Master Winemaker: Neville Rowe, senior winemaker, Château Tanunda
To celebrate the talent of the winemakers who have scooped the highest accolade of the drinks business’ Global Masters tasting series, db has published a second edition of The Master Winemaker 100, our guide to the artists at the pinnacle of winemaking. We talk to Neville Rowe, senior winemaker at Château Tanunda about what inspires him.
Rowe studied wine science at Charles Sturt, and has worked in Argentina, Burgundy, California and Champagne, as well as in his native Australia. He was general manager of Sevenhill Cellars in the Clare Valley and has also held roles as general manager and winemaker at Mitchelton Wines in the Goulburn Valley, and as winemaker for Domaine Chandon in the Yarra Valley. Before joining Château Tanunda in August 2015, he worked for Hardys, where he was responsible for the Eileen Hardy, Leasingham, Reynella and Tintara brands.
What or who inspired you to become a winemaker?
At 17 years of age, I stole a bottle of my father’s Riesling. Although I knew very little about wine, it was beautifully aged – the dream started. In 1988, I knew that waiting tables at The Bluewater Grill North Bondi, while enormous fun, was not long term. Amid a heated discussion (argument) with my grandfather, he suggested that if I wanted to get back to my farming past, I could plant a vineyard. Study viticulture first, he demanded. Viticulture became oenology and there I was.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
The passion and energy of The Geber Family. John Geber has endless energy for his life’s work – breathing life back into the Barossa icon, with its 130-year history. It’s 100% family-owned. Part of this success is from our incredible vineyards and part from the 32 loyal growers that are producing some outstanding fruit, and the quality of the wine is being recognised.
What’s the hardest part?
Seeing my masterworks going down the line for bottling. You put so much work and care into handcrafting every wine, it can be hard to say goodbye. What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day? On a hot day we always have a bottle of sparkling blanc de blancs, Riesling or Chardonnay chilled for the end of the day. We make a single-vineyard Chardonnay which is a favourite of my cellar team. They call it the “Uber” Chardonnay and I think only half of our crush makes it to bottling each year after rigorous “sampling”. Otherwise, any of our old-vine Cabernet or Shiraz wines.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Listen to the wise as they have already overcome your obstacles and can guide you.
What wine-related achievement are you most proud of?
Being awarded a ‘Master’ at both the Global Cabernet Masters and Global Syrah Masters. They’re two of the world’s great red grape varieties and it is personally rewarding to be named among the best for both.
Who is your inspiration in the wine world today?
My family, my parents and their love of the arts. I’ve had many mentors along the way: Tony Jordan (Domaine Chandon), Jay Hogan (Sevenhill) and John Geber at Château Tanunda.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
The Barossa Valley is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world, as well as some of the most ideal fine winegrowing conditions. Our vintage variation is minimal, the quality always high, so my fantasy vineyard is already probably here in one of our 100-year-old Shiraz vineyards.
If you weren’t a winemaker, what would you be doing and why?
Probably sailing the world, or studying to be a winemaker. It is certainly one of the most privileged roles.
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
Every grape variety comes with its challenge. In the Barossa, we have a love/hate relationship with Grenache, which can be unforgiving if picked a moment too late or too early.
How has your taste in wine changed over your career?
I think my palate has developed with my budget over the years, and with the regions I have worked in. In every region from Burgundy to the Yarra Valley, to Clare Valley and now to the Barossa Valley, I have always found such inspiration in the wines of the region I am working in.
What wine would you most like to drink, and who would you share it with?
I would love to share a bottle of our 100-Year-Old Vines Shiraz 2016 with Charles Gelly, the original winemaker at Château Tanunda back in 1890. I would love to sit down with him over a cheese platter on our croquet lawn, look back at the winery and estate, and show him how far we have come in 130 years, but also how much we have stuck to the original inspiration way back then to produce world-class wines to take to the world. It’s an amazing story, not just for Australian winemaking, but for the history of the country itself.