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The Master Winemaker 100: Janice McDonald, chief winemaker, Howard Park

Earlier this year, the drinks business published a new guide to celebrate the talent of winemakers who have all scooped the highest accolade of our  Global Masters tasting series (judged almost exclusively by MWs), and been named a Master Winemaker. Each week we profile an individual behind these medal winning wines – the creatives, scientists, mavericks and dreamers who are at the pinnacle of winemaking.

Janice McDonald, chief winemaker, Howard Park, Burch Family Wines

McDonald studied wine at the Riverina College in Wagga, before exposing herself to the regions and wine styles of Australia by working vintages. A stint as assistant winemaker at Vasse Felix in 1985 was followed by a brewing position at Matilda Bay Brewing Co, but she returned to wine as senior winemaker at Devil’s Lair winery in Margaret River in 1992. She joined her partner, Stuart Pym as he founded Stelle Bella in 2000, but moved to Howard Park as chief winemaker in 2011.

What or who inspired you to become a winemaker?
The who is my brother-in-law, a veterinarian and a great lover of fine wine. He introduced me to wine in my late teens. The ‘what’was the discovery that every great wine tells a story of place and human endeavour.

What’s your favourite part of the job?
Blending Chardonnay.

What’s the hardest part of the job?
Picking decisions that involve Cabernet Sauvignon.

What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
Méthode traditionelle wines.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Be passionate, be inquisitive, love wine, think outside the square and challenge yourself every day to achieve at the highest level you possibly can.

Which wine-related achievement are you most proud of?
Being named Gourmet Traveller winemaker of the year 2018 because the award is bestowed by a panel of esteemed wine journalists and critics from around Australia. Is was a real honour, and a humbling experience.

Who is your inspiration in the wine world today?
All the young winemakers that are pushing the boundaries of technique and style in wine. These guys are taking risk with traditional winemaking methods which has opened my eyes to a different spectrum of flavours and textures in wine, some of which I love and some I don’t.

Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
I live and work in the wonderful Margaret River region so I am, to a degree, living my dream. But if I could roam the globe I would like to make Pinot Noir in Central Otago, Chardonnay in each of the Grand Crus of Puligny Montrachet and Grenache and others in the commune of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

If you weren’t a winemaker, what would you be doing and why?
In my youth, an Alpine ski racer; now building vertical gardens on landmark buildings all over the world.

Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
Shiraz – I do not warm to the flavour profile, irrespective of its origin.

How has your taste in wine changed over your career?
I like to think they have become more sophisticated. I look more for the nuances and layers in wine then try to mentally dissect the why and how these characters exist – is it site or winemaking or both?

Which type of wine do you drink most regularly?
Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Which wine would you most like to drink, and who would you share it with?
Coche Dury Corton Charlemagne after about seven years in the cellar, with Stuart.

Master medals

  • >  Howard Park Allingham Chardonnay 2016 (Chardonnay Masters 2017)
  • >  Howard Park Allingham Chardonnay 2013 (Chardonnay Masters 2015)
  • >  Marchand & Burch Chardonnay 2014 (Chardonnay Masters 2015)

To download a copy of The Master Winemaker 100, please click here.

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