OUR WINEMAKERS

We are fortunate to have some of the country’s finest winemakers working for us across our Estates.

Meet some of them here and see what makes them tick.

YARRA VALLEY ESTATE WINEMAKERS  RIVERINA ESTATE WINEMAKERS  RUTHERGLEN ESTATE WINEMAKERS

YARRA VALLEY ESTATE WINEMAKERS

De Bortoli Wines established the Yarra Valley Estate in 1987, acquiring some of the oldest plantings in the region and a brilliant piece of land to grow vines and make premium cool climate wine. Our award-winning range of premium, often single vineyard wines are crafted to reflect our philosophy that good wine starts in the vineyard and captures a true sense of place.

MEET STEVE WEBBER, CHIEF WINEMAKER & MANAGER, YARRA VALLEY ESTATE

“Delicious and interesting wines give a lot of joy to a lot of people. It’s nice to be able to have something to do with that.”

Steve Webber is the winemaker/manager at De Bortoli Yarra Valley. In his typically understated fashion, winemaking was something he “just fell into”. After finishing high school his father Ron suggested he give the wine business a try and organised a job for him at Leo Buring winery in the Barossa Valley.

After a year in the cellars waxing concrete tanks and learning basic cellar work, he completed his studies in winemaking at Roseworthy in 1982 and gained valuable winemaking experience at Leo Buring and Lindemans over the next 7 years. Lots of terrific wine mentors along the way.

In 1989 he married Leanne De Bortoli and the family approached them to head up operations at the family’s newly acquired winery in the Yarra Valley.

Steve and Leanne, like many before them instantly fell for region, loving “the beauty, the climate, the seasons, the proximity to Melbourne”. They’ve lived on the Yarra Valley Estate from the get go, raising daughters Kate and Sally and have become renowned for their casual, and occasionally rowdy, feasts on the back deck of their home.

It wasn’t only the lifestyle that appealed to Steve, it was the challenges that this new patch of dirt offered. Steve describes the transition “a steep learning curve”, understanding the seasons, learning about the different aspects, experimenting with varieties and clones, all with the goal of making wine with a sense of place.

Always a straight talker he says “Great wine is rare, it is textural, charming, tastes of place, has poise and elegance, and the bottle is empty before you know it.”

Steve has won several major awards including Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year in 2007 and the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1997. Over the last 25 years, he has been a Wine-show judge and was instrumental in some of the recent changes to the Melbourne Wine Show.

His fellow winemakers at the Yarra Valley Estate tend to agree.

“Steve is a dynamic person with fantastic vision and is never afraid to put a new idea on the table” says winemaker Andrew Bretherton.

Sarah Fagan describes working with Steve as “mostly exciting, sometimes manic, always interesting.”

Dynamic and energetic he certainly is but Steve’s mission statement is pretty simple: “to make wine with character and interest and have some fun doing it.”

A tip from Steve

"Drink what you enjoy. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find an interesting bottle."

Did you know?

Steve and Leanne started producing pale, dry textural rosé a decade ago. “It’s terrific that people are finally understanding the joys of this 'grown up' style of Rosé”, he says.

MEET SARAH FAGAN, WINEMAKER, DE BORTOLI WINES YARRA VALLEY ESTATE

“I love the start of spring in the vineyard when everything starts growing again – it’s a nice change from the starkness of winter.”

Asking Sarah Fagan to choose between winemaking and snow skiing might have her pausing to think. She’s a woman who loves to travel and both winemaking and skiing, two of her favourite things, have enabled her to do just that. Sarah’s done vintage in America, Italy and Germany and has skied in Australia (Thredbo mainly, where she first skied), Canada and Japan, so has achieved a happy balance that’s enabled her to work and play the way she wants.

