Claire Holloway is a young Perth woman who has given up her well-paid FIFO job of 6 years to follow her wine dreams. Claire began work at Houghton’s Winery in the Swan Valley at the beginning of the year as part of the Vintage 2014 team. Along the way she is writing a very cool blog about her vintage experiences – Vine to Vintage.
Naturally I was drawn to Claire’s story, as I love meeting and hearing about people who simply can’t get enough of the wine world, like myself! I wanted to touch base with Claire to see how her role as a Cellar Hand at Houghton’s is going and find out a bit more about how her passion came about.
1. So Claire, how did you come to fall in love with the wine world?
My interest in wine started from humble beginning at university when I became legally able to drink. After discovering that cleanskin wine was only slightly more expensive than cask wine and tasted much better, I slowly started to become more and more intrigued by the different varieties available.
Once I left university and suddenly had some money to spend, I started experimenting with different wine styles. The more I drink, the more I am amazed by the diversity of wines available and the amazing way that the humble grape can be transformed into something so expressive of place and experience.
2. What does your role as a Cellar Hand involve?
Houghton is one of the larger producers in Australia, so we have 16 cellar hands working over vintage (smaller wineries would have fewer than this). For this reason, we are split up to focus on different processes within the cellar. My major role has been managing the culturing of yeast and then inoculation of the grape juices with the yeast to start the ferments. Once fermentation is complete, I am then responsible for finishing the fermentation and adding stabilisation and fining agents to ensure there is no unwanted secondary fermentation once the wine has been packaged for sale.
I have been lucky with my role in that I have also had the opportunity to assist with a number of other cellar operations at all stages of the grape’s journey to a wine. From hand sorting whole bunch chardonnay grapes, through to loading isotainers for wine transport around Australia.
3. What is the best and the worst part of being a Cellar Hand?
Best – gaining and in-depth understanding and appreciation of just how it is that grapes transition from the vineyard to the wine bottle.
Worst – waking up each day with new aches, pains, cuts and bruises.
4. What are your plans after vintage is finished?
My hope and dream is to stay working within the wine industry. Unfortunately Houghton does not have any permanent cellar hand positions available so I am currently seeking other opportunities. I have also been researching some post-graduate study options so that I can enhance my current skills as a qualified Chemical Engineer and make this applicable to the wine industry.
5. In wine terminology, how would you describe yourself?
I love this question! I actually have already decided in the past which type of wine describes my personality as I used this in my wedding speech last year. I believe that I could be compared to a Shiraz.
Shiraz is often described as having a big and bold personality on the nose – sometimes a bit too overpowering at first. But once you open up the bottle and let it aerate for a while, you discover much more subtlety to the peppery aromas. Although, I must admit, I would be the more hearty Barossa style of shiraz rather than the more elegant Margaret River variety.
6. Other than Houghton’s what are your favourite Swan Valley spots?
Hands down my favourite winery in the Swan Valley is Upper Reach. I was lucky enough to have my wedding there (at Broad’s Restaurant) last year and they do an amazing Tempranillo, which keeps me going back for more! I also really like the wines at Sitella. Also being a beer drinker, I am a huge fan of what the guys at Feral are doing, especially their IPAs.
7. If you could work at any vineyard in the world, which one would it be and why?
I couldn’t give you the name of one specific winery, but my dream would be to work in the Veneto region, which is where my mother’s side of the family are from. I visited the area to discover my heritage with her and the rest of my family in 2010 and I fell in love with the local Valdobiodenne Prosecco and other regional varieties.
Make sure you check out Claire’s Vine to Vintage blog, she has a fantastic writing style and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn about winemaking and vineyard work. Or connect with Claire on facebook, twitter or via Google+.