Steffi Snook Yayoi Wines

Top Winemakers

Yayoi means ‘new life’ and is the traditional Japanese name for the month of March. For Steffi Snook, it symbolises the start of a wine label and a new direction in her life. A New Zealander who came to Australia to study and was so entranced by Melbourne’s rich food and wine culture, Snook worked her way through fine dining and wine distribution to land in Geelong. It was there that a passion for making wine really took hold, launching her label in 2022. Chenin blanc takes the lead – her key obsession – along with a textural vermentino, while a blend of the two grapes find their way into a pét-nat.

“I think sometimes we can get caught up in the prestige or glamour behind wine,” says Snook. “But for me, a bottle of wine tells a story. It speaks of the soil, the farmers, the climate. I think of all the things that had to happen, often fortuitously, for this wine to arrive at the table. For me, wine is more than wine, it is a connection with the person on the other side of the table, with the food, with the region from where it came, with the history of a time and place.”

A Central Otago native, Snook was drawn to viticulture from a young age, with a school trip to a vineyard capturing her imagination. It was at the other end of the industry that she got her start, though, working in high-end restaurants after she moved to Melbourne as a 19-year-old. Stints at Rockpool, Vue de Monde and Dinner by Heston followed, with the world of fine wine opening before her. “I loved how passionate the industry was, and the world of food and wine parings was so fascinating to me,” she says.

Those roles were to support herself while studying media and communications, but the wine began to exert a bigger influence. The next step was pausing her course, studying WSET and taking a role with Rob Walters’ leading wine import and distribution company, Bibendum. “I learned so much about the art of wine, and the philosophy of some of the great winemakers of the world,” Snook says.

A move down to the Surf Coast saw her working the 2019 vintage alongside Matt Holmes at Bannockburn Wines. “I found a love and fascination for the production world, and I knew this would be my life moving forward. The following year, I landed a cellar hand role at Lethbridge Wines with Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis, where I was pushed into the deep end and made to swim!”

Not long after, COVID struck. “When the zombie apocalypse started, Ray and I had a discussion about life and how the world as we knew it was doomed… So, I thought, stuff it, I may as well try and make my own wine! I grabbed some snips and conned some friends and family into helping me pick some grapes off a vineyard that had otherwise been left to rot. This led me to making my very first wine.”

That first wine was a catalyst for founding YAYOI Wines with “perhaps a little ignorance, but also with a lot of determination,” Snook says. “It sparked the idea that if I was going to do this seriously, I had to do it with intention. I wanted to work with the quality fruit varieties that I loved and was passionate about and do it with precision and care.”

After working with Holmes, Snook enrolled in a diploma on Wine Technology through the Goulburn-Ovens TAFE, and she is in her fourth vintage at Lethbridge. “Ray and Maree have been an integral part of my mentorship, understanding the philosophy of not only grape farming but more holistic ideas of art, wine, science and nature. Having a symbiotic relationship with them all.”

While Snook is also working with vermentino from the Chalmers Vineyard in Heathcote, her great passion is for chenin blanc. “I am sick of hearing so many people turn their noses up at chenin blanc. I think it’s crazy to think most of the plantings of chenin blanc in Australia were planted in error. A happy accident for me, as we have access to these amazing old vines. I had a grower ask me why I would possibly want this fruit? I told him I am a lady on a mission to make Australian chenin blanc into a respected and noble variety, as it is considered in other regions, such as the Loire Valley and Stellenbosch.”

The winemaking process is intuitive and built on tasting, says Snook. “Once fruit comes in, I will do an analysis and make decisions based on mouthfeel and flavour, not necessarily based on the numbers. I love to play around with skin contact and solids during fermentation, building phenolic grip and flavour. All go through a wild yeast fermentation, and I love to ferment in barrel, as again it’s about building that mouthfeel, but I keep portions in tank to keep the aromatics of the wine.”

Snook favours fruit from organic or sustainable vineyards to get the best quality and will only filter if she feels it will improve the wine. “Having good ingredients is the key, then don’t over manipulate things. I try to bring balance and harmony to my wines. I only add very minimal sulphur upon bottling just to be able to protect and hold the life of the wine. I’m talking low, as in 30ppm, which is way below the industry standard that can use 250ppm, and compared to the dried fruit industry which uses 300ppm!”

Calling her McLaren Vale chenin blanc an ode to her time in the Loire Valley, Snook favours an elegant style. “For my vermentino, I took what I love about Italian table wine and Australian winemaking practices and developed it into something I’m really happy with. I like to explore with small batch ferments building layers and by constantly tasting, tasting, tasting… It’s about producing wines that are both textural and aromatic. It’s all about complementing food! …I want to be near the beach and eating some delicious seafood.”

Snook says that the biggest lesson she’s learnt would be to keep going. “You must be passionate and determined, as there will be doubters and a lot of egos to deal with out there. It all comes down to respect. We must respect the land we grow on, respect the relationships we have with our growers and how we value our farming practices. We must respect the way we treat our fruit and do our best to make our best expressions in the wine. Respect our peers and our mentors. Keep learning and evolving.”

Ideally, Snook says she will be working with chenin blanc and cabernet franc across different expressions. “My heart lives in the Loire. So, within the next five to ten years, I hope to continue to develop my relationships with the farmers I work with and keep making premium Australian chenin blanc, and eventually, I will have my own vineyard growing chenin and franc. I’m a lady on a mission to make everyone fall in love with those grapes!”

Bookmark this job

Please sign in or create account as candidate to bookmark this job

Save this search

Please sign in or create account to save this search

create resume

Create Resume

Please sign in or create account as candidate to create a resume