Meet the Maker – David O’Leary from O’Leary Walker Wines
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Meet the Maker – David O’Leary from O’Leary Walker Wines

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Vintage Cellars
February 16, 2017
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David gives us some insight into the world of O’Leary Walker Wines, and how they make great wine.

O'Leary Walker Wines was established in 2000 by winemakers David O'Leary and Nick Walker. With over twenty five years’ experience and established reputations making premium wine with the big companies, these two long-time friends decided to take control of their own destiny and craft small batches of wine from some of the best vineyard sites in South Australia. We spoke with David to find out more.

Do you have a certain philosophy or style to your craft?

David: Winemaking is fun, its creating the best with what you have and the season you are dealt with.

How did you get started? Both personally, or the business you’re involved in.

David: Nick and I met at Roseworthy when we were 19. After going our separate ways we both ended up winemaking for Mildara Blass, Nick at Krondorf and myself at Annie’s Lane. Nick is a third generation winemaker and we both shared a vision to work for ourselves and make great wine – and so O’Leary Walker Wines was born.

Who or what has influenced the drinks you make?

David: Great winemakers, the likes of Chris Hatcher and John Vickery, for the great Rieslings they produce. Many of the great French houses influenced me with the varietal character, great flavour and balance of their wines.

Can you describe your process for us? Is there anything unique or unusual about your process?

David: It all starts in the vineyard, the right varieties on the right soils and correct management. The Rieslings are Polish Hill River and Watervale. The Watervale is hand harvested and crushed in 10 ton lots per day. The 45 year old vines produce modest crop year in year out and hence their power and character. The Polish Hill River is tough country, bluestone and slate soils. These vineyards are certified organic and have been for some years. These vineyards produce fruit of classic Clare bath powder and talc with a very fine mineral finish.

The reds are all made in 2 ton and 4 ton fermenters and are from various vineyards across the Clare Valley. The 2013 Cabernet Malbec is a new wine for us and has classic cassis, small dark berry fruit, dusty tannins and great perfume.

In your opinion, what do you think makes a good wine?

David: Balance and presence– character of the variety, powerful yet elegant flavour and a balanced, long finish.

How do you feel your role or work impacts the final product?

David: Nick and I have 60 vintages between us – it translates to getting the best from the vineyard and when the fruit comes across the weighbridge, doing all the 1%ers to make the very best wine. Experience helps us to focus on the important jobs so we can produce the best. We also have a great team of young winemakers around us – you need great enthusiastic kids nipping at your heels!

How does your personality show through in what you produce?

David: Great characters – traditional values but not a prude, adventuresome but will not compromise on standards. The wines have personality; they are varietally true and have great character. They are handmade by us as the owners. Our brand is David O’Leary and Nick Walker it reflects our enthusiasm, honesty and integrity.

What are the most enjoyable parts of what you do?

David: Vintage time, working with our growers, picking at optimum physiological ripeness and guiding the fruit through to an excellent wine. The cut and thrust of vintage and the excitement of seeing new wines evolve, tasting the ferments 3 or 4 times a day. Watching our young winemakers get excited about the ferments and new wines. Seeing them experiment with new winemaking techniques and new varieties. We live wine and love what we do. We get great satisfaction out of seeing our wines do well in competitive markets.

What are the most difficult parts of what you do?

David: Picking – getting it right!

Is there something you’re looking to achieve in the future that you haven’t already?

David: Our industry is on the way to a strong financial position. We are quiet achievers, we don’t want to be ‘big’, we want to grow slowly and make benchmark wines at great value prices. We have achieved a lot over the last 16 years – which have gone so fast. We have some new plantings coming on - Gruner Veltliner, Negro Amaro, Mataro and Mourvedre. We plan to concentrate on making great wine and hope the rest looks after its self!

Small or large, can you divulge any of your secrets as a maker?

David: The secret is balance in wine. Vineyard site is also critical.