Being a winemaker isn’t just wine tastings and prestigious events. Just ask our Chief Winemaker Chris Hatcher. He’s seen both challenging and stellar vintages since starting at Wolf Blass in 1987. We sat down with him recently to find out more about Chris and his chase for excellence.
WHAT IS IT YOU LOVE ABOUT WINE?
I find wines incredibly interesting, almost intellectual. Region, variety and winemaker all impact on the quality, style, flavour and characteristics of a wine and there is always something new and exciting to discover. You never stop learning.
WHEN DID THIS PASSION START?
When I was about 11 years old my sister won a bottle of wine in a raffle but did not drink it as my family was teetotal. The bottle was stored in our cellar and I was always fascinated by it. I studied Science at University and at the end of my first year I took a year off to earn some money and I was very fortunate to get a job in the laboratory at the Australian Wine Research Institute. This fueled my passion for wine so I returned to University, finished my degree and got a job in the Barossa Valley working for a winery.
WHERE HAS THAT PASSION TAKEN YOU?
I have been very fortunate to have a successful career in the wine industry and I get paid for working on my hobby. I have made wine in Australia, California and Chile. Along with making wine, I now get to travel and share the story of Wolf Blass wines all around the world.
WHAT ELSE ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT?
My family, cars particularly from the 1940-1960s, road cycling, antiques and great food.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO FOLLOW THIS PASSION FOR WINEMAKING?
Winemaking is a great combination of modern science and the old world and these are my passions.
WAS THERE ANY PARTICULAR PERSON WHO ENCOURAGED OR MENTORED YOU?
There was not one person who encouraged or mentored me. I have learnt from everyone I have met in the industry and in particular whilst judging at wine competitions. If I think about who has inspired me, it would be remiss not to mention our great founder Wolfgang Blass. I remember meeting him for the first time at the Melbourne Wine Show in 1976 and I was in awe. The industry was very stuffy back then. But this young German bloke who spoke in broken English brought a sense of fun to it all. He showed you didn’t have to be conservative to be successful.
SO WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE? IS THERE SUCH A THING?
In winemaking every day is different and that is what makes it unique, challenging but also incredibly rewarding. I particularly enjoy tasting and working on blends as well as talking to customers and consumers about the great wines we make at Wolf Blass.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY?
The biggest challenge in winemaking is to maintain the quality and style of our wines year in year out when every vintage is different and has unique challenges. Wine is a natural product and so the quality is impacted by many factors, particularly the weather. Blending is an important technique to achieve consistency.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHERS ABOUT CHASING RECOGNITION AND QUALITY?
Taste a broad range of wines and conceptualise the style and quality of the wine you would like to make. Grape quality determines the potential of the final wine, so sourcing appropriate fruit is critical. Then use the best winery equipment and oak and don't compromise during winemaking and maturation to achieve what you aim to make. Attention to detail at every step whilst making wine is essential to making the optimum quality.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE GREATEST TRIUMPHS IN YOUR CAREER?
My greatest triumph has been developing a passionate, quality driven winemaking team at Wolf Blass that will not compromise on quality and is prepared to do whatever it takes to be the absolute best. Most recently I was in London to collect the Red Winemaker of the Year award at the International Wine Challenge, on behalf of the team. It’s the third time we’ve been awarded this trophy, which is humbling.
WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING PART OF A WORLD-CONTENDER WINERY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD?
The great diversity of climatic conditions, some of the oldest soils in the world and passionate grape growers and winemakers makes Australia an exceptional place to make great wines. We make some of the most unique, consistently high quality wines in the world and we are now being recognised and rewarded globally. We are proud to show that Wolf Blass and Australia are world class.
HOW HAVE YOU SURPRISED YOURSELF ALONG THE WAY?
I have always had confidence that we can make some of the best wines in the world so I am not surprised by our success. Luck happens when great planning and preparation meet opportunity. So chasing our dream of being one of the best wineries in the world came down to having a dream, planning how to achieve it and not compromising until we achieved our goal.
WHAT DRIVES YOU TO DO WHAT YOU DO?
I love wine, I am a perfectionist and coming second is not an option for me.
WHERE DOES YOUR DRIVE COME FROM?
My parents taught me to have a strong work ethic and to be the absolute best I can at everything I do. Being a perfectionist is a great attribute to have for a winemaker.
HOW DO SUSTAIN THAT INITIAL PASSION AND ENTHUSIASM?
Wine is my hobby and passion and it has defined my life. Making the absolute best quality wines and winning awards drives me to continually improve and evolve our wines.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE ABOUT CHASING THEIR DREAM?
Clearly define you dream, plan how to achieve it, measure your performance against your plan and don't compromise until you achieve what you desire. Then celebrate your success and after, set the next challenge.