Ella Hoban: A sparkling future in wine

Growing up surrounded by South Australia’s iconic wine regions, including McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa, winemaker Ella Hoban has strived to earn her steel in the industry. Starting out in a cellar door while working through her winemaking degree, she is now a stellar winemaker at Hardys Tintara in McLaren Vale.

Journalist Samuel Squire caught up with Ella just as she sets into Vintage 2021 to chat about how she’s getting on.

Ella Hoban’s earliest memory of wine was rolling down the windows of her parents’ car, letting the smell of the McLaren Vale grape harvest in on a drive from Adelaide to her hometown of Victor Harbor.

In high school, she thought she would work as a heart surgeon, but after a gap year following her year 12 graduation, she dived straight into winemaking, getting her first choice of degrees at the University of Adelaide.

Growing up in a family of wine lovers and publicans, becoming a winemaker seemed only natural for Ella, who says the pivotal moment of her decision to work with wine was an image of being able to kick back and share a glass of wine with the people around her.

“I started winemaking straight out of a gap year post-year 12 and was one of the lucky ones who loved their first choice of degree,” she said.

“I come from a family of publicans and wine lovers, so sharing wines has always been an important part of family gatherings. I guess that’s where the inspiration to study wine came from. I love that we can sit back and share what we produce together, and I love how what we create contributes to the social rituals of others – I hope it makes them better!”

Ella dived straight into the industry while studying at university. Ella initially worked in a cellar door, but moved onto working at Bleasdale Vineyard’s winery soon after.

“While at uni, my first winery job was with Bleasdale with Paul Hotker and Matt Laube,” she said.

“I also worked the cellar door for Sam Scott and his label Scott and La Prova. My time there was surrounded by extremely passionate people in the wine industry, but none more so than Sam.

Delving into the winemaking world

Ella’s graduating year “had a great group of people”, she says. She really embraced the student life, wanting to thoroughly delve into the winemaking world.

“I was a proper nerd at uni, so I was always studying,” she said.

“But meeting up with the cohort for dinners at T-Chow after exams – a true Adelaide Uni wine student institution – is one of the best memories I have.

“We revisited T-Chow with our graduating class last year and it was so nice to still be so close with the group we graduated with and see what everyone has been up to.”

Since graduating, Ella has been based primarily in McLaren Vale, after moving on to work for Hardys Tintara. But she has also completed a couple of international harvests in Spain and California’s Napa Valley. She has also spent three harvests at Revenir with Peter Leske and Chris Parsons, making various wine styles at a contract facility.

“I joined Tintara from Sidewood Estate with Darryl Catlin where I worked on a diverse range of cool climate styles including Charmat and Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling, dry white and red wine and also cider.”

In 2019, Ella’s phone rang with a call from an unknown number, and the caller left a message. She quickly realised that the caller was none other than sparkling winemaking icon Ed Carr.

“I missed a call from an unknown number in late 2019 from Ed Carr, a stranger to me then, saying that there was a role going and asking if I was interested in applying,” she said.

“As someone with a love of sparkling wine, that was a call that I returned immediately!”

Winemaking to Ella is all about surrounding yourself in passion, whether it’s what’s in the glass, or the people around you.

“I think the most important thing for me has been being surrounded by people who are passionate and willing to share their knowledge,” she said.

“That’s why I name the people I worked with in my previous roles. To me, those people you work with are the most important. I have had a truly lucky career so far to work with brilliant winemakers who have all been willing to teach and share their love of wine with me.”

The camaraderie in the wine industry is something that many have noticed, and for Ella, this is no exception.

“A friend of mine from university and fellow Young Gun, Alyson Tannenbaum, and I started a tasting group a couple of years ago for female winemakers in our region called Wine Biddies,” she said.

“We build the tastings on sharing about topics which we know a little more about through our vintage experiences at home and abroad.

Building a supportive community

“The idea is that we want to bring women together to share their knowledge and build networks for the younger members, who are usually recent grads, and support them through their early career.

“It’s good to build a supportive community for up and coming winemakers.”

With COVID-19 still darkening the doors for the sector, and on the back of bushfire recovery from the 2019-20 summer, Ella adapted to different and unconventional work.

“Vintage 2020 a wild ride for everyone!” she said, “With COVID-19, I worked from home for the second half of my first vintage at Tintara”.

“I’d drive in each day to taste ferments and take fining trials home. It was a real team effort to pull in and work together to make vintage 2020 happen. The team across all departments at Tintara are so dedicated and truly care about what they do which was what made last harvest possible.

“I love the energy of harvest and the necessity to form a team of passionate people who work together to create great wines.”

At the moment, Ella is hard at work with Vintage 2021, and says she’s excited to be working more with sparkling this year.

The style has been something Ella has always wanted to work with more and says it’s a variety that can be made so many different ways.

“I have always been interested in sparkling wine and the opportunity to work with some of the sparkling wines in the Accolade portfolio is an absolute privilege,” she said.

“It remains complex and engaging outside of harvest with different production methods depending on style. It’s a different ball game when it comes to techniques and intricacies and there is so much to learn.”

The future looks bright for Ella, who says that is something on her mind.

“[What’s to come] is something that I have thought about a little bit recently,” she said, “Looking at the last 10 years it is certainly a long time and impossible to plan”.

“What I do know, and what will drive the choices I make, is what is important to me; which is to continue to work with wine and to contribute to increasing female participation in production roles in the wine industry and to improve the experience of these women at work.”

This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker. To find out more about our monthly magazine, or to subscribe, click here!

Are you a Daily Wine News subscriber? If not, click here to join our mailing list. It’s free!