Sarah’s been a winemaker at De Bortoli Wines since 2005 but joined the company in 2003, working as a cellar hand in the Yarra Valley. She’d grown up on a farm in New South Wales and wanted to work in agriculture, enrolling in an Agriculture degree at Sydney University. A growing attraction to vineyards and winemaking saw her transfer to a Wine Science degree at Charles Sturt University. While completing her degree she applied for a three-month job at De Bortoli. She never left.

Chief Winemaker Steve Webber saw in Sarah someone who was “imaginative with great attention to detail and a very good palate” and had her join the winemaking team, first with white wines before moving onto red wines and rosé.

Sarah was a Len Evans scholar in 2008 and a Gourmet Traveller Young Winemaker of the Year award winner in 2009.

A tip from Sarah

"Really chilled rosé out of a tumbler on the back deck is a pretty nice thing."

Did you know?

Sarah’s proudest winemaking moment was when the 2010 PHI Pinot Noir won the Len Evans Memorial Trophy for Champion Wine of Show at the National Wine Show of Australia.

RIVERINA ESTATE WINEMAKERS

Our winery at Bilbul in the warm climate Riverina area of New South Wales is where the De Bortoli Wines story began. It’s home not to just generations of the De Bortoli family but some truly iconic Australian brands, including one of our most successful and critically acclaimed wines, Noble One.

MEET DARREN, THIRD GENERATION AND MANAGING DIRECTOR OF DE BORTOLI WINES

“I'm proud of the success of course, but I'm also proud of the fact that we have a reputation for being a down-to-earth and respected company that's family run and family-owned.”

Emeri De Bortoli says that even at a very young age her oldest son Darren had a strong will, determination and "always an enquiring mind". "Darren would love to listen to the older generation talk," she says. "We'd send him off to bed but he'd always come back in and before you knew it, he was back at the table, eager to know what was going on." 

Darren De Bortoli still has an enquiring mind. Whether it's within the winemaking industry or on his Facebook page he's never been afraid to challenge popular wisdom. It's a quality that's had him labelled "maverick", "headstrong" and "ambitious" but it's also one that helped imagine and then produce the iconic Australian Botrytis Semillon, Noble One, a wine no-one believed could be made with any sucess in Australia.

Darren carried the hopes of his grandfather Vittorio that he would become a winemaker and carry on the family business. Despite a tendency to “rebel against being forced in a direction” he went to Roseworthy to study for a Bachelor of Applied Science in Oenology. But when he returned to the family winery he wasn’t interested in business as usual.

The success of Noble One (which he continues to help make every year), gave Darren the confidence for his next plan, to push De Bortoli Wines towards the premium end of the market. After a series of “robust” discussions with his father Deen, the family bought the cool climate Yarra Valley Estate and followed that with properties in the King and Hunter Valleys.

Under Darren’s direction, De Bortoli Wines has become one of the largest and most successful wine businesses in Australia, but he’s always had a talent for keeping success and growth as just one part of the equation.

In recent years Darren has become passionately involved in causes that effect farmers, such as the debate about water flows in the Murray-Darling Basin. Anyone who follows his Facebook page (his brothers and sister joke that he’s still in his “honeymoon phase” with social media) will know his firm ideas on the water issue, alongside often insightful and sometimes hilarious posts about wine, history, politics and even the perch he keeps in his dam (the ones he feeds but won’t let anyone fish for).

Darren’s always been fond of animals and they of him too. His mother recalls a mangy German Shepard stray coming into the yard when Darren was only a young boy and Darren running up to it and flinging his arms around its neck. Emeri was convinced the dog would attack but instead it licked Darren’s face. They kept the dog.

As it was with his grandfather, food is one of his passions. Darren and his wife Margot are fond of entertaining, continuing the family tradition of good wine, good food and good friends.

A tip from Darren

"For me, one of life’s simple pleasures is hot roasted chestnuts with a full flavoured red wine in the middle of a cold winter’s night."

Did you know?

Darren became Managing Director of De Bortoli Wines when he was just 33.

