Meet the Winemaker: Louisa Rose

Written by
Vintage Cellars
May 14, 2019
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From inspiring and crafting great wine to showcasing the region's varieties, Yalumba's head of winemaking Louisa Rose has an ambitious future planned for the Barossa.

To her colleagues at Yalumba, where she is Head of Winemaking and custodian of a 170-year-old wine tradition, she is Lou. To her legions of fans both inside and outside of the Australian wine industry, Louisa Rose is an acknowledged leader, one of Australia’s best and most influential winemakers with a particular passion for riesling. She is the pioneering force behind the viognier grape variety in this country, a top wine judge and a multi-tasker like no other.

For the past couple of years she has been the chair of the board at the Australian Wine Research Institute, as well as co-chair of the South Australian Wine Industry Council, a member of the South Australian Agribusiness Council, and a driving force behind The Barossa Cellar, a proposed $4.5 million wine museum and meeting place funded by the local community — and soon to become a reality.

This year Louisa oversaw the launch of Yalumba’s Samuel’s Collection, a series of red and white wines that celebrate not only Yalumba’s founder, Samuel Smith, but the company’s deep and enduring connection to the land and the people of the Barossa Valley.

When did you join the Yalumba team and what is your winemaking background?

I started at Yalumba as a cellar hand for the vintage of 1992 while I was still studying at Roseworthy College, in South Australia. I came back for the 1993 vintage and I’m still here!

The only job that I had prior to working at Yalumba was working on my own family's vineyard in Victoria's Yarra Valley, where I was involved in all areas of viticulture and where I fell for the wine industry.

Do you have any mentors who have influenced your winemaking career?

Certainly my parents, who started the family vineyard and introduced wine to me, were my first mentors and inspiration. At Yalumba I found mentors in Brian Walsh, Peter Wall, Alan Hoey and Geoff Linton.

These wine men taught me so much about wine, and of course, Robert Hill-Smith, [Yalumba] proprietor and great man of wine, who has taught me most of what I know about the world of wine.

The new Samuel’s Collection wines represent a more youthful, generous and fresher style. How did you approach the brief?

The evolution of wine styles is a continuous process in winemaking. For the new Samuel’s Collection reds we wanted to make wines that were fresh, generous and juicy, showing the beauty of the Barossa, the varieties and the vintages. Some of the ways our winemaking has evolved to achieve this include lower fermentation temperatures and less extractive winemaking techniques.

Samuel’s Collection highlights, among other grape varieties, the importance Yalumba places on Eden Valley viognier. Why is the grape so important to the company?

Yalumba was an early pioneer of viognier in Australia when we planted it in 1980. At that time we believed there was between only 11 and 14 hectares of the variety in the world! Now we are recognised as one of the global leaders of viognier.

Viognier is Yalumba’s most important white variety and one that matches with most foods, from the more typical white wine matches of white meat, to more earthy, textural food, spices and chilli through to matches often associated with red wines, such as red meat.

The role of Barossa Shiraz and Bush Vine Grenache is also highlighted in Samuel’s Collection. What is it about these grapes that make them so suited to the region?

The Barossa has some of the oldest shiraz and grenache in the world. Both were originally planted in the 1840s in the Barossa and some of the original vineyards still remain, growing happily in the terroirs of the region.

What makes them so happy in the Barossa, I’m not sure, but I think it would be some combination of soils, our perfect Mediterranean climate, lack of pests and diseases and the Barossa people!

I would include mataro, also known as mourvèdre, as well. It has shown to be very versatile in the Barossa over the years, making great fortified wines, full-bodied red wines and more fruit-driven medium-bodied styles and even the occasional rosé.

Yalumba manages to be inspired by its winemaking past while always having future trends in sight. What’s next in the way of projects for the team at Yalumba?

We are always looking at the evolution of wines and styles, as well as experimenting with new styles and varieties. We are very fortunate to have the Yalumba Nursery to work with where we can trial new varieties and clones.

In most cases these discovery processes are long term over a number of vintages as we evaluate both wines and suitability for our customers. Looking at future trends and being part of the creation of them is an essential part of being a relevant winemaking company.

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

The Australian wine industry has many strengths, including but not limited to its history, its great people and its diversity of regions, terroirs, wineries, philosophies and styles. We are nimble and able to seize and make the most of opportunities and change.

Our strengths are around brands and stories, so where we probably don’t compete as well is in the more commodity-based part of the global industry, where price is the only driver.

Which wines under the Yalumba brand are you most enjoying at the moment?

I always have stock of both Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier and Yalumba Barossa Bush Vine Grenache at home. They are both my go-to wines that suit almost all foods and occasions. I am also enjoying a few bottles of early 2000s The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz that I have tucked away.

What are you drinking if not a Yalumba wine?

Riesling from just about anywhere that makes good riesling.

Which regions, excluding those from which Yalumba sources fruit, are you most excited about?

McLaren Vale and Tasmania — for very different but equally as delicious reasons.