Over the last decade or so, Jim Chatto has carved out a name for himself as one of this country’s finest winemakers. From grunt work in the Hunter Valley, Chatto showed his talent early and took on successive chief winemaker roles before simultaneously steering the great Hunter icon Mount Pleasant back into the limelight and taking Chatto Wines to the cool of Tasmania’s Huon Valley. Chatto was a Young Gun finalist in 2007 with his own label while at Pepper Tree Wines.
Jim Chatto worked with Greg Silkman at the Hunter Valley’s Tamburlaine (an organic pioneer, and Australia’s largest organic grower) after an application for a job at Mount Pleasant didn’t pan out. Mount Pleasant had long been a target for Chatto, after being taken by the wines while studying winemaking – a 1984 Semillon apparently being the major catalyst – and that job request, in 1993, was his second attempt.
Chatto’s time with Silkman, however, instilled him the importance of viticulture, with the organic approach ingrained as a means to aim for perfection in the vineyard and then to do no harm in the winery. That vineyard and winery work continued while Chatto finished his wine science degree at Charles Sturt University, which stretched from 2001 to graduation in 2008. He left Tamburlaine as Silkman sold his share in 1996. That was a smooth transition, though, with Chatto immediately taking up an assistant winemaking role with Silkman’s start-up contract business, First Creek Wines.
With his degree finally in the bag, Chatto took up the Chief Winemaker role at Rosevears Estate in the Tamar Valley, a far cry from the hot and humid conditions of the Hunter. That stint lasted for a year and a half, before a return to First Creek Wines as the Chief Winemaker in their new facility, with a fast-growing business of both own-label wines and contract making. The inspiration from his time in Tasmania burnt strongly, though, and he quietly began looking for a site to realise a long-term dream of making pinnacle expressions of one grape: pinot noir.
That site was eventually found in 2007 near Glaziers Bay, deep in the Huon Valley. It is one of the most southerly vineyards in Australia, and a site that Chatto has described as being “right on the edge of viticultural possibility”, perfect for his no-compromise endeavour. None of this stopped Chatto simultaneously surging forth with a dynamic career that saw him helm First Creek’s winemaking for seven years, then to a celebrated six-year stint as Chief Winemaker at Pepper Tree Wines.
The thing that lured Chatto away from Pepper Tree was something that he had craved through his career, and that was working with the parcels of vines he often envied at Mount Pleasant. From being rejected in two early career applications, he became Chief Winemaker in 2013, assuming the Chief Winemaking role for McWiliam’s (Mount Pleasant’s parent company) at the same time. He also helmed the making for the Kreglinger, ensuring trips back to Tasmania had a double purpose. Chatto took on the Group Chief Winemaker role in 2018.
Meanwhile, his vineyard, lovingly tended to by star couple Gilli and Paul Lipscombe of Sailor Seeks Horse (YGOW Winemaker’s Choice winners in 2018), made its first vintage in 2012. Production was frugal, but the wines received a rare level of success, with the releases to follow being some of the most acclaimed pinots in the country. Those wines have fallen into two tiers now, a white label pinot and the black label ‘Isle’ release, which is effectively the reserve. Chatto added the ‘Seven Inch’ pinot (be careful when you Google that…) from a neighbour’s pocket-sized vineyard in 2018. The wines are all elegant yet assertively powerful, built in a very classic mould.