Jo Marsh’s Billy Button Wines is an exploration of Victoria’s Alpine Valleys and the cultural influence that has seen them grow to be prime territory for many lesser known Italian grapes – amongst others. Marsh leaves no stone unturned, working with a dizzying range of varieties to make textured and deftly structured wines that speak of grape and the cool alpine territory. Marsh was a Young Gun Finalist in 2016.
Marsh studied oenology at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 2001 and immediately securing a coveted place on the graduate recruitment program with Southcorp (now Treasury Wine Estates). That took her to Penfolds in Nuriootpa, Rosemount’s Denman Estate in the Hunter Valley and Lindeman’s vast facility in Karadoc in Victoria’s Murray Darling region, before she settled into an assistant winemaking role at Seppelt Great Western in 2004.
In 2005, Marsh was promoted to winemaker, assuming responsibility for the traditional method sparkling wines, as well as being the operational manager for all table wines. In 2009, she became Senior Winemaker overseeing all winemaking operations. In 2011, the same year she became a Len Evans Scholar, Marsh left Seppelt to take the Head Winemaker job at Feathertop Wines at Porepunkah, in Victoria’s Alpine Valleys.
The next few years were seminal for both Marsh and Feathertop, with the wines receiving strong critical praise and the Alpine Valleys leaving a lasting impression. Marsh left in 2014, determined to make her own wines in the region. Billy Button Wines was founded the same year. Marsh has also worked vintages in the Napa Valley and in Burgundy, but it was a stint with a legendary Victorian winemaker that helped form her future direction.
“I worked closely with Kevin McCarthy for a number of years making the T’Gallant wines,” she says. “He really broadened my horizons in winemaking and taught me to push the boundaries, try new things and just learn to let go a little bit more. I think the style of wine I make at Billy Button is heavily influenced by what I learnt working with him.”
Billy button is the common name for the bright yellow ball-like native daisies that proliferate across the Alpine Valleys in spring and summer, and Marsh has taken a similarly expansive approach, working with nearly 30 varieties from a patchwork of scattered vineyards. Many of those varieties are Italian in origin, with rarities (for Australia) such as schioppettino and friulano joined by nebbiolo and vermentino. Marsh also makes pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling, and faithful to her Seppelt days still runs long on sparkling, with four prosecco bottlings joined by a sparkling red made from tempranillo and shiraz.
Marsh also makes the highly regarded Shy Susan (another wildflower) wines in Tasmania with her partner Glen James – pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, gewürztraminer and an amphora-raised shiraz. Also made with James, the Claypot Wines are informed by ancient winemaking traditions, with Alpine Valleys and Heathcote fruit fermented and matured on skins in clay amphora before bottling without fining or filtration.