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Rise and rise of Rose: AWRI chair and Hill-Smith Family Vineyards head of winemaking Louisa Rose tossed in a promising career in physics to become one of Australia’s premier winemakers.

Rise and rise of Rose: AWRI chair and Hill-Smith Family Vineyards head of winemaking Louisa Rose tossed in a promising career in physics to become one of Australia’s premier winemakers.

HISTORY will record those who produced some of the world’s great vintages. And sadly, for some, will also enshrine those select few who bottled some of the world’s great failures. But Louisa Rose has secured her place in that rarest of all categories in the industry’s annals because she actually saved a great wine from extinction.

Louisa Rose is so damn smart if it weren’t for her disarming personality you might be too leery to even sit next to her for fear she would ask a question.

Which you could only answer with a panicked expression.

Before fleeing into the distance.

And yet she seems to live her life in a permanent state of denial.

The Hill-Smith Family Vineyards head of winemaking has just been elected chair of the Australian Wine Research Institute.

That might put her at the pinnacle of the world’s most cutting-edge conclave of brainiacs and research wizards but she still tries to brush it all off.

Repeatedly claiming she is just a team player and every success with which she has been associated has been the result of that team’s work.

It wasn’t until she was threatened with a smack in the head that Rose finally conceded she might have had more of a hand than most in the rescue and then renaissance of Viognier.

When she first had her interest piqued Viognier plantings were as scarce as the proverbial hen’s teeth.

Maybe just 11ha in the world. Which could actually be an overstatement.

That’s not endangered, that’s one season from extinction.

Yet like the more popular Chardonnay, Viognier has the potential to produce full-bodied white wines but with the added attraction of more natural aromatics.

So Rose saw its long-term value and today Viognier’s revival sees it growing in major wine areas around the world.

The next rabbit she is planning to pull out of her domestic habit is Verdejo, a mostly Spanish variety she believes will flourish in Australia’s Mediterranean climate of hot summers.

Happier to talk about a wine than herself, Rose describes Verdejo as a “healthy, fresh vine which thrives with low water and hot weather”.

“Like Viognier it is a white, not dissimilar to Sauvignon Blanc but with much more intensity,” she says.

“We need to keep up the search for opportunities such as these, we would be stupid if we did not consider options for the future if climate change is to be a reality.

“So new varieties with exciting new flavours which will cope better in Australia, particularly for our warm, inland areas, are essential.”

Truth be known, as far as Rose goes, wine has already been a winner for the past 21 years, give or take a month.

Because this significant intellect could just as easily, in fact almost was, lost to the esoterics of physics.

Her first degree was pure science and she concedes if she hadn’t had a taste for wine to start with she would probably now be working on DNA in a research lab or university somewhere.

As a closet wine drinker not sharing her phenomenal capacity for the industry with the wider public.

Fortunately she came from an agricultural background (and still runs a small beef cattle herd), she loves wine and it lets her indulge another of her loves – travelling the world’s most famous cities and eating in their finest restaurants.

Through it all though Rose still retains a delightful sense of the mischievous.

Such as admitting when Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt turned up for his first AWRI board meeting she had to “resist the temptation to sneak over and just touch him”.

While her Nobel might still be in the future, her track record is already almost without parallel.

Full story in May issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.