MEET JULIE MORTLOCK, SENIOR EXECUTIVE WINEMAKER, DE BORTOLI WINES BILBUL ESTATE

“Mother Nature doesn’t give us the perfect vintage too often. Each season is unique and part of the interest is you never know what’s coming.”

Julie Mortlock has been working for De Bortoli Wines for more than 25 years. Not only is she a great cook, a sports fanatic and a keen tennis player with a mean backhand, she’s also Senior Red Winemaker at the Bilbul Estate and helps oversee the company’s extensive fortified wine portfolio, one of the largest and most diverse in Australia. Since 2000, she’s also assisted Darren De Bortoli with the iconic Noble One Botrytis Semillon. Given the success and responsibility, it might seem surprising that winemaking was not her first passion. Even when she first joined De Bortoli, Julie never expected to become a winemaker. But her background and experience helped put her on the path.

Julie grew up on a dairy farm and had ambitions to be a chef. Instead her passion for science kicked in and for the next ten years she became a self-confessed “dairy lab rat”, a qualified tester of cream and milk. She also developed an interest in cheese. She had begun looking for a change of pace and scene when a friend mentioned that wineries also employed laboratory assistants. The idea that wine and cheese went so well together appealed to her. She moved to Griffith and, shortly after, started in the quality control labs at De Bortoli Wines.

Julie became interested in winemaking after progressing to winemaker’s assistant (“doing the jobs they didn’t want to do”, she says) and began studying, firstly for a Bachelor degree in Wine Science and then another in Wine Business, both from Charles Sturt University. She began looking after all the white wines produced at Bilbul, then moved onto the reds and fortified wines.

The fortified wines are a particular favourite. To add to her successes, Julie was shortlisted as 'Sweet Winemaker of the Year' in the 2016 International Wine Challenge.

“Selecting the best parcels of fruit to produce fortified wines that will age well and then tasting them from the barrel as they change overtime is a bit like watching a child grow up and mature,” she says.

A tip from Julie

"The best way to enjoy wine is with good friends over a meal."

Did you know?

Julie likes to name her cats after obscure grape varieties, like Durif, Novac and Noria.

MEET JOHN COUGHLAN, SENIOR WHITE WINEMAKER, DE BORTOLI WINES BILBUL ESTATE

“I literally started at the floor level in 1997 and worked my way up under the mentorship of the senior winemakers. Now being the one in the senior position and being able to mentor some really great young winemakers, assist with their development and try and inspire them like I was when I first started, is my proudest achievement.”

Winemaking chose John Coughlan. Taking the equivalent of a gap year before he started on a Science degree, John landed a job working in a lab at a Griffith winery. A self confessed “scotch and beer man” at the time who “wouldn’t drink the stuff [wine] if you paid me”, John found himself completely seduced by “the smell and taste of the fermenting juice”.

“It was amazing to me to see how the flavours evolved from a fermenting juice to a wine, that grapes could be transformed to what you saw in the bottle,” he says.

He was hooked. After his stint in the lab, John applied for a job at De Bortoli Wines and began working as technical assistant to two of the senior winemakers. They encouraged him not just to study winemaking part-time at Charles Sturt University, but also to be involved in all aspects of winemaking, from tasting and blending to cellar work.

By 2003, John was a winemaker looking after the whites and in three short years he was made Senior White Winemaker, overseeing all the sparkling and white table wine produced at Bilbul. It was a productive time for him and his partner Sharon too, with his two daughters Jess and Lucy arriving during those same years.

John is still fascinated with the winemaking process, particularly with the increasing emphasis within De Bortoli Wines to a more “natural” style of winemaking, where the emphasis shifts from the winery to the vineyard. And with more Italian white grape varieties available, he’s been able to experiment more, “to give everything a try”.

Still, it’s not all about the wine. John is a runner who has competed in three City2Surf runs in Sydney. He’s also an avid video game fan, something that he’s been into since he was a kid and still enjoys now because of the worldwide game-playing community. Add his family and the ongoing obsession with “fermenting juice” and it’s a pretty busy life.

