Steve Baraglia: A tale of two valleys

Name: Steve Baraglia - Photo: John Kruger

Steve Baraglia has been surrounded by the wine industry his entire life. Growing up in Williamstown in the Barossa, Baraglia spent his childhood learning the ropes of viticulture on the family vineyard.
'I've been involved in the industry all my life,' he said. 'My family has a small vineyard in the Barossa Valley so I was exposed to grapegrowing at an early age.'
Enrolling in oenology and viticulture at the University of Adelaide was a natural choice for Baraglia, who said he settled on a career in the wine industry after a successful stint of work experience in the Barossa.
'Picking a career path as a winemaker seemed an easy choice for me as I had been involved in the industry in one way or another for as long as I could remember,' he said. 'During high school I completed a week of work experience at a small winery in the Barossa well after vintage was finished.
'It really cemented my desire to work in the industry, although I'm not sure I would have made the same choice if the work experience fell during vintage!'
Baraglia's first attempt at making wine actually occurred during his high school years, and interestingly, didn't even involve grapes.
'My first attempt at winemaking was in chemistry class at high school in the Adelaide Hills,' he explained. 'As no wine grapes were available during winter our juice of choice was apple and after chaptalisation we had 14 Baume juice.
'After inoculation of the juice we had trouble with the ferment dropping temperature as the laboratory was quite cold, our chemistry teacher suggested an electric blanket. We wrapped the ferment in an electric blanket for warmth but the following day when it was checked the temperature was 50oC.
'After reseeding the juice fermented to dryness, the resulting wine was definitely not my finest.'
Since refining his winemaking skills at university, Baraglia's career has been skyrocketing. He landed a job as winemaker at renowned Clare Valley winery Pikes and even started up his own wine label, Naked Run Wines.
'After completing university I began working at Pikes Wines in the Clare Valley beginning in the cellar and am currently senior winemaker,' he said. 'Then in 2005 with Bradley Currie and Jayme Wood (both friends from university) we started a small label called Naked Run.'
The brand has been described as an 'exciting, young and modern label which sources fruit from two world-renowned regions, the Barossa and Clare valleys'.
'There are a lot of similarities between Barossa and Clare, they both have tight-knit sporting communities,' he said. 'Barossa is one of the great wine regions of the world but Clare is just as beautiful and not as busy.'
It only took a few short years before the accolades began to roll in. Baraglia was a finalist for the Wine Society Young Winemaker of the Year award in 2010 and 2012, winning the Sommeliers choice in 2010 and the Supporters Choice in 2012. In 2014 he was also named as a 'Rising Star' at the Clare Valley Hall of Fame Awards.
At just 36-years-old, Baraglia has already completed 15 vintages, shared between the Barossa and Clare. Together with his family, Baraglia has made the Clare Valley his home.
'My wife and I purchased a small vineyard at Sevenhill in the Clare Valley, we grow Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet,' he said. 'My biggest achievement would be having a wonderful wife, three fantastic children and being able to allow them to grow up on our beautiful property at Sevenhill.'
Baraglia described Pikes as a 'perfect fit' due to his love of working with Riesling, but said his time with the winery has not been without challenges.
'In the middle of the 2012 vintage, Pikes senior winemaker John Trotter passed away suddenly and unexpectedly,' he said. 'Every vintage is different and with it comes unique challenges but losing someone who was a friend and mentor and whom I had worked with for 10 years has by far been the most challenging.'
Over the years, Baraglia has evolved his winemaking philosophy and said he now focused on producing great fruit through simple practices.
'I try to achieve a balanced canopy in the vineyard through a range of techniques determined by site, variety and adjusting to the growing season,' he said. 'I like to make wines that showcase their place of origin particularly Riesling, trying to capture what the fruit tastes like in the vineyard and bottling this with minimal winemaking intervention.'
It's no secret the Clare Valley has been famous for producing high quality Rieslings, and Baraglia said he hoped to build on the grape's celebrated reputation through his career.
'I want to promote Riesling as one of the great white wine varieties of the world,' he said. 'It is such a versatile variety that can made into a number of styles.'
Baraglia said he also appreciated Riesling's resistance to difficult climate conditions, which he believed to be one of the great challenges for the wine industry in current times.
'I think the biggest issue facing Australia is climate change affecting our picking windows,' he said. 'Grapes are ripening earlier with vintage being more compact putting pressure on being able to get the fruit into the winery at its optimal ripeness.'
Although he described his day to day life as chaotic, Baraglia said on his rare days off he simply enjoyed spending time with his family, gardening and occasionally playing golf.
'My average day is hectic both during vintage and outside of vintage,' he said. 'During vintage it's hectic for the usually reasons of fruit, ferments, staff and not enough hours in the day. Outside of vintage it's hectic for the reason of family commitments, everyday duties at Pikes, Naked Run and managing and maintaining our vineyard.'
Baraglia said being familiar with vineyards was the most important advice he could offer young winemakers looking to be successful in the industry.
'Understand your vineyards, the fruit coming from them and the wines you are making,' he said. 'Be passionate and tell your story.'

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