WHAT WE DO AT WHISSON LAKE
We take our cues from traditional Burgundian winemaking styles, focusing on small ferments of rich Pinot Noir grapes picked at just the right moment and always remembering one golden rule (coined by Clarendon Hills’s Roman Bratasiuk in 1995): "...in winemaking, have the courage to do nothing."
We manage the vineyard respecting the natural balance in nature. Our methods respect the nature of fermentation, we don't interfere. We let fermentation take its course with wild yeast on the fruit.
Our cooler climate means our grapes ripen late, in many years just as the vine leaves are turning and the nights are growing cold. That presents a challenge for fermenting, as we follow the lessons of Burgundy and aim to get our ferments up around 30 degrees Celsius. We rug our ferments up in thick insulation and often need to put an oil heater inside the insulation as well. It's cold when you're this high in the Piccadilly Valley.
Our wine is made in respect the traditional methods, we add no additives of any kind, other than a small amount sulphur just before bottling. By not interfering, we allow the character of the wine reflect it's site. Each bottle is a sample of the climate, soil & location within our vineyard. It's really quite interesting that one variety can be so diverse in characters. This all comes down to the site and why we believe - "where we are, is who we are".
And now a little about us...
Mark Whisson - Owner & Viticultralist
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.
Later, I came home to Australia and decided I’d like to work in the wine industry. I bought a house in Bridgewater and I pestered my neighbour 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.)
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 traditional 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 & 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 quite a few 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.
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 2012 I decided I wanted to know more about wine, so I took the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 2 and 3 courses. I also spent a huge amount of time working at Whisson Lake with Tom Munro as his cellarhand 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.