Liz Riley, Vitibit, Hunter Valley

Name: Liz Riley

Liz Riley was born in Perth and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Wine) from Roseworthy. Her experience includes seven years with Southcorp in national and NSW regional viticultural roles, and seven years as an independent consultant in the Hunter Valley. Currently, she is a consultant with Vitibit Pty Ltd of the Hunter Valley.

What made you decide to become a viticulturist?
The desire to have a profession but be able to live and work in a rural area.

Which are your favourite varieties to grow?
Chardonnay, Semillon, Verdelho and Shiraz.

What is your least favourite variety to grow?
Pinot is more of a challenge up here.

Do you have any plans to expand the growth of certain varieties, or plant any new varieties?
Planting decisions are ultimately in the hands of clients, and the traditional Hunter varieties of Semillon, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Shiraz seem to cope with the environment well. It would be great to see some 'heritage blocks' being established up here using selected propagation material from older high-pedigree (but slowly declining) vineyards. I also have an interest in Viognier and also Tempranillo and it would be good to see a bit more of them go in.

What steps do you take to ensure good lines of communication with the wineries that purchase your fruit?
Regular communication, preferably face to face, with fluids - coffee, wine, or beer… Most problems can be avoided or ironed out if you keep in touch.

Can you remember the 'worst' vintage you've ever been through?
Funny you should ask…2008 is pretty challenging at the moment. Coming off six or seven relatively dry seasons this one is testing us all. The solution has been high frequency vineyard visits, lots of looking at the forecast and lots of talking to growers and winemakers…

Is there a standout season for you, when everything ran just about perfectly?
The last few years have been pretty good, with little or no harvest rain… that's always a good thing!

What do you like to do when you're not tending vines?
We have young children, so a fair bit of time is spent with them. Also gardening, cooking and following the Waratahs in the Super 14s at the moment.

If you had an unlimited budget available to establish your existing vineyard all over again, what would you do differently?
Drainage, yep good drainage would be good (we have just had 283mm in the last six weeks). Straight rows of equal widths with good trellis infrastructure to facilitate good canopy management and harvesting.

What is the biggest challenge you face growing grapes in your particular region?
Water - too much leads to disease and over-cropping, too little - well it's a drought.

What is the most important piece of equipment in your vineyard?
My digital camera - it's a great tool to complement the notes you take in the field. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and photos imbedded in reports are a really powerful way to get messages across to clients about things going right, as well as things going wrong.

Have you learnt any 'tricks of the trade' you can share with your colleagues?
Visit the vineyard often and walk the ground. The more you look the more you find (and learn).

If you could remove one vine pest or disease from the face of the earth forever more, which would it be?
Botrytis - it seems the hardest to manage.

What keeps you awake at night?
Rain - we are mid-vintage - STOP RAINING!!!

What sends you to sleep?
Rain - at any other time of year.

Do you have a mentor who has influenced you, or your direction in viticulture?
Academically - Peter Dry who encouraged me to be a practitioner rather than a researcher - great advice. Locally, Ken Bray who reminds me of the cold hard realities when I get carried away.

Which areas of grape research do you find of most interest, and most practical benefit to your work?
Ongoing pest and disease management research is very useful - the whole P&D picture not just chemical options. The work on Semillon being done at Wagga Wagga is proving very useful as well.

What do you think is the number one problem facing today's industry?
A quality supply of labour. It is getting harder and harder to attract and retain good vineyard and viticultural staff at all levels from operators to managers.

What would be your solution to this problem?
I'm not sure, money is part of the problem (particularly when competing with the mining sector), and to a degree the location of vineyards. We need to sell the rural lifestyle better.

What's your motto in life?
Don't beat around the bush.

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