Capercaillie looks to future

Name: The late Alasdair Sutherland

The Capercaillie Wine Company, located at Lovedale in the Hunter Valley, is focused on welcoming in the 2008 vintage after having lost its co-founder and chief winemaker Alasdair Sutherland in late December 2007 after a period of illness. Alasdair's widow, Trish Sutherland, kindly gave her time to speak with the Wine Industry Journal in January this year and said once time allowed over the coming months, the Capercaillie team would sit down and talk about new ideas to keep the business evolving.

Scotland-born Alasdair Sutherland began his Hunter Valley-based wine industry career fresh out of school when he took up a winemaker cadetship at Arrowfield Wines, in the Upper Hunter.

In 1978 he moved to Saxonvale Wines, at Broke, as assistant winemaker and when winemaker Mark Cashmore moved on, Alasdair stepped into the position, continuing on until 1989.

Alasdair and Trish (whose background is in hospitality) then spent the next few years in the restaurant business running Pippi's Restaurant, at Yamba on NSW north coast, and the Vines, at Cassegrain Winery at Port Macquarie, before Alasdair accepted a position at Calais Estate back in the Hunter Valley. It was here that his dream of operating his own winery started to take shape.

What is now the site of the Capercaillie Wine Company was Dawson Estate at the time of purchase in late 1995 and was planted to Chardonnay and Traminer.

No winery existed on the property, prompting Alasdair and Trish to push through applications to council for the building of a fully-equipped winery.

'Bulldozers were brought in on 1 December 1995 and we crushed the first small intake of grapes on 17 February 1996, just 72 days since the commencement of building. The refrigeration lines were being finished as the first grapes were arriving and we all held our breath as the power for the winery was switched on - thankfully everything worked!' Trish recalled.

The first Capercaillie wine was sold through the Wine Society of Sydney - a Cabernet Merlot blend, later to be known as The Clan.

'Capercaillie opened at Easter in 1996 and we were the only winery in the Hunter Valley to have no wine. It was six weeks later that the 1996 vintage wines were ready, starting with a Semillon, dessert Gewürztraminer and a Chardonnay. The Chambourcin was our first red wine to be produced a few months later. Alasdair was very good at networking and he used a lot of regional contacts in getting the Capercaillie brand established,' Trish said.

A testament to the business' contribution to the Hunter Valley community is the number of tourism and business awards it has collected over the past 12 years, including the NSW
Champion of Champions Small Business Awards for four consecutive years. Capercaillie's wines have collected 15 trophies, 39 gold medals, 97 silver medals and 29 bronze medals in wine shows.

Trish said the philosophy of the company wouldn't change in the future, preferring to keep to the motto, 'If it's not good enough for the Capercaillie label, it just doesn't go out'. Trish praised the work of assistant winemaker Daniel Binet, nominated several times for the
Australian Young Winemaker of the Year Award, saying 'the 2007 vintage wines were mostly of Daniel's creation as Alasdair was ill, and they are looking really good. I look forward to seeing Daniel work with this year's wines.'

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