2 minutes with Tessa Brown
Occupation: Winemaker/ Viticulturist
Business: Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown
www.vsandb.com.au (coming soon)
Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown are new players in the Australian wine industry. Tell us about it.
My partner Jeremy and I had talked about planting a vineyard since 2007. We found land in 2012 and are still in the trenches of establishment, though we’re starting to pay bills a little less late now. Planting a vineyard is far more expensive than you think, even with twenty years of experience. We've planted two hectares at the highest altitude with Chardonnay, Riesling, Nebbiolo and Shiraz.
Why did you want to start your own wine business?
For many of the reasons other people do – artistic freedom, the possibility of doing better financially. At age 33, I was coming up against discrimination: the presumption that I’d have kids soon and move out of wine production into sales and marketing. I fought it for a while but it became untenable, and the land came up at the right time.
How do your wines fit within the greater wine community of Beechworth?
We're a bit different to most Beechworth wine businesses. To balance out the money we sank into planting, we started making wine with purchased fruit, including some from the King and Alpine Valleys. Most Beechworth vignerons are 100% Beechworth fruit. Also, our style is more modern than is typical in Beechworth. We use less new oak and have less time in barrel before bottling, but we do observe other local techniques, like basket pressing, wild yeast, allowing malo to go through in Chardonnay. We fit in but in our own way.
What does a complex issue such as sustainability in the wine industry mean to you:
In the vineyard?
I have this one worked out the most. Grapes in Australia are an introduced species that we plant in a monoculture, on land stolen from First Nations People. Keeping that in mind helps keep things real. We have eighteen hectares of land on our farm, and only a maximum of four that we're likely to plant vines on. When the business can afford it, we plan to integrate a mix of crops, trees and animals to make nutrient cycling effective and functional.
It's a shame life is so short, because I have about 100 years of work to do to get our farm, Thorley, humming as a system. I also hope to get to a point where we start to pay the rent socially. I don't know what shape that will take, but we'll get input from Aboriginal people that leads us in the right direction. Financial, environmental and social sustainability is a lot of balls to keep in the air but it's worth trying for.
In the winery?
Winery operations are a shadow dance to the vineyard's growing season and although the work happens indoors it can’t be separated from the vineyard. We're using fewer cleaning chemicals now, but that means using more water and more power to generate heat, though water is not an issue where we are, with a 1100mm annual rainfall. When we eventually build the winery it will almost certainly be off the grid. Grape marc goes into compost which goes back to the vineyard, so the main waste challenges are packaging. Cardboard can be shredded and composted, but plastic is trickier. I'm interested to see if any leadership emerges with respect to Australia's recycling, other than shipping waste off to a developing country and giving ourselves a pat on the back.
In the bottle?
This is a thornier question. I don't see a short or even medium term solution to taking carbon miles out of our wines. Of course, I do support eating locally-produced food, but I need people in other cities to want to drink our wine. The bottles come from either France or the UAE, so the embodied energy is higher than local bottles, which are sadly less attractive than the imports.
What are your top five tips for someone wanting to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle?
- ·Don't have more than two kids
- Vote for policies that move away from fossil fuels
- Live in smaller spaces and make do with less
- Research what you consume (but that's hard to do this when you're working two jobs to keep the rent paid and clothes on the kids)
- Respect that sustainability in Australia and other western nations is linked with class. It’s easier to live with a small footprint if you're well-off and well-educated. If you want to make sustainability possible for everyone, you also need to vote for policies that redistribute wealth
If we were to visit you in Beechworth, where should we eat and drink?
A glass of wine at the Cellar Door Wine Store is a must in the afternoons, followed by a meal at Provenance Restaurant if you're splurging, or The Ox and Hound for a warm, relaxed bistro affair.
Pick one of your wines and your favourite thing to eat with it.
My chef friend, Sally Wright from Tastetrekkers, made us a chestnut congee a few months back that totally blew my hair back. It's a humble dish, but warming and inventive all at once, and was great with a glass of our 2016 Brunnen Pinot Noir.
Follow Tessa and her life in wine on Instagram @vsandbwines
Interview by Amanda Kennedy. Amanda is an artist currently doing a writing degree. You can find her on Instagram @artbyamandakennedy