Matt Godfrey

Barossa-born Matt Godfrey now calls Margaret River home after 18 vintages in the wine industry. Interestingly, winemaking wasn’t the first option that came to mind as a career after he completed a degree in aquaculture. Journalist Samuel Squire caught up with Matt to chat about his switch to winemaking and how’s he’s been going so far.

Matt Godfrey, now the senior winemaker at Devil’s Lair in WA’s Margaret River wine region, grew up in a winemaking family in the Barossa Valley. His exposure to the wide world of wine came at a young age, and continued throughout his upbringing.

Matt had an interest in science since he was young. He says viticulture and winemaking, like other science-focussed areas, are “very much about intuition and being adaptable”.

“I have always had a strong interest in science and understanding the ‘why’ and ‘how’ things are created,” he said.

“Winemaking and viticulture is an agricultural business, so it is also very much about intuition and being adaptable to the variation in any given season.

“There are constantly new challenges, new opportunities and no two seasons are the same so there is always creative inspiration that comes with it too, which keeps me energised every vintage.”

Surprisingly, a winemaking career wasn’t the first thing that came to mind for young Matt. He completed his degree in aquaculture in the early 2000s.

“I grew up with a strong passion for sustainability and the ocean and with increasing pressures on fisheries, it really appealed to me,” he said.

“Unfortunately, due to limited opportunities in the industry at the time, I didn’t pursue that career further.

“I then found myself with an opportunity at Wolf Blass Winery (as it was called then) and 18 vintages later I find myself

here at Devil’s Lair and in the incredible region of Margaret River.”

In his first stint in the wine sector, Matt worked as a cellar hand in the Barossa, eager to get out into the world.

“My first opportunity arose as a cellar hand in the Barossa, I was fresh out of university after studying aquaculture,” he said.

“Having always been exposed to the wine industry it was a great opportunity but to be honest, at that stage, having studied most of my life, it was more about earning some money and wanting to travel.”

Now, though, working in Margaret River is something he thoroughly enjoys. Matt says being part of the wine community has endowed him with a variety of winemaking experiences.

“I have been very fortunate to have had varied experiences in winemaking, holding a number of different roles in many different functions from hands

on winery operations right through to a variety of winemaking roles,” he said.

“Firstly, the wine community and the Margaret River region itself [are great].

“Along with the stunning coastlines, beaches and forests, there are some incredible people, brands and wines over here and I think that has driven great success for this region and put Margaret River on the world stage.

“Everyone has their own story to share and their different styles of winemaking that they are passionate about. It’s a fantastic place to be involved in the
wine industry.”

On variety

In Margaret River, the two champion varieties grown are, of course, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. These two incite some fascination to Matt, as he says it’s “so fascinating to me that one region can do an early ripening white variety like Chardonnay and a late ripening red like Cabernet Sauvignon so well”.

However, being a South Aussie man, he appreciates the significance of Shiraz and Riesling. However, choosing a favourite variety would be, as the saying goes, choosing a favourite child.

“A few key factors are at play here; we have a 100km latitudinal expanse and within that there are a variety of individual sites with varying aspects, so this provides a diverse region for grapegrowing,” he said.

“The Margaret River region also sits out on a cape in the very south west of the country and is heavily dominated by a maritime influence – the warmer Indian Ocean to the west and the cooler Southern Ocean to the south.

“In the past, coming from South Australia, the other most important varieties I have learnt from and have really enjoy would be Shiraz and Riesling.”

Alternative varieties are coming more and more into the mainstream with many producers Australia-wide, and Matt is one of them taking an interest.

Malbec is of particular interest to the winemaker, with its vibrant and complex aromatics, however he remains unsure of its status as an alternate variety.

“One of the most intriguing ‘alternate’ varieties for me would have to be Malbec. It has such vibrant colour, beautiful and complex aromatics, intense flavours and a finesse to the structure,” he said.

“However, I do wonder whether we would still refer to it as an alternate variety. There are some vines here that have now established some age to them, people are growing them very well are we are seeing some incredible wines, and not just stand-alone Malbecs, but blended with Cabernet.”

Aside from growing alternative varieties, arguably more suited to hotter, drier conditions, wine producers are aiding to combat climate change as an industry.

Matt says Treasury Wine Estates, the parent company of Devil’s Lair, has set some ambitious sustainability goals.

Sustainability goals

“As a company, Treasury Wine Estates has set some ambitious sustainability goals, including 100% renewable energy by 2024 and net zero emissions by 2030,” he said.

“We already have a strong focus on sustainable practices at Devil’s Lair – our winery and vineyards are certified and we’re a member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia.

“We are also continuing to learn about canopy management, soil management, and diversification of fruit sourcing within the region as well as the benefits that are not only for climate change but for vintage and seasonal variation.”

Like everyone, Devil’s Lair has had to become more flexible with how it operates as a winery, and Matt says that his time there through the pandemic has been challenging.

“There have certainly been some challenges in the last year or so, especially around COVID-19,” he said.

“We have all been forced to be more dynamic around the way we work operationally, but also with the more general aspects of running a business, i.e. moving to online platforms with meetings and virtual tastings.”

Matt says that if he could meet his younger self to impart some wisdom, he would leave it as simple as to enjoy the little things in life.

“I have always wondered what would be different if I had started my career earlier, so I would have to say maybe ‘stop stuffing around and get serious about things’,” he said.

“Then again, I would not change where I am today. I have three beautiful children who have been my inspiration all along the way, so maybe I would just have said to ‘trust yourself and enjoy things’.”


This post was originally featured in the September 2021 issue of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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