Updated: Apr 21
Welcome to My Winelife, your go-to source for all things wine! We're excited to introduce you to the world of Master of Wine (MW) qualifications, which are highly esteemed in the wine industry. The Institute of Masters of Wine, based in the UK, issues this qualification as a mark of exceptional professional knowledge. Our monthly Masters of Wine interview series is a must-read for wine enthusiasts, where we have the pleasure of introducing you to the brilliant minds behind the MW title. This interview features Meg Brodtmann, who is not only the first female MW in Australia but also a renowned winemaker, judge, and educator. After a successful career in medical research, Meg turned her scientific attention to the art of winemaking. Her passion for experimenting with different blends and finding more sustainable ways to grow grapes has earned her a top spot in the industry.
How did your career in wine start? Did you always had a vision of working in wine, and in the end becoming the first female Master of Wine of Australia?
Meg: I started my working life as an immunologist working on immunodeficiencies in children and then HIV/AIDS. Scientists, generally, love wine and we would spend our morning tea time talking about wine. After a few years working in a lab and realizing my career would always depend on the ability to get scarce funding, I decided to make the move from Melbourne to Adelaide to study winemaking. I did not have a vision of working in wine until I started my working life. However, I feel I was being pointed toward wine. Choosing which university to go to after high school, I put Winemaking at Roseworthy Agricultural College as my last choice as you could get a very bad mark and still get in! It was my backup plan. When choosing my Bachelor of Science Honours project I was offered the opportunity to study settling yeast in sparkling wine with Seppelts of Great Western. The thought of moving to the country when I was only 21 filled me with horror so I chose an immunology Honours project. While studying winemaking, I would joke around with another female student that I wanted to be the first Australian female Master of Wine. It seemed a world away and an impossible target at the time.
During your study as a winemaker, you started to work across Europe to get experience. For whom did you work and how did you evolve as a winemaker?
I worked for Cellarworld International which was a winemaking consultancy based in the UK run by Angela Muir MW. Like many young winemakers at the time, after graduation, we packed our Blundstone boots for the northern hemisphere harvest and headed to Europe. My first job was a 3-month stint in Gaillac working for a large cave cooperative. It was certainly a learning experience. I was used to working in modern wineries making premium wine. I had to quickly learn to deal with growers turning up with fruit whenever they wanted to pick, a lack of technology that I took for granted, and the language barrier. After that vintage, Angela offered me a full-time job as her roaming winemaker. We were based in Surrey and I lived in London but spent about 8 months of the year traveling and working in Europe and South America. I worked for Cellarworld for 6 years and learned so much about the myriad wine styles in the world and how to make wine in some pretty basic wineries. I lost some of my technophilias and embraced some old school practices.
Did you have a mentor at that time who helped you with your wine journey?
Certainly, Angela Muir MW was a mentor. She opened my eyes to the world of wine and was extremely generous during my MW studies. Working with a huge number of Australian, Kiwi, and European winemakers was an added bonus as I learned something from each and every one of them.
After Europe, you moved to Chile. Why Chile?
Honestly? I moved for love. I met my now-husband, Peter Mackey when he came to work for Cellarworld International for vintage in the Gers. Peter then took on one of our projects in Apalta in Chile and at the end of that harvest, he was offered a permanent job. I had had a wonderful time working with CWI and working around the world but decided it was time to move on so I went to Chile with Peter. I didn’t have a job nor a visa to live and work in Chile!
Did your winemaking skills evolve during your stay in Chile? What were the best lessons you have learned in Chile?
My first job in Chile was with Vina Morande at their winemaking facility in the Cachapoal region of Chile. It was an eye-opening experience as it was a large facility and, again, I was learning to work and live in another language (I am not a linguist!). By this stage, my winemaking was becoming more informed by the work required in the vineyard so I enjoyed spending time working with our growers to achieve the required styles. Chile is such an easy place the making wine – the weather is near perfect, disease pressure is very low, the people are wonderful and the country is diverse in its wine styles and vineyard areas.
In Chile, you established your own winemaking and wine education company – Southern Cross Wines - where you developed and delivered programs across Latin America. Why is this program dear to you?
I have always believed education is the key to everything good in life. When we started the WSET in Chile, the country was starting a huge export boom and needed the entire trade to be educated about the world of wine. It was hard to get the program started due to the lack of foreign wine in Chile. In our first classes, we had to get a friend in the UK to send us all the wines we needed – a very expensive exercise!
After a while, you and your family decided to move back to your country: the beautiful Victoria’s Yarra Valley wine region. You joined the team at Helen & Joey Estate.
Was it hard to leave Chile? Or was this just the next step of your career?
It was a hard decision to leave Chile. We had two kids, a dog, and a cat, and were very comfortable in our life. The driving force for me was that I wanted our children to grow up in a meritocracy, a country where who your parents were, how wealthy you were, and what school you went to didn’t make as much of a difference to your future. When we returned to Australia, neither Peter nor I had jobs. We started Southern Cross Australia and I worked as a winemaking consultant and educator before joining Helen and Joey Estate as the senior winemaker. I have since moved to Rob Dolan Wines. Peter continued to consult to wineries in Chile and China.
As a senior winemaker, you focus on making elegant wines that express the dynamic of the region's potential. Did you start with the star varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz? Or did you also bring something else to the table? Can you tell us more about a few of your favorite wines?
I started my winemaking career in the Yarra and have come back to the region after many years away. Obviously, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are important varieties in this region and Shiraz (to a lesser extent). Due to my experience in so many different countries and regions, making so many different styles, I don’t limit myself to any particular style. There are expectations from the market as to what Yarra Pinot and Chardonnay should be like and it is important to deliver. However, I have also had the opportunity to make less well-known styles – full skins ferment Pinot Gris with 3 months on skins, followed by a portion going under flor; 100% whole bunch Shiraz, 6 weeks on skins/stems, and even a vin doux natural style of wine made from the posted pick in the vineyard (all varieties thrown in together). My favorite wines are those that express elegance, balance, and length. Riesling and Nebbiolo are my go-to varieties but I don’t limit myself – the world of wine is continuing education and always intriguing.
Which Master of Wine should I interview next?
Xenia Irwin – she is funny and clever.
Want to learn more about Meg Brodtmann? Click below for more information
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