Vale Gerry Sissingh
The original winemaker at The Rothbury Estate, and one of the most influential of all Hunter Valley winemakers, Gerry Sissingh, died on October 10.
A Dutchman by birth, Sissingh was a fastidious and skilled winemaker, a stickler for detail, a very punctual and highly opinionated man. His attention to detail was especially useful in making Hunter semillon, a precise and delicate wine which can easily be messed up by inattentive winemaking.
Christopher Anstee, who worked with Sissingh at Lindemans in the 1980s, and later in the Wine Press Club of NSW, describes him as ‘maddeningly pedantic’ on occasion, but his scrupulousness meant he was totally reliable.
“I have fond memories of him, prior to the screwcap era, every year supervising the checking of every single bottle of wine for cork taint before every (Wine Press Club) Sydney Wine Show lunch, often over 1,500 bottles! And driving the staff insane in the process!
“Together, we spent hours each year phoning wineries reminding them to send in their obligatory show lunch samples. Yes, he was maddening pedantic, but to good effect, and he had a very good heart.”
Sissingh was born and raised in Amsterdam where his father worked in the wine trade, so he had a good understanding of the commercial side of wine – invaluable to any winemaker.
He migrated to Australia in the 1950s and sought a career in wine. He joined Lindemans and became the (untrained) winemaker at the Lindemans’ Hunter winery, Ben Ean. He succeeded Karl Stockhausen there, and made some of the finest Lindemans Hunter semillons and shirazes. In 1971 he moved across to the new Rothbury where he was the first winemaker, working for Len Evans, for whom he doubled at many a wine promotional event. He worked there for 12 years before handing over to David Lowe, and by popular consensus made some of the finest examples of dry white semillon the world had seen. He was famous for insisting that Hunter semillon had to be no more than 11% alcohol.
After winemaking, Sissingh moved to Sydney where he became a wine educator, closely aligned with the Mosman Community College, where he ran wine appreciation courses and was a board member. He also joined the NSW Wine Press Club, which later became Wine Communicators of Australia, and was their treasurer for many years and eventually made an honorary life member in appreciation of his service. Sissingh was also a highly experienced show judge, and like many of his generation, possessed a fine palate despite the fact that he was a heavy smoker all of his working life.
At the Wine Press Club, Sissingh was one of the key instigators of the NSW Wine Awards, where he insisted (correctly, in my view) that winemakers could not enter their own wines as well as judge.
Later, he was a driving instructor, and one wonders how the students dealt with his stentorian voice and rather abrupt manner, not to mention the inevitable cigarette held out the window.
Chris Anstee again: “Gerry was one of the ‘alumni’ of the Ray Kidd/Philip Laffer winemaking school at Lindemans which opened winemaking careers to promising but non-formally trained winemakers, Karl Stockhausen and Philip John being just two others. He had undoubted influence on many renowned Australian winemakers who worked under him at Lindemans’ huge Karadoc winery, including Philip Shaw, David Lowe and many more.”
We all hope Gerry is relaxing above the clouds with a glass of semillon and a packet of ciggies.