Young Gun: Angus Vinden

By Eleanor Danenberg

Winemaking is in Angus Vinden’s blood. Hunter Valley born and bred, Vinden’s parents were winemakers and owned their own hobby farm vineyard, Vinden Estate, which he started ‘working’ at from the age of seven.

“Dad didn’t want me to be a winemaker initially,” Vinden reflects, but it was almost inevitable; the passion was there to stay. Vinden trained and worked as an architect while also working in the wine industry on the side, but he felt the pull of the outdoors.

“I couldn’t stand sitting in an office all day. I’ve done it, which is why I can say that,” he says.

Vinden committed to wine fully, working for the family vineyard and getting mentored by the Huner Valley’s eighth generation grower Glen Howard, and Dan Binet. Vinden studied viticulture at TAFE for two years and at the end of 2014, he took over the family business.

“It’s been a pretty fast learning curve. It was sink or swim,” he confirms.

Besides working as the general manager of Vinden Estate, he is also the viticulturist and winemaker; “sort of, but not quite a one man show”.

Vinden doesn’t have a degree in winemaking, “I just learned it growing up around the family,” he says.

“I’ve learnt on the job. If you find something you’re passionate about, you read, you learn, you’ll practise and you’ll work harder than others to hopefully achieve what you want to achieve. That’s where I come from.”

One thing most winemakers and viticulturists agree on, Vinden adds, “is that realistically, when it comes down to it, you never stop learning”.

In his role Vinden makes the wines for the Vinden Estate range as well as for Vinden Headcase, his own label that he started up in 2015.

The Vinden Estate range encompasses a more classical framework and style, “wines that embody the history of the valley, my mentor, my parents, and the great style of the region”; while Headcase allows Vinden to be a little bit more progressive. The labels embody slightly different ideologies, he outlines.

Vinden relishes the creativity involved in the wine industry.

“Wine is such a personal endeavour; you get to choose how you grow your grapes, the varieties you grow, and your styles of winemaking. It’s such a rewarding thing that you work towards every year and you learn from it and every year you can make something different, you’ve got different grapes, you have to respond to the vintage. It’s exciting,” he says. “I love the fact wine is an extension of me and my philosophies.”

It all starts with the grapes

“I try to do the best thing by my vineyard,” Vinden says of the grapes on site at Vinden Estate, as well as the vineyard he leases. He changes viticulture practices every year and both sites are almost fully organic.

“I think most winemakers agree you can’t turn bad fruit into good fruit, and bad fruit doesn’t make good wine, so you have to start great grapes,” Vinden says. “That’s where my philosophy starts.”

He also believes aspiring winemakers would benefit themselves by starting in the vineyard rather than the winery.

“I think you need to have an understanding of what you’re making and you need an understanding of grapes, how grapes grow, and the life cycle.”

A self-described purist, Vinden’s grapes and wines are Hunter Valley through and through.

“I’m a strong advocate for pro-Hunter; if a variety doesn’t work, don’t grow it. Find something that suits our climate, our region, our terroir,” he says. “At the end of the day the Hunter is the oldest commercial growing region in Australia and we’re still growing grapes. We’ve got some of the oldest vines pre-phylloxera in the world, I think we need to celebrate that viticultural history.”

With that history in mind, Vinden says it’s up to every generation to help redefine and re-evaluate the traditions of the region. “Tradition is forever evolving,” he says.

Vinden’s passion for the past, present, and future of the Hunter shines through.

“One beautiful thing about winemaking is that it’s a really beautiful community, I hope other regions band together like we do,” he says. “Having one good producer
and 20 bad producers doesn’t get you anywhere. If we all learn and work together, then we can hopefully strive to make better wines.”

A bunch of diversity Vinden’s role as general manager/winemaker/viticulturist is flexible to say the least. He also does the graphic design and artwork for the Headcase bottle labels, handles the marketing and runs all the social media.

“I am a Jack-of-all trades, master of none,” he laughs. His favourite thing about his job is the diversity.

“I like the fact I’m always out and about doing different things: in the winery, the vineyard, cellar door. I like the fact the job’s reactive and you have to be dynamic; you have to have the ability to think on your feet and be adaptive to different things.”

On the day of our interview, Vinden sprayed fungicide in the vineyard in the morning, and also carried out some under vine slashing and cultivation; he put some time into administration and answering emails; he was about to run a tasting; spend a few hours in the winery, “then beer o’clock” to finish the day off.

“Just yesterday I was fixing a pump in the vineyard that had died,” he adds.

And soon Vinden will be on a sales trip in London following the recent signing of a distribution contract for his wines in the United Kingdom.

During vintage Vinden is sampling and in the winery all day.

“I think there are a lot of people in the wine industry who will resonate with this: small businesses are so much fun, you never get bored, there’s always something happening, and always something new. Every day is a matter of prioritising what’s important and trying to do the best thing for the vineyard and the wine.”

The glass of wine tastes a little bit sweeter at the end of the day Vinden has had a particularly successful and special 2019.

This year saw him nominated in the Young Gun of Wine Top 50 Winemakers; Vinden Estate was named a 5 star winery by James Halliday; his 2017 Headcase Shiraz was named Best Shiraz in the Hunter Valley by Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine; and he won the Rising Star of the Year award at the Hunter Valley Legends & Wine Industry Awards.

“It’s been shaping up pretty well. I’m not expecting anything else for the rest of the year,” he laughs.

I ask Vinden how he feels about these accolades and he responds with “really lucky” and “really proud”.

He was particularly proud of being named the Hunter’s Rising Star, “something I was working towards for the better part of six to seven years, [and] it was recognition by my peers. I’m trying to help build the profile of the Hunter Valley.

There’s a whole swathe of young winemakers like myself who are coming up and doing amazing things up here,” he enthuses. “The awards are fantastic, I never expected to achieve the things I’ve done so quickly. [This year has] set me a benchmark, I’m only 29,” Vinden reflects.

“Hopefully it’s just the beginning of a long career. Having a good year is fantastic, the goal is to repeat it. I want to do it for the next 20 or 30 years, I want to keep building and grow better grapes and make better wine every year”, he adds.

The wise beyond his years vigneron concedes the accolades “make the glass of wine taste a little bit sweeter at the end of the day”. Vinden’s dream is to keep enjoying what he’s doing and for it never to feel like work.

“I’m one of those lucky people, I get excited to get out of bed most days,” he says earnestly.

“I want to keep waking up and loving what I’m doing.”

This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine. Click here to subscribe now for as little as AUD$55 a year and receive 12 monthly issues!