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Wine Girl: Part 1 - Virgin Vintage, Barossa Valley

Wine Girl: Part 1 - Virgin Vintage, Barossa Valley
Lucy Clements
Lucy Clements is a winemaker and wine writer with ten vintages under her belt.  If you've ever dreamed of working in wine read part 1 of our Wine Girl series and find out how Lucy made it.
I hated my first few years at university studying for a Bachelor degree in Oenology. This is the pathway to winemaking and one of only a few prestigious courses that permits you entry to this exclusive world.. But, I still hated it! I was horrified by the hard core science; and even more horrified by the serious lack of wine… So, with a jaded heart, I took a year off. I even tried to change to dentistry but thankfully was rejected! My parents protested that if I was going to be stupid enough to defer for a year then at least I should do a vintage and earn some money. I was lucky enough to get a job at St Hallett Wines for the vintage of 2000.
I was just 19 years old and the rest of my college mates thought I was brave for heading off to vintage so early and for a little while I was a bit of a “rock-star.” Back then St Hallett Wines was privately owned and had a reputation for seriously good wines and a young, laid back attitude. Under the watchful eye of Stuart Blackwell, Cathy Spratt acted as Winemaker and was ably assisted by Diane Ferguson and Pete Shell. I was doing lab work and some cellar work and was the youngest and most inexperienced of the crew, which included some other Australians, a South African and an Englishman.
My memories of the vintage are fond and warm. Cathy Spratt was to become a huge influence on my early career and I would watch her come into the lab and taste every one of my samples before they were analysed. It’s a habit that I continue to this day. Cathy was always tasting and I quickly learnt that no matter how smart you are, how good your
Wine Girl: Part 1 - Virgin Vintage, Barossa Valley
degree is, or how glamorous your CV, a good winemaker needs to be intuitive and is always tasting! I was put in charge of the yeast making; mainly because no one else wanted to do it and I was considered bottom of the rung. My job was to “fire up” the yeasts before the grapes arrived at the winery which could involve up to 10 buckets of warm juice and being up to my elbows in thick, sugary yeasty liquid.
I quickly learnt that reading and relying on instructions was not enough to keep the yeasts healthy; I had to love them! I had to watch them like they were precious babies… and I still use this technique today. I often describe the process of “inoculation” as like to tending a garden or looking after young children; they need lots of attention, love and good food to make them healthy, strong and happy. I also had to look after many of the oak barrels and their respective ferments in the barrel cellar. This involved climbing up stacks of barrels with a bottle and siphon hose to remove some of the precious wine for tasting. It’s not an especially ladylike job and I would come home at the end of the day covered in spider webs and wood shavings, my hands; black with the stain of red wine. Secretly I was proud of this as not only did it made me look like I was working hard but it also was the mark of a prestigious vintage worker, the secret fraternity - or, in my case, sorority - of winemakers.
My vintage at St Hallett stretched out to a whole year and when I left it was with a heavy heart. But brimful with new knowledge, passion and stories of my first vintage, there is no doubt that this vintage helped shape my career, especially after working with such strong and talented women as Cathy and Diane. And by the time I returned to university for my final years, I had regained my “rock-star” badge; one vintage feather in my cap!
Next month: The Wine Girl makes fortified wine
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