Louisa Rose – winemaker of the year

A lot has happened in Louisa Rose’s career since she was a second-time finalist in this award in 2005. She was promoted to chief winemaker of Yalumba in 2006, taking over responsibility for all winemaking. This year Yalumba released an innovative new riesling, called Prima, a lovely light bodied, early harvested riesling from the Pewsey Vale vineyard and bottled with low alcohol and some residual sweetness, making it a fine aperitif style. The first vintage, ’07, was a tentative 700 dozen and sold out quickly following a rave reception.

She has played a role in two important charters that Yalumba has released in the past year: the Old Vine Charter and the Reserve Wine Charter. These are, like most decisions at Yalumba, the result of group endeavour and are great examples of leadership typical of this family-owned company. “We are a team, we’re in each other’s pockets all the time. There’s never a decision that’s made that is unilateral.”

As we were going to press the ’07 Yalumba Eden Valley Virgilius was announced the international viognier trophy winner at the ’08 International Wine Challenge. Yet another major accolade for Rose and the Yalumba team. The success they have received with viognier is unique in Australia and remarkable: only a family winery could take the risk of investing in an obscure grape variety, and put the viticultural, winemaking and marketing effort in to ensure that it became a success. Now, largely thanks to Rose’s passion for the grape, Yalumba fields five viogniers: Y Series, Eden Valley, Heggies and Virgilius – and an occasional botrytis version. It’s also one of the biggest players in the shiraz viognier blending field. And this year they fired up the pot still and made a second batch of V de V, a clear varietal spirit in the style of grappa or eau-de-vie. Viognier again, of course.

Before taking over from Brian Walsh as chief winemaker, Rose was in charge of white wines, and apart from the Pewsey Vale phenomenon, she’s had a big effect across the range. At Pewsey she removed the last of the red vines and planted more whites, with the result being an extension of the range to pinot gris and gewurztraminer, as well as Prima and Contours. The Heggies rieslings have been more consistently good and a Reserve is now released at five to six years of age, but only in the best years. The chardonnays have also been further refined and the superb, well-priced FDW7c has been created from Adelaide Hills fruit.

The new challenge is to continue the revision of the red wines that is already under-way. “It’s a long-term thing, to turn red wines around,” she acknowledges.

What of the future? “Yalumba has always been experimenting with new varieties and this is where viognier came from. Some of these varieties may make nice wine but they don’t have a place in our portfolio.” Two that especially excite Rose, and which are likely to find a place, are roussanne and albarino. There’s also a lot of clonal work on shiraz. “We took cuttings from 16 Octavius-level old-vine vineyards and propagated them up, planted them out in the same vineyard, not knowing whether there would be any differences, and now that we’re making small batches it’s obvious they are very different. Stylistic refinements are likely to come out of this work.”

Yalumba also recently released several single-site wines and they’re thinking a lot about the importance of site, variety and clone, and what makes some wines unique. “It’s got us thinking about what makes a great single-site wine versus a blend.”

Will we see another charter? “If there is one, it could be on environmental sustainability. We may decide to define our philosophy on this. It wouldn’t just be about viticulture and winemaking but also packaging, shipping and a whole lot of other issues.”

Louisa Rose has only ever had one career and worked for one company. But Yalumba is a company that has a very low staff turnover: employees are obviously looked after, and the culture is one in which people grow and blossom. This Rose, who grew up in a vineyard (which her parents still have in the Yarra Valley) has flourished at Yalumba and we look forward to her future exploits.

Summary

  • Louisa Rose
  • Yalumba Wines
  • Region: Eden Valley
  • Years in the Industry: 17
  • Annual Crush: 40,000 tonnes
  • Stand-out Wines: The Virgilius Viognier (tastings); Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling (tastings)

*Louisa Rose was the winner of the 2008 Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine Winemaker of the Year Award.


First published in Gourmet Traveller Wine – Oct-Nov 2008.

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