Diane Miller, The Vintage Wineworx, WA

Name: Diane Miller

Place of birth:
Perth, Western Australia

Professional qualifications:
Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery, Graduate Diploma of Oenology (University of Adelaide)

Professional experience:
1999, Oregon vintage at Callahan Ridge, 2000, Abbey Vale, Yallingup, Shakespeare in the Vines Sevenhill Cellars, Clare Valley Sept 2002 to present, The Vintage Wineworx

Which of your wines do you most enjoy making, and why?
Xabregas Shiraz. I love making and drinking Shiraz and like all of the Shiraz wines we get to make here at Wineworx. We receive the variety from Lake Grace, Geographe, Margaret River, Pemberton and the Great Southern.
The Figtree vineyard of Xabregas wines in Mt Barker is special. The Shiraz there grows right up near a grand old figtree and it is a particularly good site which produces some fantastic flavours. The ferment is done in Italian-designed Ganimede fermenters which are easy to work with and produce excellent results with great colour and flavour pick-up. Working with oak is another favourite task of mine and trying to get the balance of fruit and oak, plus build-up the structure of the wine, is something I really enjoy.

Tell us about your most memorable wine-tasting experience…
Due to a very early vintage, I had the great fortune to go to Bordeaux last year on a trip sponsored by the Grand Cru Council and they arranged dinner at Chateau d'Yquem on our last evening. Sitting there at the same table as Pierre Lurton enjoying dishes matched with different vintages of Yquem was amazing.

As a winemaker, what could you not do without - besides grapes, of course?
A good palate, and knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to tasting.

What is the most important piece of equipment in your winery?
The two presses are vital to us being able to process fruit in an efficient way - it's a pity they are an accountant's nightmare as we'd like to buy some more.

What styles or varieties do you see dominating wine production in Australia over the next 10 years?
Rosé is a style I really enjoy making as it benefits the red wine as well as producing a great style for early drinking. It has huge growth in the UK market and I believe will see more and more growth of production in Australia. Sparkling wine is another style that I think will see an increase. I believe many consumers would like to see more Sparklings on the market. As wine value hopefully will increase, we could also see an increase in the growth of premium sparkling wines.

What main varieties do you think your region will be known for over the coming years?
Riesling is already a star in most of the Great Southern - the purity of fruit is fantastic in this region. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are also doing very well out of Mt Barker. I am hoping to see some Tempranillo being planted in Mt
Barker soon as I also believe that would do well here and it is capable of producing some amazing wines.

Which non-traditional varieties interest you and why?
Tempranillo - due to a recent trip to Spain and tasting some fantastic and intense wines from Ribera del Duero and Rioja. This variety should do well here in our local climate and as it ripens a little earlier, it would be useful insurance in
wetter years. Albarino is another very interesting Spanish variety I'd like to work with, as is Verdejo. Perhaps I shouldn't rule out moving to Spain….

How important is food and wine matching to you?
I love great food and wine and it is wonderful when they match although, as recently as last Thursday, I was drinking Riesling with a steak so I guess it means I'm not too obsessed about it.

Can you recall an unconventional yet successful food and wine match you've tasted?
In Sauternes last year, they discussed their belief that Sauternes can be successfully matched with any part of a meal. We had lunch at Chateau Rieussec where the chef made many small dishes to match the wines and it was surprising how mushrooms and lamb went well with such a sweet luscious wine.

What do you like to do when you're not making wine?
I am studying a bit at the moment…about wine. But also I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. The local beaches are gorgeous and often have very few, if any, people on them.

If money was no object, where would you choose to set up a vineyard and winery?
Just dreaming I think Italy, somewhere in Chianti would be lovely - they make many great wines of course and the scenery and the lifestyle really appeals to me.

The world is about to flood and a specially designed, temperature-controlled ark is being built to preserve the world's best wines. You've been asked to recommend a red and a white for the ark, what do you choose? (Sorry, you can't choose your own wines!)
It's difficult to answer this question as I don't believe there is any 'best wine' out there - it all depends on when, why and how you plan to drink it. I would recommend a 1996 vintage Champagne, and a 2002 Roda Reserva from Spain.

What do you like to drink when you're not drinking wine?
Beer is a favourite, as with all winemakers. Malt whisky is also a regular - I've made friends with the new distillery owners in Albany in preparation for their whisky coming on-line.

If you weren't a winemaker, how would you be making a living?
I'd probably still be a vet.

Do you have any pet hates?
I could easily make a joke here, being a vet and everything. My main constant one is bad driving (by other people) as I spend so much time on the road.

What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing - I am a very good sleeper. I used to lie awake worrying about sick animals, then it was levels of sulphur in different tanks and barrels, but now I work with such a good team, they do most of the worrying for me.

Wild yeast or inoculated ferment?

Cork or screwcap?

Briefly describe how your business is fighting the increasing competition for retail shelf space and brand awareness?
For Xabregas wines, our major shareholder in Wineworx, two years ago the label was changed to make the X much more prominent. All products have been price-lined, regular in-store tastings are held, advertising on billboards has started, and there was sponsorship in the newspaper in December. Eastern States distribution started about 12 months ago after a five-star rating by James Halliday. Austrade invited Xabregas to be part of the Wine Australia stand at the London Wine & Spirit Trade Fair last May and from this, Xabregas now has a UK importer. Exports are also happening to New Zealand and China.

What is it that you admire most about the Australian wine industry?
The technical knowledge and the support and services provided by the AWRI.

What is the best piece of advice you could offer a person in their last year of winemaking study?
Try and get a position working in an area that genuinely interests you. Working for small companies is different to working for large ones, what varieties/regions interest you?, and so on.

Why did you become a winemaker?
I worked as a veterinarian for seven years and developed an early interest in wine which grew when I lived and travelled in Europe. My passion for wine got me into it and I haven't looked back, despite some challenging times.

Who has inspired you during the course of your career?
Dorham Mann is a true gentleman and a West Australian wine legend and he was our winemaking consultant at Abbey Vale. Gary Baldwin and Matt Parish were a huge help and support when I first started at Wineworx (then called the Porongurup Winery). Bill Crappsley is our consultant now and he is talented and such a nice guy.

Which area of current wine or vine research do you think is most beneficial to the industry?
Interactions of volatile and non-volatile compounds in wine is very interesting. Use of bentonite to fine creates questions of how much and which type to use, and produces waste in lees, wine volume and some flavour. An alternative would be revolutionary to the industry.

Is there an area of research towards which you would like to see more resources directed?
Malolactic fermentation - best timing and bacteria to use for inoculation and methods to get wines through in a short time frame despite temperature challenges. It gets mighty cold here in the Porongurups.

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