Making wine, saving the world. It’s all in a day’s work for Vanessa Altmann. Emilie Reynolds caught up with the Langhorne Creek winemaker to chat about her journey so far and the exciting chapters to come.
Vanessa Altmann says sometimes it’s the wines you least expect that surprise you. Perhaps, sometimes it’s the same with winemakers.
At 32 years of age, Altmann has been in the wine industry for 14 years but her journey into winemaking was certainly unique. Too busy serving wine to study it, Altmann said she caught a big break when she was just 19-years-old.
“I wanted to move into the wine industry and was offered the opportunity to work at Temple Bruer, as personal assistant for the chief executive officer,” Altmann explained. “This was really my foot in the door to learn the business.”
Altmann said the unpredictable nature of her position allowed her to develop a range of skills in the winery.
“If you look hard enough there’s always tasks that no one else wants to do in a winery, so I did them!” Altmann said. “From lab analysis to washing barrels and along the way I soaked up all the knowledge I could from one of my greatest teachers, David Bruer.”
Obviously impressing Bruer with her hard-working attitude, Altmann was quickly promoted to a position which opened her eyes up to the world of winemaking.
“After a year or so I moved to the role of trainee winemaker and have progressed along into the position of winemaker and quality manager,” she said. “The energy of vintage, the want to create wine adventures and to see a wine through from vineyard to bottle all inspired me to follow this career.”
Since then, Altmann has worked 14 vintages at Temple Bruer and has been a firm believer in the sustainable practices of the winery. From early on Temple Bruer adopted certified organic grape and wine production to protect consumers, employees and the wider environment.
“I love Temple Bruer for everything they’ve done, continue to do and everything they stand for when it comes to organic wine production.”
Altmann said in a sense organic growing and winemaking was the only way she knew, but her passion for the practices were deep-seated.
“It has become ingrained in my ethos not only for winemaking, but also for the food that I eat and the types of business that I want to support,” Altmann explained. “For me it’s more than an interest, it’s a choice about how I want to live my life and my hopes for our future.”
Organic winemaking has been a growing movement over the past few years, and Altmann said she hoped it doesn’t slow down any time soon.
“Certified organic wines don’t contain synthetic herbicides of fungicides,” she said. “For me it is key that both our human health and our planets health benefit from organic wine production. Advocacy for organic agriculture will keep the momentum going, furthermore I hope this groundswell will highlight the symbiosis between being a carbon neutral and certified organic wine business.”
A natural wine adventurer, Altmann began working on a personal wine label which reflected the organic winemaking techniques she had learnt with Bruer. The venture, named Switch Wines, came to fruition in 2011 after Altmann made a few sacrifices to get it off the ground.
“Well the first thing I did was sell my car, you need cash to start a wine label!” Altmann said.
“When you’re starting it takes support, family, friends and most importantly drinkers.”
Describing her brand as a “two barrel wine empire”, Altmann said Switch Wines were living bottles of adventure and purity.
“They are wholehearted wines from the growing to the drinking,” she said. “The wines are created in small parcels using elements of my environment or terroir such as grape skins or stalk to build structure rather than factory adds. This gives the wines freedom in its own right to be diverse and powerful as the vintages come and go.”
Altmann said outside of working at Temple Bruer, Switch takes up most of her spare time.
“Any other time is spent with family, at the gym or in my veggie patch.”
As well as personal success, Altmann was recognised on a national scale in 2013 when she was named a young gun of wine finalist and became an alumni of the Governor’s Leadership Foundation.
Citing Switch as one of her biggest accomplishments to date, Altmann said although the journey hasn’t been easy, it has been worth it.
“Making wines under my own label has been one of the most challenging and rewarding achievements so far,” she said.
She implored young winemakers to remember to keep their dreams alive and remain true to their personal philosophy.
“Don’t get stuck, keep reinventing and experimenting,” she said. “Sometimes this is hard, but try and find space to forget everything that you think you know about wine and make what you dream.”
Looking to the future, Altmann said her ultimate goal remains simple.
“To make wines that people love to drink,” she said. “My greatest achievement will be sustaining a balance between the financial, environmental and social impact of the wine industry and engage with those who I come across with authenticity and mutual support.
“These are my hopes for a great career.”
This post has been adapted from an article first published in the June 2015 Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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