Smart & Sustainable: Jana Shepherd

Name: Jana Shepherd

Source: Grapegrower & Winemaker, February 2015

JANA Shepherd, an environmentally savvy viticulturist, lives on a farm in the Eden Valley with her husband and two kids… plus two dogs, two pigs, two sheep, 15 ducks, 32 chooks, an abundance of kangaroos, a visiting family of emus and the odd koala. When she's not tending to the needs of the menagerie, Shepherd works as Treasury Wine Estates' (TWE) regional viticulturist for Central SA (Barossa, Clare and Eden Valley), Riverland, Sunraysia and Western Australia.

As well as overseeing the viticultural technical program for the company's Central SA vineyards, Shepherd is in charge of prioritising research and trial initiatives, undertaking assessments on yield estimation, fruit quality, soil management, grapevine health and environmental monitoring with a strong focus on the GIS mapping programs for the region.

Growing up in the Barossa, Shepherd developed an interest in the wine industry at a young age.
'In high school, my summer jobs started with apricot cutting in the Riverland and Barossa. I eventually progressed to grapepicking, vine training, irrigation repairs and any other odd jobs in the vineyards,' she said. 'In 1997 my family decided to establish a vineyard at Moculta,' she said.

Soon after, Shepherd completed one year at Adelaide University studying a bachelor of agricultural science, before kicking off her career with a hands on approach.

'At the end of first year I got a job with Wolf Blass completing grape sampling for vintage. At that stage the company collected all the growers' maturity samples using contractors. I had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.'

Embracing an opportunity which allowed her to study and work simultaneously, Shepherd decided to leave university after her first year.

'Sitting around in lectures was not for me and I quit university and landed a full time job at Farmer Johns in Nuriootpa. While there I started studying a bachelor of applied science: viticulture through Charles Sturt University,' she said. 'Two years later a job for a regional technical officer came up at Southcorp, now Treasury Wine Estates.

'The rest, as they say, is history.'

Since then, Shepherd has completed 12 vintages within South Australia's Central Region (Barossa, Clare, Eden Valley, Waikerie) and participated in the Barossa - Rhone exchange in 2008. The exchange gave Shepherd the opportunity to spend a month experiencing a Rhone Valley vintage as well as a visit to Treasury Wine Estates' Castello di Gabbiano in Tuscany.

'There is a wealth of opportunity in the viticulture industry, it has given me so many opportunities,' Shepherd said.

'I can't think of too many jobs that have as much variety. Not only are there challenges of the vineyard - growing quality fruit and environmental conditions but you are exposed to other fields as well. From examining soils and their properties, native vegetation, water resources, machinery, GIS applications and continuous improvement and technology.

"Not to mention the interaction and access to a wide range of research activities.'

Shepherd said her commitment to environmental innovation in viticulture has been a rewarding journey.
'I am quite passionate about the environment and so one of my best achievements would be introducing recycled water to use at our Stonewell Vineyard in the Barossa,' she said.

'Also, working with 'Trees for Life' to create bush management plans for our Central Region sites. Land that was unsuitable for vineyards has been direct seeded or planted with tube stock and now provides a habitat for endangered native wildlife.'

Shepherd's passion for adopting environmentally-friendly options doesn't stop at work, she and her family live a sustainable lifestyle on their 75-acre Eden Valley block.

'We are fortunate to have the opportunity to try lead a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Raising our own livestock, and growing and making as much of our own food and household products as possible.'
Shepherd and her family have spent hours restoring the native vegetation on the property, planting almost 2000 trees with 'Trees for Life'.

'We took part in the carbon offset program too, resulting in an additional six hectares of direct seeding,' she said.

After 12 years in the industry, Shepherd said she has occasionally struggled with adapting fast-paced technology changes involved with some aspects of her job.

'We have progressed from using yield monitors with no visual screen, to control boxes with flashing lights and rugged computers,' she said.

'Today, we are using technology from broad acre framing. We source a vast array of technology already in use by other industries but our main issue is ensuring these programs are suitable for viticulture use along vine rows.'

All challenges aside, Shepherd said it was an exciting time to be a viticulturist and dismissed a stereotype that it was less important winemaking.

'Viticulture can be fun too! Often viticulture is seen as the poor cousin to the glamorous world of winemaking,' she said.

'There are so many wonderful and different technologies that we are able to utilise in the field and they are developing at a rapid rate.

'It is a great industry to be involved with - people are passionate about what they do and more than happy to share and learn from each other.'

Recently graduating from the Barossa Next Crop Program, Shepherd is currently participating in the inaugural AGWA mentoring circle in the Barossa and said her future opportunities were endless.

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