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Ashley Ratcliff, Yalumba Wine Company, SA
Name: Ashley Ratcliff
Professional qualifications: Master of Wine Technology & Marketing, Bachelor Applied Science (Viticulture) & Diploma – Australian Institute of Company Directors
Professional experience: Started as a field agronomist for Farmer Johns in 1991 (Barossa/Adelaide Hills) after which I held a number of viticulture positions with Orlando Wines, Rosemount Estate and Kirribilly Vineyard Management Services.
Current job title, winery & region: Technical Manager – Viticulture (The Yalumba Wine Company). Regions include Riverland, Sunraysia, Barossa, Wrattonbully and Coonawarra.
What made you decide to become a viticulturist?
I always wanted to work in the rural sector - the wine industry was at my backdoor so it was a logical choice.
Which are your favourite varieties to grow?
Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
What is your least favourite variety to grow?
Any variety that is difficult to sell at a sustainable price.
Do you have any plans to expand the growth of certain varieties, or plant any new varieties?
Working for a company with one of the country's most progressive vine nurseries provides lots of opportunities to investigate new and interesting varieties. Vermentino and Albarino show a lot of promise.
What steps do you take to ensure good lines of communication with the wineries that purchase your fruit?
Good coffee for winemakers who inspect your vineyard.
Can you remember the 'worst' vintage you've ever been through? What was the problem and what did you do to solve it?
All the vintages that are associated with over-supply. Poor prices, fruit harvested to the ground and strained relationships far outweigh any rain event during harvest.
Is there a standout season for you, when everything ran just about perfectly? When was it, and what made it such a good year?
I cannot recall one individual year that was a standout, although I am sure the perfect one is just around the corner.
What do you like to do when you're not tending vines?
Spending time with my wife and kids and running the family vineyards.
If you had an unlimited budget available to establish your existing vineyard all over again, what would you do differently?
Reorientate row directions, remove all the own-rooted blocks and replace with rootstocks and plant some alternative varieties.
What is the biggest challenge you face growing grapes in your particular region?
A reliable water source and collaboration between industry stakeholders.
What is the most important piece of equipment in your vineyard?
No piece of equipment is any good without good people.
Have you learnt any 'tricks of the trade' you can share with your colleagues?
Get passionately involved with industry organisations. They are a wealth of information and provide participants with fantastic opportunities.
If you could remove one vine pest or disease from the face of the earth forever more, which would it be?
Powdery mildew - we all would be spraying a lot less.
What keeps you awake at night?
Currently it is my youngest son George.
What sends you to sleep?
A rainy night - I can't wait!
Do you have a mentor who has influenced you, or your direction in viticulture?
I have had many people who have influenced me through my career in various ways. Trying to single one out is impossible. The ones that stand out include; Don Lester, Richard Rowe, Robin Nettelbeck, Peter Gambetta, John Casella, Robert Strachan and of course my wife Holly.
Which areas of grape research do you find of most interest and most practical benefit to your work?
Precision viticulture and rootstock management.
What do you think is the number one problem facing today's industry?
I feel for the many grapegrowers who are doing it hard at the moment. The negative impact the current difficult times are having on rural communities is a problem for many industries.
What would be your solution to this problem?
There is no one single solution for this problem.
And, I have to ask, what's your motto in life?
I don't really have one, although I think keeping everything in perspective is very important. There is more to life than work and wine.
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