Mark Whisson, owner and viticulturalist
I’ve always really enjoyed growing plants – even as a small child I knew the name of every plant in our neighbour’s garden. I studied plant science at university, graduating from the University of Adelaide in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Botany and Biochemistry, and completing an Honours degree in Botany the following year. I then headed over to Canada and gained my Masters of Plant Biochemistry from the University of Alberta in 1981.
I came home to Australia in 1981 and decided I’d like to work in the wine industry. Because I’d bought a house close by in Bridgewater, I pestered Brian Croser at Petaluma for three months until he gave me a job.
Within about three weeks I was promoted to vineyard manager and after being involved in the planting of about three or four Adelaide Hills vineyards, I decided to buy some land and plant my own block. (I’ve since planted and managed more than 100 new vineyards, mostly in the Adelaide Hills but also in the Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Coonawarra and the Yarra Valley.)
It took about six months to find the Whisson Lake bit of land and it was just a bare hillside used for cattle grazing. Bruce Lake came on board as a partner in 1985 and we scraped together enough money to plant the top 10-acre Pinot Noir vineyard.
The locals all thought I was completely nutty for buying the block in the first place, let alone trying to plant it with vines. And wine industry folk thought I was even crazier for only planting Pinot Noir. But I was more interested in reds than whites. And I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for a challenge.
We made our first wine in 1989, just 40 litres, enough to show prospective buyers that the fruit had potential to become a reasonable wine. That worked enormously well and over the years we’ve sold our small crop to some of South Australia’s most prestigious winemakers.
In the early 1990s, we started to experiment with our vineyard management. As our grapes continued to improve, I began to realise just how much Australian winemaking techniques differed from the Burgundy philosophy. Since 1994, we’ve focused entirely on traditional Burgundian winemaking techniques.
In 1997 I planted our bottom Pinot Noir block and by the mid 2000s we were noticing just how different parcels of fruit were in different sections of our vineyard.
Since then, we’ve started to understand what differences there may be over the vineyard and what characters can be highlighted. This will be a long journey I think, focused on finding and nurturing these sections and rows to create a small range of hugely distinctive Pinot Noir wines.
Andrie Whisson, owner and winemaker
I’m from Taichung, a city in the middle of Taiwan’s west coast. (If you don’t know much about Taiwan, just imagine a sweet potato – that’s the shape of the country and that’s what we jokingly call it!)
I trained as a nurse and worked in surgical intensive care for six years, which was hugely stressful but just so rewarding when you get to see someone survive a serious illness or injury.
By 2006 I started to feel a bit worn out and a friend suggested going to Australia, so I applied for the Australian Registered Nurse Training Program and moved to Adelaide in 2007.
Mark and I ended up meeting in 2009, just one month before I was due to return to Taiwan. But I planned on coming back to Australia and Mark’s magic line was: “Why don’t you leave all your stuff at my place? I have plenty of room.” My stuff has been there ever since.
We got married in November 2010 with a simple ceremony at the top of the Whisson Lake hill. Straight away I could see that Mark needed a hand (“or four,” says Mark!) so I started helping him out. He trained me from the basics in the vineyard: pruning, bud bashing, grape picking, driving a manual car. I can even drive tractors now.
I really love cooking – my mum started teaching me when I was eight – and I think that helped to develop my palate from a young age.
In 2011 I decided I wanted to know more about winemaking, so I took the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 2 and 3 courses, which was challenging but taught me a great deal. I also spent a huge amount of time working at Whisson Lake with Tom Munro, first as his cellar-hand and later as assistant winemaker, and received some extra mentoring from Mike Downer and Taras Ochota.
Now I focus entirely on winemaking for Whisson Lake, as well as sales. We have a market back in Taiwan, too, so I feel like I still have a strong connection to home.