Julian Parrot, Mandala Wines, NSW

Julian Parrot, Mandala Wines, NSW

Name: Julian Parrott
Place of birth: Melbourne, VIC
Professional qualifications: Certificate 1, 2 and 3 Food and Wine Processing - Swinburne
Professional experience: Vineyard Manager – Mandala wines (present) Yarra Valley viticulturalist – Rochford wines (three years) Viticultural traineeship – Rochford wines (two years) Vineyard hand – Sirpaz vineyards (six months)
Current job title, winery & region: Vineyard manager – Mandala Wines, Yarra Valley

What made you decide to become a viticulturist?
I've always had a passion for wine and wanted to be a part of the industry. Being able to grow grapes in a beautiful environment and do it well is fantastic. I have been able to combine my love of wine and being outdoors.

Which are your favourite varieties to grow?
Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. They are both very hardy and forgiving varieties to grow. They also make my favourite styles of wine. Pinot Noir is also one of my favourites. It requires great attention to detail to get absolutely the right balance for optimum flavours. Very rewarding if done right.

What is your least favourite variety to grow?
Merlot. It's a fragile vine with generally poor fruit set due to the inability of its root system to access some nutrients.

Do you have any plans to expand the growth of certain varieties, or plant any new varieties? (If not, can you explain why you're happy with your current balance?)
Yes, next spring we are planting some 777 Pinot Noir at one of our cooler vineyard sites in the Yarra Valley. On this particular site we grow about four hectares of Pinot which consists of four different clones. We believe the addition of the 777 clone will give us some more blending options and add complexity to our wines.

What steps do you take to ensure good lines of communication with the wineries that purchase your fruit?
I try within reason, to make our winery aware of everything we do and to have some input in decision making for the management of the vineyard. There is nothing worse than nasty surprises at harvest.

Can you remember the 'worst' vintage you've ever been through? What was the problem and what did you do to solve it? (e.g. weather conditions/bird damage/power blackout/plague of locusts, etc)
Easy, 2006/07 was by far the worst I've experienced. Frost followed by drought and bushfires. An absolute shocker!

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'm going to go out on a limb and say that this current season (2007/08) is looking pretty special. We had a great fruit set and rain has come at all the right times. Fingers crossed.

What do you like to do when you're not tending vines?
I'm pretty low maintenance. I most enjoy spending time in the garden at home with my wife. I also enjoy spending time with my dog or motorbike riding. I read the odd book or two as well.

If you had an unlimited budget available to establish your existing vineyard all over again, what would you do differently?
I'm quite happy with the varietal spread we have. The only thing I would change is row spacing. Vines are 2.8 metres and it would be great if they were 2.4m. There is so much space presently not used to its potential.

What is the biggest challenge you face growing grapes in your particular region?
Without doubt it is water supply and its usage. We are fortunate because we have good water storage and catchment on our property. I have to balance responsible water use with the vineyards requirements and it is sometimes difficult to find the right balance.

What is the most important piece of equipment in your vineyard?
Our tractor. It is a Fendt 208P and is the one thing I could not do without.

Have you learnt any 'tricks of the trade' you can share with your colleagues?
One thing I have learnt is that timing is critical in all vineyard applications. From spraying to shoot thinning or even wire lifting, if you are too early or too late then you can spend the rest of the season chasing your tail.

If you could remove one vine pest or disease from the face of the earth forever more, which would it be?
Powdery mildew. If you bugger up the control period through late spring then you are in a lot of trouble. It is not as easy to spray for as other diseases once you have it and generally the only way to remove it is to drop fruit which is not a happy situation.

What keeps you awake at night?
Windering if my spray coverage ok. Has the irrigation turned on? Can I get that piece of equipment repaired? Anything to do with my job usually gives me at least a few sleepless nights.

What sends you to sleep?
After harvest, when everything has come off without a hitch and I can relax, stress free - until pruning.

Do you have a mentor who has influenced you, or your direction in viticulture?
I sure do, Steve Sadlier from Vine Advice. I am relatively young by industry standards and Steve's knowledge and viticultural skills are very comprehensive. There is not a day when I see him that I don't walk away with valuable knowledge. He is helping to shape my career for the better.

Which areas of grape research do you find of most interest, and most practical benefit to your work?
Intergrated pest management (IPM). I find it fascinating unlocking the secret lives of the vineyards residents and how we can make them work for us. It is also fantastic that the chemicals we use are becoming more selective so we can avoid harming beneficials. The more research that is done in this area the more the industry improves in terms of fruit quality and environmental impact.

What do you think is the number one problem facing today's industry?
Water supply and usage. We all need to become more efficient in its usage for the sake of the industries long term viability .

What would be your solution to this problem?
If I knew that then I would let you know. I guess you have to keep up to date with industry best practise and really make sure you understand your vines, your soil and surrounding environment. If you can do that then you certainly have a head start.

And, I have to ask, what's your motto in life?
Whatever you do in life, do it to the best of your ability

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