What does it take to be a winemaker?

What does it take to be a winemaker?

Heather Stewart, Delta’s winemaker, has a varied and fascinating background. From studying art history, to obtaining a Master of Science in Psychology, she has a unique and captivating range of experiences, all of which have influenced her development as a passionate winemaker.

We spent the morning chatting with Heather to understand her background and learn what it really takes to be a winemaker in Marlborough’s successful winegrowing district.

The Influence of Travel

Heather has a very hedonistic style about her. Rather than having always wanted to be a winemaker, her focus has been to do things she enjoys. Her education took her from initially completing a degree in Art History, to then undertaking a Masters of Science in Psychology. She then spent three years travelling the world and exploring the sights, scents and flavours of different countries, before moving back to Marlborough.

“When I arrived back in Marlborough, a friend suggested I do a vintage at Saint Clair, and I jumped at the opportunity. This then developed into a more permanent role within the winery lab, and I remember thinking ‘I’m really happy here’ and ultimately decided to stay working in wine”.

Heather has always enjoyed learning and expanding her skills. Opportunities to develop continued to present themselves, and she jumped at the opportunity to complete vintages at leading wineries in Tuscany and California. “I’ve always loved learning new skills and continually challenging myself. Tuscany offered me the chance to get really hands on with small batch red wine making which has been invaluable in developing my skills needed for Delta Wines”. She also completed a degree in Viticulture and Wine Making to enhance her ever growing wine related skill set.

True Passions

But if Heather hadn’t become a winemaker, what would she have been doing? “As a child, I had always loved gardening, so I wonder if Viticulture has always been my calling.” Additionally, Heather’s passion for art and history might have led her to become an art curator or museum manager.

She also has a love for food and wine, which, combined with travel, are all elements key to being a winemaker. “During my travels, I had the opportunity to work in a high-end London wine bar where we had over 100 new wines available each month. This gave me priceless access to wines I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to taste. The flavours of food and wine combined during my travels is something that’s always stayed with me. Barcelona’s combination of Rioja and tapas, or Grillo and fresh handmade pasta in Sicily are embedded in my mind”, the romance of flavours enhanced by wine are almost like art thinks Heather.

Where Science meets Nature

At Delta, we’re all about allowing the terroir to speak for itself within the wine. French wine making has been influential in developing Heather’s understanding of this. “There are so many tiny estates in France which all show unique characteristics. For example, small sites in Burgundy can show real intricate flavours, flavours which might be quite different if the grapes had come from a site just a few hundred metres away.” She believes there’s so much we can learn about site selection and terroir, and given New Zealand is such a young wine making industry, we’re continuing to learn every day.

Having a Masters in Psychology has meant Heather has a unique approach to wine making. Her scientific background means she has a detailed understanding of statistics, experimental design and even how to read journals critically, all of which enhance where science meets nature in wine making.

The Future of Winemaking

For the next generation of winemakers, Heather is keen for them to continue developing Marlborough’s success in new and progressive ways. “I’d love to see the next generation of winemakers become more experimental in their styles”. Starting their own projects early on, and not just aiming to work for a big winery are things she hopes are encouraged within the industry. She believes young winemakers should always remember that wine is made to be enjoyed. “Just because a wine is fashionable, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what you should be making. Focusing on producing wines that people will enjoy, whilst also pushing the boundaries of winemaking is something I hope the next generation will develop”.

Not only does Heather love food, wine and travel, one of her main hobbies is yoga, through which she has frequently travelled the world to explore new styles. So after a hard days work, you might find Heather enjoying an hour of yoga, followed by a glass of Hatters Hill Pinot Noir, paired with some delicious local Marlborough produce.

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