Meet the Winemaker: Mike Symons

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Vintage Cellars
August 21, 2018
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Stonier Wines Manager Mike Symons began his career producing premium pinot noir and chardonnay at Petaluma Winery in 1989. After moving to Italy to work for the acclaimed Antinori family in 1996, he returned to Petaluma in Australia until joining Stonier in 2008.

What drew you to the winemaking industry?

A love of wine. I studied agricultural science at Adelaide University intending to go into the avocado and citrus industries, but my parents always drank wine and during the last two years of university, my interest piqued. A visit to Petaluma in my final year sealed the deal.

Do you have a mentor?

I wrote to Brian Croser, asking him for a job at Petaluma in 1989. Ever since, he’s been my strongest mentor. He’s really inspirational and always the first person I call with queries. I’m also grateful to Renzo Cotarella, from Marchesi Antinori in Italy, who taught me to do things differently when I worked with him in the ‘90s.

How does Australian pinot noir compare to those produced in other regions of the world?

Australian pinot has never been better, as vineyards gain age and we adapt our winemaking to suit our fruit, rather than Victoria’s cool-climate Mornington Peninsula.

I don’t think we have the tannin concentration and structure for ageing compared to Burgundy and Oregon, but I don’t see any problem with that if the wines look as good as five-to seven-year-old wines.

Chardonnay is Stonier’s other star variety. What sets Mornington Peninsula chardonnay apart from those produced elsewhere?

Mornington chardonnay is incredibly consistent and has a nice savoury citrus edge, almost like a toned-down version of southern West Australian chardonnay – both are maritime regions. I love it. Will Byron [Stonier winemaker] and I probably spend more time discussing chardonnay than anything else, apart from pinot, of course, and the footy or NBA!

Stonier has a good collection of older chardonnay vineyards, going back to 1978, so that’s a great starting point.

Stonier is embracing its single-vineyard wine range. How would you describe the distinctions between these wines and those made with fruit sourced from various sites?

Our single-vineyard releases are derived from the vineyards that have gone into our reserve chardonnay and pinot blends over the past 26 years.

We decided to release each site separately due to its quality and individuality. We always see one or two traits that stand out in each single vineyard release, like the hints of spicy potpourri in Merron’s Vineyard Pinot Noir [available exclusively at Vintage Cellars], or the earthy raspberry and dry herbs in Windmill Vineyard Pinot, whereas the blended wines are an expression of the region and vintage.

Excluding your own Mornington backyard, which Australian wine region is exciting you?

Tasmania is certainly evolving nicely in the pinot and sparkling spheres. Adelaide Hills shiraz is underrated – it will garner more attention soon.

What are your thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the Australian wine industry?

Our collective strength is that we’re prepared to review what we’re doing and keep progressing.

A past weakness was being too confident in our expectations, with a solid but simple formula, but we didn’t understand the extra effort and sophistication required to reach the upper levels of wine quality. The culture of the wine industry now is focused on raising the bar, with better investment in equipment and vineyards.

Which Stonier wines are you most enjoying now?

I’m still loving the 2015 pinot noir vintage across all our single-vineyard wines (2015 Merron’s in particular), but I’m starting to look at the 2016 vintage and I'll take the 2017 Stonier Pinot to dinner now it’s bottled, so I can get to know it better.

The 2016 vintage was a great chardonnay vintage and I’m enjoying the purity of our 2016 KBS and Gainsborough Park Chardonnays.

And which non-Stonier wines are you loving?

I always enjoy Tapanappa wines [Adelaide Hills], particularly as its close-spaced vineyards start to mature. I enjoy classic Australian cabernets – Yeringberg [Yarra Valley] and KnappsteinEnterprise Vineyard [Clare Valley] are two favourites. And I always seem to revert to Italian wines, from Tuscan sangiovese to Barolo – Vietti and Ceretto, in particular.

What is your most sublime food-wine match?

Foie gras and good Sauternes, without a doubt. And I can’t resist chardonnay with barbecue salmon and pinot with confit duck. All classic matches but they're hard to beat.