Wine in China:Joanne Irvine, Why did you want to become a winemaker?
Joanne Irvine:Because I was an operating theatre nurse for 18 years and winemaking was in my family so when I had a mid life crisis at 35 years old, I decided that if I was going to change what I was doing, I was going to have a shot at winemaking.
Wine in China:How many years have you been making wine?
Joanne Irvine:Does it count if I say I started at seven? Professionally I really started in 1993 so about 24 years or so, but I used to run around with my Dad from age 7 to 12 before I went to boarding school, I was running around in a winery tasting wines, learning tastes, smells, flavours, sensations and tannins, so I suppose my learning started early.
Wine in China:Your new collection is called Levrier By Joanne Irvine Irvine, can you explain the meaning of the name ‘Levrier’?
Joanne Irvine: Levrier is part of my history, it’s a French word meaning ‘Greyhound’ and greyhounds have been part of my life ever since my winemaking career started. My first accidental encounter was with “Chilli” the greyhound.
Accidental because I was on way home from the Riverland and picked up an injured greyhound off the side of the road, took him along to the vet, thinking he wouldn’t be around long, but in the end, the vet saved him and Chilli and I were companions for eight years.
That is where my passion for these dogs started, they are loyal and kind, gentle, forgiving and loving. So ever since then about 18 years ago, I’ve had three greyhounds now and they are all gorgeous. I get my dogs from the Greyhound Adoption Program so they are ex racing greyhounds, rescued and given a nice second home. They have a tough life to start with but I give them a new one.
Wine in China:I have heard many times, that you are great at making sparkling wines, especially ‘Meslier’. What is it about this grape variety Meslier that you like?
Joanne Irvine:Meslier is extremely rare and unique and that’s why I like it. It has a very different flavour to normal sparkling wines. It originates from Epernay in France, and there is less than 10 hectares planted world wide. That’s including what we have planted here in Australia in the Adelaide Hills region.
The flavour profile has green apple characteristics, it’s zingy and racey yet can live a long time in the bottle. Textural characters develop and it pairs so well with mussels, shellfish, scallops, so it’s not a heavy style. I age it on lees for two years before it is released and it has a lovely natural acid backbone which creates the lovely racey texture with seafood.
Wine in China:With your new Levrier Collection I also see from Eden Valley you are creating a Pinot Gris, a Shiraz, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Zinfandel, what is it about Eden Valley that makes you source your grapes from there?
Joanne Irvine:Having lived in Eden Valley I possibly understand Eden Valley vineyards more than a lot of other winemakers in the Barossa. There are two main styles here. One is a big high alcohol Ballsy Barossa style of red, but in Eden Valley it’s a cooler climate so you get a little bit less alcohol, a bit more elegance, natural acidity is kept in the grapes when you are making the wine so you get more fruit acid/tannin balance. I like this style. The wines are generous but not overpowering.
Wine in China:With your Levrier Collection, is your production very limited each year?
Joanne Irvine:Overall I make only around 4000 six packs a year. I discovered I love the creative process of packaging and my wines are now in six packs and branded wooden gift packs as part of this creative process.
Wine in China:Are you still making wines for other people?
Joanne Irvine:At my Winery, physically we make wine for around 30 customers, small batch, high end, high quality wines. Average batch size is around 4 to 5 tonnes, so we are able to give our customers the individual attention they need. I have another 3 or 4 clients who want to make larger batches so I use their facilities for this work, and their labour, making wines to my specifications, including organic wines.
Wine in China:Your dad Jim Irvine, is affectionally known around the world as “The King of Merlot” but I understand you had a big part in the winemaking too?
Joanne Irvine:When I finished travelling, doing vintages in the USA and earning my degree, I started my consulting business but also started making wines for my father James, at Irvine Wines. Dad sold his business a few years ago now, so the last vintage of his collectable Grand Merlots made by me was the 2014.
Wine in China:You mentioned that you love the packaging process almost as much as you love the creativity of winemaking. Your brand has such a luxurious image so I wonder how long it took for you to create your concept?
Joanne Irvine:When dad sold his business in 2014, the timing was right for me to launch my own brand so I started collecting the fruit in 2014 and I had a style I wanted to create. I knew the wine wouldn’t be released until at least 2016 but I had an idea in mind for my packaging and this started coming together as soon as I had the fruit.
It has taken three years to get my packaging right but I would rather have a slow process and get it right, than do it, and have to re-do it. There is a combination of fine wine and history coming together as a complete desireable work of art, using the ancient mosaics of the dogs on my labels. My Wines are named in honour of these famous dogs. Sorter, Argos, Anubis and Peritas.
Wine in China:Although you only produce a rare amount of wines, you are hoping to reserve a small quantity for private collectors in China, so what will be the first thing you will do when you visit China?
Joanne Irvine:I would love to visit packaging companies because I love the packaging in China. They seem way more advanced in creative packaging, so this interests me from a presentation point of view. If your wine doesn’t present well, no one will drink it. I want to visit traditional tea houses and also visit the vineyards to see the difference in climate and how the Chinese wine industry is growing.
Wine in China:You mentioned your winemaking style earlier, and I see you put your red wines in oak for two years then bottle age them further, prior to release. Can you tell me why you do this?
Joanne Irvine:A lot of wines are released too early in Australia, even judged and sold too soon, but I like to have complexity integrated. I like about 30% new oak in my wines, every wine is like a living being, it changes every six months or so. I like drinking wines at three years of age where the wine comes together, but I don’t want the wines sitting in oak too long where they dry out.
Attention to detail like this is important and when you are drinking wines that cost over 40AUD you don’t want them to be only one year old. They are just not integrated yet. My Pinot Gris is rare as it has new oak influence, which is more Alsatian in style. It’s soft and elegant, as a 2016 it was in oak for 18 months which seems like a long time but I like to do things differently. I even put my Pinot Gris in a darker bottle so the light does not effect the colour or flavour of my wine.