practices as an organic winemaker. Did that plant a seed to want to work there in the future?
Possibly, and ever since I have certainly watchedTamburlaine pioneer a movement toward contemporary organic thinking.At the time, I had been in the wine industry just 6 months. Sixteen years on in the industry and organicprinciples are now integral to my winemaking approach. Now here I am; full circle.
Why did you do a post grad degree in winemaking at University of Adelaide?
I had worked inwine (sales, vineyard and winery) for manyyears anda degree involvingtechnical knowhowfromone of the world’s leading universities was the next step.
You’ve worked on vintages across the world. How is Australia viewed as a wine producer by our overseas rivals?
It is generally held in high regard. Spearheaded by the larger companies, Australia is a net exporter of wine and thought to be good‘value-for-money’at all price points. Our research and technical know-how isexported across the globe.
You recently worked in California for three years making wines for award-winning producers. What was the key thing you learned?
The exposure to different regions and their viticultural and winemaking practices is invaluable, however the biggest thing was the scale of the US wine industry. Australia is a relatively small pond.We not only need to be good winemakers, we need to be good businesses to survive.
The most challenging aspect of your role?
Understanding your customer and where market growth and fashion might be heading, such as new varietals. Keeping abreast of these trends is critical as it isnot simply about’5 Red Star’ James Halliday ratings or show successes, which Tamburlaine already has under its belt.Tamburlaine’s long-time head of winemaking and managing director Mark Davidson and I know we have plenty more workto do to build on the company’s success.
And the most enjoyable?
For me, crafting the right wines for our customers is the key. I enjoyblending and the technical challenges which different vintages can bring, but the opportunity to connect with customers is something for which I never lose passion. Tamburlaine’s philosophy to have winemakers participating directly in marketing andconnection with customers suits me perfectly.
Tamburlaine is the nation’s largest producer of organic wine, with most of its vineyards in Orange. What does an organic wine offer that a standard drop does not?
Contemporary organic practices are already producingwine ofat least equal quality to that of non-organic wine. Tamburlaine is not alone in recognising the power and practicality of this approach. Systemic unsustainableagrochemicals are eliminated in the vineyard and their residues are not in the wine. You can’t taste it, but these residues do not exist in certified organic wines and therefore not accumulated in our bodies.
As Tamburlaine’s new senior winemaker, what ambitions do you have?
Although in its 50thyear now, Tamburlaine has experienced significant growth over the past few years. My goal is to continue refining wine styles and hone winemaking methods to support this growth. Tamburlaine now has mature organic vineyards, and we are seeing genuine quality in recent years. There are sure to be some great high end wines going forward; reds and whites alike.
Do you prefer red or white, if so what varietal?
I enjoy diverse varietals and styles from across the globe; it’s what keeps us passionate and focused on improvement. If I had to choose just one, itwould be Pinot Noir. We have just released our first Pinot from our Orange vineyard and the 2016 looks promising.
The best drop that has ever passed your lips?
I’m lucky to have had many top wines but a2002Domainede laRomaneeConti‘LaTache’ stands out: I was handed a glass of it late one day during vintagewhenI was busy and covered in grapes. Not the usual time to try a wine of such pedigree.