June brings the winter in the Southern States and what better way to celebrate with some Mount Barker wine. Wine Club members this month got to enjoy the delights of Ryan O’Meara’s creations from Express Winemakers.
We sat down with Ryan for an insight on how and why he loves wine:
Q: How early on did you know you wanted to be a winemaker?
It was definitely a gradual thing. I was always interested in science and winemaking is a good example of an applied science, where you don’t necessarily end up in a lab all day long. The passion required to stay in the industry was only kindled years later working vintages across Europe, where wine is so intertwined with the culture.
Q: How long have you been a winemaker?
I finished my studies in 2004 so about 14 years ago. I’ve been making my own wines under the Express Winemakers label since 2011.
Q: Where did your journey start?
After I finished uni, I went over to the Barossa, before heading over to California and then back to Margaret River. I had a bit of a hiatus from the industry and wound up working at Little Creatures as a brewer for a few years. While I was travelling across Europe I began working in wineries again for a couple of years and worked harvests in Italy, France and Spain, before coming down to the Great Southern and making it my home.
Q: Is there a style of wine you really love to make? Why is it special to you?
For me Rose has played such a big role in establishing my business. I remember working in a large winery while making my first vintage for Express Winemakers and getting odd looks for fermenting rose in old oak barrels. The wine looked great, so textural and it sold out every year. These days I’m loving experimenting with the Chenin Blanc growing on one of the vineyards I’m looking after, it’s so versatile and makes such beautiful aromatic wines with natural acidity and texture.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the winemaker today?
It would have to be climate change. Its affecting some regions more than others, with some well known regions potentially going to be too warm to grow premium grapes within 30 or 40 years. Not to mention the seasons are getting less and less predictable.
Q: How has the role of the winemaker changed since you began your career?
I believe the role can be whatever you want it to be. For me, I’ve leaned back closer to the vineyard in the last few years, but obviously when you run your own business there are a lot of other roles that I never anticipated.
Q: What is special about winemaking in your region? What challenges and opportunities does the region present?
The Great Southern boasts so much potential, it is Western Australia’s only cool climate region and the granitic soils down here make exhilarating wines, that being said the to make such wines you have to live on the edge and dealing with the weather down here would be our biggest challenge. Another challenge is trying to convert old farmers into using organic practices and doing away with systemic chemicals. I’ve run two vineyard down here for the past three years and have done perfectly fine without them, and that was including the notoriously difficult 2017 vintage.
Q: If money and time were no issue, is there a particular wine you would love to make?
I’d love to go back to Europe and would love to make Chenin out of the Loire or work in the Jura, the wines coming out of there are really cutting edge, however my French is particularly bad. There are so many things I would like to do if money and time were no issue, that being said, I’m pretty happy where I am.
Q: What or who, inspires you?
Every time I open a bottle of wine that has been well made and expresses its unique place, it’s a new source of inspiration.
Q: Have you had a particular role model or mentor that has shaped the direction of your career?
I looked for a mentor in the industry for a while and the closest I came was a couple of brewers that I worked under, they were very passionate people, but also very scientific and practical.
Q: Where do you see the Australian and your region wine industries heading?
I think the Australian Industry is in a really good place at the moment and its only getting better. When I joined the industry it was in a rather stale state, dominated by big corporate players with little opportunities for boundary pushing wine. These days it seems a lot of winemakers run their own wineries and aren’t afraid to take risks and the consumers are benefitting.
The Great Southern is finally starting to get recognised for its quality wines, it’ll probably take a few more years for its potential to be truly reached after which I imagine its name could be synonymous with high quality wines.
Q: Fast forward ten years. Where are you?
I’d like to own my own vineyard somewhere in the Great Southern, maybe Denmark or the Porongurups. I’d like to be continuing to learn new things every season, but it would also nice to be in a bit more comfortable position without having to stress about growing conditions, ferments and sales etc.
Q: If you could drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
At the moment I’d probably venture back to Chenin Blanc, the natural acidity is so cleansing that it’d be hard to get sick of.
Q: How was Vintage 2018?
The 2018 Vintage was probably one of my favourites, or maybe just because it came after a 2017 Vintage that was extremely difficult. The conditions were dry and the growing conditions were quite mild and consequently the wines are looking fantastic.
Q: Best Value on the market right now?
Ravensworth is pretty hard to go past for world class wines at affordable prices.