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A Word with the Winemakers

We meet Lachlan Macdonald and Gina White in the kitchen of their Margaret River home. The affable Vine Collective winemaking duo have invited everyone to stay for the weekend, to chat about odds and ends and beginnings, raid their pantry, and sample and resample the new vintage. The house is lively, a few other fortunate freeloaders are thawing by the fireplace as us eager types are seated around the kitchen island, eyeing off the wines and popping sugared nuts into our yapping, fawning wine-holes.

August 24, 2019 | Vine Collective DSC3592_low_cropped1

VC: Okay. So what’s happening here?

Lachlan: This is the Riesling. Pretty happy with this one at the moment. We were lucky enough to have sourced the grapes from a friend’s place in Frankland River. Has all those classic Great Southern profiles… Linear. Minerality. Zesty. Yeah, I think it turned out okay.

VC: How did you two meet?

Lachlan: We actually met through some mutual wine friends of ours – which I guess is always the way around here. Gina came to Margs in 2013 for a vintage at Moss Wood, and then we sort of just started hanging around each other – most likely using wine as the excuse – and, yeah, here we are.

VC: So what have been your winemaking journeys up to this point?

Gina: It’s all been a little bit back to front for me. I actually studied accounting after leaving school… And oddly ended up working in the office of a small organic winery in Mudgee. 

Lachlan: Gina’s from Mudgee. Big farming family. All super lovely people.

Gina: Yep, we’re everywhere in Mudgee. Anyway, not long after I started working there I began to notice that there were far more interesting things going on over in the vineyard. So over the course of the next couple of years I slowly infiltrated the wine side of things and eventually ended up enrolling at uni to study a wine science degree. 

After a brief stint in Rheinhessen in Germany, I thought it was time to try something new. A good friend of mine suggested Margaret River as both regions grew similar varieties – although the climates couldn’t be any more different. And then that brought me to Moss Wood where I was lucky enough to work for five years before VC.

Lachlan: This could drag on for a bit… I studied a Bachelor of Oenology degree at the University of Adelaide before heading back here for my first vintage. From there I became a bit of wine nomad, and travelled to California, Ontario and South Australia to make wine. I returned to Margs in 2012 to work for Evans and Tate. Then, we – I say “we”, I mean my family and I – decided to renovate an old 1950s servo on the main street and turn it into a cafe, bookstore, hybrid community space type of thing. And pretty much since then I’ve been living a double-life working in the kitchen at Riversmith and making wines for Vine Collective.

VC: Okay. So why wine? Why now? What prompted the change?

Lachlan: As a winemaker living in Margaret River, the call can be pretty strong. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to fall back into a big winery system, but now I feel small producers have greater opportunities to produce wine, and there’s now a host of new events and venues and bottle shops that are driving and stocking alternative styles… So that became really interesting to me. 

VC: Any places in particular shape the way you think about wine?

Lachlan: California and the Napa Valley in particular. I wanted to see how Chardonnay and Cabernet were being made in a different light to what we’re used to here in Margaret River. Being away from home for four years and just focusing on nothing but wine will undoubtedly shape the way you see things. 

VC: What excites you most about what’s happening right now in the industry?

Gina: There are lots of great producers across the country doing exciting things – especially those who are thinking more holistically about their processes. Whether that’s using more biological controls in the vineyard, or regenerating bushland, or working with more with natural systems and using less processing aids in the winery. 

And what’s also played an important role in this change is that they’re communicating all of this on social media. I think we all now know the direct connection customers can have with the winemaker, and the increasing interest and influence in how our land and resources are being managed when we produce food or wine. It’s hard to get a read on where this will eventually end up, or what will be the next evolution, but it’s quite exciting to see.

Lachlan: Yeah. I agree. Also, I think the focus towards single sites, zeroing in on vineyard blocks and experimenting with new grape variety clones has made it a real interesting time to be in wine.

VC: Why do you think low intervention wines are beginning to have their day in the sun?

Gina: I think it’s because people are becoming more interested in the story behind the wine: how the wines are made, where they come from, who is making it, the impact on the environment. People – and I am speaking also about winemakers here as well – are beginning to have more say in the type of wine that they want to drink, and how it connects to their own personal views on the world. 

