Welcome to another in the series of winemaker interviews.
Geoff Merrill was born in 1953 and was raised on a sheep station in the far north of South Australia until he was 11 years old. Geoff’s family then moved to the Barossa Valley where his first links with the wine industry were formed.
From 1970 to 1973 Geoff undertook a winemaking traineeship - and then a position as an Experimental Winemaker with Stellenbosch Farmers Winery lured him to South Africa for a year in 1974, after which he travelled through Europe.
By the end of 1975 Geoff was back in Australia and had joined the team at Chateau Reynella as Assistant Winemaker. In 1977 he was promoted to Senior Winemaker, a position he held until 1985. Whilst working a Chateau Reynella Geoff also managed to find time to make wines under his own ‘Geoff Merrill’ label. Releasing his first wine in 1983 with the 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1981 Semillon.
By 1985 Geoff had become a Consultant Winemaker for Hardy and Chateau Reynella’s red wines. At the same time he was on the lookout for a winery where he could base his own operations. In 1985 he found the beautiful, but run-down, Mount Hurtle Winery, which he restored - by 1988 Geoff had left Hardy’s to focus on his own business. Since 1988 Geoff has concentrated on the winery and his wines. He has continued to gain national and international recognition for his distinctive style of winemaking and his zest for life.
I have been enjoying Geoff’s wines for over 23 years - my first a 1978 bottle of Chateau Reynella red port through to the ‘Jimmy Watson Trophy’ winning 2004 Reserve Shiraz - to his more recent wine releases. You know when you open a bottle of Geoff’s wine - you are going to be treated to sensory experience.
What first attracted you to the wine industry and as a winemaker?
I was at Orlando Wines in the Barossa Valley, where my Father worked and saw a winemaker do a simple acid-base titration - changing 3 white liquids pink and I was amazed.
Where and when did you study winemaking?
I was accepted to Roseworthy in 1969 but took up a position as a trainee winemaker with ‘Seppelt Wines’ which paid me money - I also completed a Diploma course at the Institute of Technology in Adelaide - Australia.
Which person has influenced you the most as a winemaker and why?
Len Evans - (1930-2006) - as he taught me about different styles.
What is your favourite grape variety(s) to work with and why?
Without hesitation and a smile - Geoff says, Cabernet Sauvignon - as it is the ‘King of Grapes’.
Which grape variety would you most like to work with in the future and why?
With a combination of humor and business acumen; Geoff declares; any grape variety that will make me a fortune!!!
With each new vintage what do you most look forward to?
With the recent challenging vintages still fresh on his mind: I look forward to - ‘The End’.
To date what has been you most interesting/challenging vintage and why?
The 1983 vintage - as there was so much Botrytis in the South East of the region - and while we had the technology to understand and deal with it we didn’t have the equipment.
Which person ‘current’ or ‘past’ would you most like to have met or meet and why?
Maurice O'Shea - (1897-1956) ‘Mount Pleasant Wines’: as he made some great wines in an era without much technology.
If you were stranded on a desert island and you could take one bottle of wine with you - what would it be and why?
A 1978 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache - it is simply the greatest wine I have ever tasted.
If you could make wine anywhere else in the world - where would it be and why?
If would have to be in Spain and the Douro - as I simply love the food.
What advice would you give a young person starting out as a winemaker?
If you are going to work overseas - don’t sell yourself short.
When you are ‘not’ making wine - what is one of your favourite things to do to relax?
That’s easy: Enjoy a glass of wine, Play Golf or Fish. You can see Geoff practicing his golf swing between the vines - (pictured above).
In the future, what exciting changes can you see, or would like to see for your wines, wine styles, vineyard or winery?
With my business hat on: I would like to see the Australian dollar devalued so that we can become competitive again in the export market and return to profitability.
Geoff Merrill Wines are available in New Zealand and around the world from quality wine retailers and restaurants.
Or visit the website: Geoff Merrill Wines