Meet the Makers - Stuart and Kate from Brokenwood
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Meet the Makers - Stuart and Kate from Brokenwood

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Vintage Cellars
February 16, 2017
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We speak with Brokenwood’s senior winemaker and assistant winemaker to learn about their craft and inspirations.

Brokenwood’s senior winemaker, Stuart Hordern and assistant winemaker Kate Sturgess are part of a new breed of young Aussie winemakers. Dedicated to the region they work in, they are continually striving to produce the best drops possible with minimal interference – letting the wines speak for themselves.

Stuart grew up in the Hunter Valley and worked in the family vineyard as soon as he was old enough to drive a tractor, so it’s safe to say winemaking is in his blood. His career to date has seen him work with local labels such as Tyrrell’s and also abroad, gaining experience in France for a white vintage in the Languedoc and Sonoma in the USA working at Williams Selyem. He joined Brokenwood in 2009 as senior winemaker.

Kate joined the Brokenwood family more recently, in 2015 as assistant winemaker. Her experience extends through a number of Australian wine regions and producers including Balnaves of Coonawarra, Wirra Wirra and Mount Langi Ghiran as well as a stint at Culmina Estate in Okanagan Valley, Canada following her studies.

We interviewed Stuart and Kate recently to find out more about Brokenwood and their personal winemaking philosophies.

Can you describe yourselves as winemakers?

Stuart: We believe in promoting a sense of place and varietal character. We try to let the vineyard speak through the wine.

Kate: Stuart and I often say, the biggest choices are made in the vineyard and once we get the fruit to the winery we just try to maintain the quality. Really, we try to do as little as possible and let the wines speak for themselves.

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

Stuart: Making wines that speak of the vineyard and variety.

Kate: We’re ever evolving and striving for the best, we’re always open to new ideas.

What is the inspiration behind what you make?

Stuart: The Graveyard and Mistress Block Vineyards are two of the best in the Hunter, and Australia, so being able to work with these vines is pretty inspiring.

Kate: When I first decided to become a winemaker it was the general passion and enthusiasm of people in the industry that inspired me to take this career path. I would see 80 year old men working in the vineyard and loving it, and I wanted to love what I did as much as that.

Who or what has influenced the drinks you make?

Stuart: Fellow Australian winemakers who continually produce modern contemporary styles of wine. In addition to the wines we enjoy drinking.

Kate: I definitely get inspired by the wines I like to drink. I love seeing how others are doing things well. I aim to make wines that I want to drink myself.

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

Stuart: We are ever evolving to ensure that the best wines are made to reflect where they’re from and the vintage. As we said earlier, the most important decisions are made in the vineyard.

Kate: We also believe in taking fruit from ‘all the right regions for all the right reasons’. The Hunter Valley is famous for Semillon and Shiraz, but for example we also produce excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Beechworth, Sauvignon Blanc from Orange, and we’ve got a new wine coming out this year, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River. This philosophy takes us all over Australia to the best regions, and means a lot of travel for Stuart, who ensures the vineyards are in check and ensures we pick at the right time.

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

Stuart: Exceptional vineyards that allow both the variety and region to shine through.

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

Stuart: Our role is to ensure that we intervene no more than necessary, allowing the vineyard to speak clearly.

Kate: At the end of the day, we’re here to make wines that people love to drink. Earlier this year we were pushed to bottle our Cricket Pitch White earlier because it sold out in stores, that’s pretty cool to see. It’s a great feeling to know people are really enjoying the final product.

How does your personality show through in what you produce?

Kate: The Brokenwood Wines mission statement is to ‘make great wine and have fun’. We encourage people to enjoy our wines and we want to enjoy making them. Sometimes we do big hours through vintage, but we try to interject as much fun along the way as we can. Throughout vintage we have a Cru stay on site and our chef keeps them fed as they’re working hard, so we have some really fun dinners together across the season.

What are the most enjoyable parts of what you do?

Stuart: Working with fruit from the Graveyard Vineyard which is one of the most famous vineyard’s in the country, also seeing the final wine through from grape to glass.

Kate: Also working with great people from all over the world who come and do vintage with us.

What are the most difficult parts of what you do?

Stuart: Winemaking is an agricultural pursuit which is largely impacted by external elements which requires constant adaptation.

Where do you see yourself and your industry headed in the next few years?

Stuart: Continuing to make great wine at Brokenwood.

Kate: I’m relatively new to Brokenwood, this is my first vintage here, so I guess for me I look forward to building as a team and developing my craft, and getting to know the vineyards more over time.

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

Both: Making the perfect wine, the eternal pursuit.

Can you divulge any of your secrets as a maker?

Kate: It takes a lot of Peroni to make great wine!