A day in the life of a winemaker

Photo: Visions of Victoria

We caught up with Rob Merrick, Robert Oatley Vineyards Winemaker to find out about harvesting season, the time of year that wine grapes are ripe for picking, and what a typical day entails.

We hear you’re frequently up before dawn?

Too right! Especially on the days we’re harvesting our local vineyards. We’re based at Mudgee in the central west of NSW and we harvest the grapes in the cool of night – very late night! So the fruit begins to arrive at the winery before dawn, which means a 3.30am wake-up call for the winemaking team.

What’s the process once the trucks arrive?

Each batch is tested for sugar, acidity, and taste prior to the grapes hitting the crusher. We also check the juice every 15 minutes during the crushing process. For our special small batch wines we change the settings on the basket press to give a very gentle juice extraction for our best parcels of fruit – the basket press is the machine we use to press the juice out of the skins.

Do you have a favourite Robert Oatley vineyard?

I sure do – the 'AC1' block at Craigmoor here in Mudgee – it’s planted with chardonnay, and the vines are over 40 years old, every year producing some of our best grapes. We basket press the grapes which  allows the natural yeasts to work their magic as they are aged in beautiful French oak hogshead barrels.

You bottle your own wines too?

We have a state-of-the-art bottling facility on-site so we can quality control from vineyard through to the glass. We taste the wines prior during and immediately after bottling too. Then I’ll head back to the crushers and fermenters to taste the next vintages as they’re being made.

How does your day end?

Like most winemakers, with a Coopers! Around 5.00pm we’ll sit down and plan the next day.

What do you love most about your role?

Definitely the variety of wines We have all sorts of varieties from dozens of different regions coming into the winery, and each year (vintage) is different. We’re kept on our toes, always learning and never resting on our laurels.

Wines by Robert Oatley Vineyards were the toast of the Bank of Melbourne World’s Longest Lunch as we celebrated the start of Festival 2015. Their delicious drops were also savoured on the front lawns at Flemington Racecourse during Flemington Grazing Trail & Cellar Door on Super Saturday.

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