Behind the scenes at a family-owned wine business with 165 years or history and tradition, growing grapes in an unassuming part of South Australia, is a heavily tattooed young bloke.
Sam Bowman is a part-time muso, part-time martial arts fighter and full-time viticulturist. He’s the sort of character who can’t sit still. Emilie Reynolds caught up with the man in charge of the Bleasdale vineyards to find out how he landed in a dream role he never imagined. Sam Bowman never expected to become a viticulturist. Born and bred in Bendigo, Bowman embarked on a teaching degree long before he fell in love with wine.
It took two years for him to realise education wasn’t the right path, but luckily a short stint in hospitality showed him the light.
“When I started working in hospitality I developed a love of wine and focused my attention on learning everything I could about it,” Bowman said.
“On my days off from the restaurant I would drive to wineries and pick the winemaker’s brain trying to learn as much as I could about the whole process.”
Driven by a new passion, Bowman eventually commenced a degree in wine science and viticulture through Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga.
“One night whilst working at a local wine bar in Bendigo, I struck up a conversation with Mark Lane, the winemaker at Balgownie Estate. He was ex CSU and after chatting for a while he offered me a job over the bar that night,” Bowman said. “I started at Balgownie at 21 as a cellar and vineyard hand and never looked back.”
Six years on and 27-years-old, Bowman said much has changed since he first decided to get involved with the wine industry.
“I started my career with a sole intention of becoming a winemaker,” he explained. “I even started my own wine label at 21 years of age, chasing the glory of my name on the back of a bottle but somehow along the way I ended up in the vineyard and for better or worse it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
After five vintages at Balgownie Estates, Bowman took on a role with Bleasdale Vineyards as the viticulturist and grower liaison in 2013.
“Viticulture to me is the perfect blend of agriculture, science and business,” he said. “Working with winemakers and growers to create wines of certain styles is an exciting process and seeing the results of your hard work and management techniques is something so many industries don’t have. Plus I am always partial to a decent vino or two!”
Bowman oversees the management of Bleasdale owned vineyards and works with the company’s growers all over South Australia to deliver premium fruit to the winery.
“The business is an Aussie icon which started in 1850 and still majority owned by the original family,” he said. “We have a fantastic team and it is a great place to work.
“Bleasdale are industry leaders in Australian Malbec and the variety has become a great passion of mine over the last few years. If you think growing good Pinot Noir is hard you’ve never grown Malbec!”
Recognised on a national scale as a young leader in the wine industry, Bowman was selected by Wine Grape Growers Australia to be a representative at the Vinitech conference in Bordeaux last December.
“It has definitely been a highlight,” he said. “A great trip where I met some great people and learnt a lot about what we can expect to be the next big things in wine and viticulture in the coming years.”
While Bowman has been throwing his energy into the viticulture scene, he has a few other secret talents that set him further apart from the stereotypical wine world.
“In my early 20’s I toured around playing music in bands and performed regularly in Bendigo playing solo acoustic shows (guitar and singing). Music has always been a great passion of mine, I have even recorded some solo tracks that are still floating around on YouTube!”
As well as being a talented musician, Bowman is also sporty.
“Since I moved to SA I have been training Muay Thai kickboxing three to four times a week and have trained in Bangkok for the past two years as well,” he said.
“I also enjoy running and compete in the City to Bay and the Henley Classic each year.”
He readily admits he can’t sit still for long, so naturally one of his other passions is travel.
“Working with wine always tends to sway my travel destinations but we are lucky places with vineyards are usually the best spots,” he said. “I hope to travel as much as I can and develop a global view of viticulture.”
An active member of the Langhorne Creek Winegrowers Committee, Bowman said he believed the biggest issues in Australian viticulture were the impacts of climate change, trunk diseases and a lack of profitability in grapegrowing.
“The answer for trunk diseases is much less complex than how to sort out the issues and impacts around our changing climate and profitable grapegrowing but with the right people making the right reforms let’s hope we could be in a better position on both issues in the near future,” he said.
“What excites me is the feeling that the tides may be turning for the Australian industry and we may see a return to profitability for growers and an increase in demand for Australian wine both domestically and internationally.
“I think there are a lot of people who know what needs to be done, it is just a case of making the right reforms and letting everyone get on with the job.”
For young guns looking to kick-start their careers, Bowman said the key was to put your head down and your ears out.
“Work hard, be passionate and don’t be afraid to listen to the old blokes, they know more than you might think,” he said.
With obvious passion and a desire to educate himself, Bowman said he hoped his career would allow him to be at the forefront of viticultural innovation.
“I hope to constantly try new things to produce world-class wines,” he said.
“Australia has a great history of innovation in Viticulture and it would be a shame if the next generation didn’t continue that legacy.”
This article was first published in the September 2015 edition of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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