VC: How do you feel about the tensions between natural and traditional winemakers? Particularly in the South West? Do you think they can happily co-exist?

Lachlan: There will always be differences of opinion on both sides, but I feel they can work together. Exploration and change in the wine landscape is great, and it challenges the way we approach things and forces us to reflect, and I feel consumers now have more options to try more varieties and styles than they ever have before… But there is also something to be said about honouring traditional winemaking methods. Regardless on which side of the fence you stand, in the end a good wine is a good wine.

VC: What’s something odd about winemaking that most of us wouldn’t ever think about?

Lachlan: Growing grapes makes you agonise over the weather throughout the entire summer… It can be consuming.

VC: Do you think you have a certain approach to making wine?

Lachlan: Winemakers are essentially industrial microbiologists: it’s all about the environment. Whether that’s in the vineyard, or in the cellar, I’m always constantly tasting and checking. Would I say that’s my approach, I don’t 100% know, but it’s definitely something I think about.

Gina: I tend to think about wine growing, in that great wines are made in the vineyard. My time at Moss Wood certainly shaped these views, but they’re not particularly all that revolutionary or unique… 

Something I’ve recently changed in my way of thinking is the notion of a “hands off” approach. Making wine on a small scale means every single process involved is very much “hands on” – mostly because the machines and equipment are too big for the smaller volumes we produce. That means you’re out in the fields, usually with family and friends you’ve roped in, picking the fruit by hand. It’s a much more connected experience.

VC: What’s the difference between the wine you expect to make versus the final product?

Gina: Generally the wine you intend to make is always dictated by the conditions of the crop you harvest.

VC: Do you feel any expectations as a winemaker? Like a need to prove yourself?

Lachlan: Australian winemakers have some of the best technical training in the world, we’re very lucky here – although that means the expectation not to stuff it up is also huge.

VC: Obviously you’ve made some not-so-good wines in the past… What keeps you going?

Lachlan: Yep. Everyone does. And you just learn from your mistakes and move on. No two seasons are exactly the same and there’s always new challenges every year, so you just hone your skills and aim to improve next time around.

VC: What is it about WA wine and its community that makes it such a talking point in Australia?

Lachlan: Western Australians are great at supporting each other – and I think we’re pretty proud of supporting our local producers and what’s grown in our own backyard. We can be pretty parochial here. It also helps that the quality and consistency of our wines are world class, and the fact we’re perfectly positioned next to the Indian and Southern Oceans helps as well.

VC: Can you remember the first wine you shared together?

Lachlan: Funnily enough, it was a Great Southern Riesling. Which is a preferred wine of choice for Margaret River winemakers…

VC: Do you ever argue over the wine you make?

Gina: Yes. But let’s just say we often agree to disagree.

VC: What do you hope people experience when they drink the wine?

Lachlan: I want them to enjoy it. And to be intrigued by it, but not intimidated.

VC: And if you weren’t making wine? What would you be doing?

Gina: Definitely something hands on.

Lachlan: We’d probably be in agriculture. Both of us grew up on our family farms, so it would probably involve growing sheep, cattle, olives – that sort of thing.

VC: What is your hope for the Vine Collective?

Lachlan: My hope is that the wines we make are easy drinking and delicious, and they’re the wines people feel like they can open for any occasion. It would also be nice to use the opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded producers in Australia, work on a few projects together. And it would be fun to explore making some non-alcoholic beverages under the VC label as well, like shrubs or kombucha.

VC: Finally, favourite wine at the moment?

Lachlan: You first.

Gina: Gee, thanks. It’s hard to say… This week it’s the Dune Tirari, from Blewitt Springs in McLaren Vale. A really delicious blend of Grenache, Negroamaro, Mourvedre and Shiraz. I did work there earlier in the year though, so perhaps I’m a little bias…

Lachlan: I think my answer is going to be a little lame in comparison. There are a heap of good wines kicking around at the moment, but I’m going to have to go with a good old textural Chardonnay… You drift away, but like gravity, it will always drag you back. So I’m going with that.

VC: Thanks guys.

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