Mark and Andrie Whisson grow our Budenberg Vineyard Pinot Noir at Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills.
Mark: This vineyard was planted around 1996 or ’97. Like most hillside slopes, it has two characteristics that vines really like: very good drainage and low fertility. With low fertility, you can keep yields down. In fact, in this vineyard, our struggle has been to try and get yields up because it’s been uneconomically low yielding for many, many years. But quantity is the enemy of quality in grape vines. Lower yields mean you get more intense flavour or better pallet evenness and weight. The tannin structure’s better and acid’s better.
Generally speaking, these hillside sites around the high country in the Adelaide Hills are quite similar, soil-wise. They’re all what soil scientists call podzols, which are usually light sandy clays or light loamy clays. They’re really innocuous; there’s nothing outstanding about these soils. They tend to be pretty well drained, though that’s not even really all that important when the slopes are so steep like this, because they won’t ever get waterlogged. The soil is very low fertility and the structure is usually pretty stable, so we can build terracing banks like this. This terracing would have been done around 1997, so it’s almost 20 years old yet it’s really held up.
Andrie and I don’t have much family history in winemaking. I came back from Canada after doing a masters in plant biochemistry overseas and thought: “Hmm, I think I’d like to work in the wine industry.” I had bought a house close by in Bridgewater, so I just pestered Brian Croser at Petaluma until he gave me a job. It took about three months of pestering and eventually he gave me a job and it went from there. That was in 1983. Since then I’ve successfully planted and managed about 100 new vineyards, mostly in the Adelaide hills but also in the Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Coonawarra and the Yarra Valley.
Andrie: I’m from Taiwan and I came over to Australia for nursing. Then I met Mark and we got married in 2010. I saw that he needed a hand, someone to help him out, so I started. He trained me from the basics: pruning, bud bashing, all that stuff. I can even drive tractors. I started to learn about winemaking from Mike Downer and Taras Ochota, and Mark taught me a bit as well.
M: It’s very hard to be a good winemaker and a good grape grower, so it’s very much a team effort. It’s very difficult to make money out of just growing grapes, especially in vineyards like this, so we have to wear a few different hats. We sell most of the grapes we grow and make a bit of wine and sell that for the icing on the cake, the cream on the top, or whatever the metaphor is. We’re lucky because the most important thing for winemaking is the palate and Andrie’s got a really excellent palate. It’s something you’re born with, I think. Her real passion is cooking and you can see the influence that’s had on her palate.
A: Mark encouraged me to do the wine thing so I went off and took two wine courses at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. Now I’m doing more and more of the winemaking and sales. We have a market back in Taiwan now, in my hometown, so we do sell a bit over there. Mark mainly looks after the vineyards.
M: We love living right by our vineyards. I could waffle on about it for ages, but can probably sum it up by saying that it’s hypnotic – like looking at a fire or the sea. It’s always changing.