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…
Raquel Jones Weathercraft
Weathercraft is the realisation of Raquel Jones’ long-held dream to own make wine from her own fruit. A project where the growing takes precedence, and the making simply follows. Eventualy landing in Beechworth on an established vineyard, she makes elegant takes on local stars – chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet – but has replanted to map a future that is occupied substantially by Spanish varieties.
Jones didn’t follow a standard path to wine. No family vineyard. No winemaking studies followed by educational jaunts overseas. No multi-regional Blundstone-wearing vintage stints. None of that. Jones did, however, grow up helping her father grow fruit and vegetables for the family on their East Gippsland property, which fostered a life-long passion for growing things.
The parental encouragement, though, was very much to follow a professional career, not a horticultural one. That led to the law and a decade-long career in her own legal and finance business. And a successful career at that, but that passion for growing and a burgeoning interest in wine was always going to get in the way.
A bottle of wine brought to the family table had switched the lights on for Jones some years earlier. “Growing up at home, the focus was mostly on food, and the wines were homemade and pretty rough in retrospect. One Christmas, my brother-in-law brought over a Mount Mary ‘Quintet’ to share and I was given a taste. I thought it was magic in a glass and it opened my eyes to how good wine could be,” she says. That appreciation was further developed by extensive travels through Europe, with a strong focus on wine regions, including Burgundy, the Rhône Valley, and in Spain, where her heritage lies.
Jones sold her business to allow the space and resources to study nutritional bioscience and chemistry, and later viticulture and oenology, all with the aim of one day owning a vineyard and being a vigneron. That word, vigneron, is important to Jones. She and her husband, Hugh, could have bought grapes to start a label, but it was non-negotiable that they’d make wine from the ground up.
When the opportunity to buy an established vineyard in their favourite region of Beechworth came up, Raquel and Hugh jumped at the chance. It was an ideally situated and immaculately maintained property, set up in 1998 for premium wine production. The pair launched the Weathercraft label in 2016 and made their first wines in 2017. Without the practical experience of making much wine herself, and still part way through her oenology studies at CSU, she enlisted the help of Mark O’Callaghan to advise in the winery, and the legendary Mark Walpole to help fine-tune the vineyard.
Raquel farms in a natural way, encouraging microbial soil life as a way of combatting pests and weeds. “All life begins and ends with the soil, it is a living, breathing system with an incredible ability to replenish and sustain life. The way in which we manage the soil and its microbial populations determines not only the health and vitality of the vines we grow, but the quality of the wine we produce and the well-being of the environment in which we live,” she says.
Working with the existing varieties, Raquel makes pinot gris, chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet and a pale and dry shiraz-based rosé under the Weathercraft label. And while she is passionate about the elegant and refined expressions of these grapes, using traditional manual techniques and only French oak, she has an abiding desire to pursue growing and making Spanish varieties at the highest level, with an albariño and tempranillo in the wings.
“My dream is to one day make a tempranillo that rivals Spain’s best. When we bought our site, I undertook considerable research on soil composition, climate, including diurnal variation and various other factors. From a meso-climate perspective, I chose a mix of three clones from the Ribera del Duero region that perfectly suited our site. Most clones in Australia come from Portugal if not Valdepeñas, Rioja or the Toro region of Spain. To have Ribera clones is very special.”