A tip from John

"Experiment. Don’t just stick with the wines you’re comfortable with because otherwise you’ll be missing out."

Did you know?

Family Vineyards Bianco, a blend of three Italian varieties made from some of the oldest vines at the Bilbul estate, created by John won a trophy at the Melbourne Wine Show the first year it was released.

MEET ROBERTO DELGADO, RED & FORTIFIED WINEMAKER, DE BORTOLI WINES BILBUL ESTATE

“There is a wine for everybody – it’s just a matter of finding it.”

Roberto Delgado doesn’t know any other life than the winemaking one. He grew up on the vineyard owned by his Spanish-born parents and every year for as long as he can remember he helped his parents produce a few barrels of wine to drink with and give to family and friends. It was, he says, an easy decision for him to become a winemaker, which he did in 1993, developing a style that is “generous, approachable and consistent”.

Roberto joined De Bortoli Wines in 2005, making a variety of red and fortified wines but becoming a specialist in making Durif, a wine he says is “challenging, generous in flavour but soft” and works beautifully with food, particularly red meat.

A dedicated traveller Roberto has done vintage in the Hunter and Yarra Valleys in Australia and also at wineries in Spain and Italy.

Mostly he takes his wife and three kids (he recently took the family to both Disneyland and Champagne – “it’s all about compromise!”) and he chooses wineries that follow the same philosophy that brought him to De Bortoli Wines – that good wine begins in the vineyard.

A tip from Roberto

"I am often asked: what is a good wine? Answer: The one you most enjoy!”

Did you know?

Roberto’s family migrated to Australia 50 years ago but still have a family gathering with wine and traditional Spanish food every weekend.

MEET JOEL VEENHUIZEN, WHITE WINEMAKER, DE BORTOLI WINES BILBUL ESTATE

“My favourite De Bortoli wine and food match would have to be Deen Vat Series no. 6 Verdelho served with crispy skin Murray Cod nestled on a bed of snake beans swimming in a fish and wine broth.”

Joel Veenhuizen’s winemaking career started in the De Bortoli Wines laboratories in 2004. He’d moved back to Griffith, his birthplace and where his family still live, after living in Melbourne while completing a Science degree from Monash University. Taking on the lab work because of his science background rather than a particular love of wine, Joel quickly became interested in the winemaking process and so moved out of the lab to become a technical assistant and then winemaker, working with head white winemaker John Coughlan, or “Cogo” as Joel calls him.

Joel is a lover of classic cars and bikes (“pulling things apart and never putting them back together gives me great satisfaction and it also creates much fodder for my peers,” he says) and of eating/drinking/debating around the kitchen table with his family, a place where he honed his renowned sense of humour and his reputation as someone who is unafraid to offer particularly honest feedback.

He’s also proven to have a way with white wine (his style he says succinctly is: “white and dry”) taking out Best Dry White Wine award at the Australian Inland Wine Show for his 2015 Sacred Hill Chardonnay.

A tip from Joel

"Good clean glassware is essential. I always put a dash of wine in the glass, swirl it around, tip it out, then refill - bit of a process I know but nothing worse than having any remnants of dishwashing soap affect the flavour of the wine."

Did you know?

Joel says his career highlight at De Bortoli Wines was “collecting the Len Evans Memorial Trophy off wine industry legend James Halliday at the 2011 National Wine Show of Australia for the 2010 PHI Pinot Noir” on behalf of the company. A photo of this encounter takes pride of place in the office.

RUTHERGLEN ESTATE WINEMAKERS

The Rutherglen Estate was acquired at the end of 2019 and is located in North East Victoria on the NSW border. Boasting a continental climate the region is a world leader in the production of fortified wines, particularly muscat as well as premium quality red varietals and European white varietals. 

MEET MARC SCALZO, CHIEF WINEMAKER, DE BORTOLI WINES RUTHERGLEN ESTATE

“I don’t have a typical day.  But usually my day starts at the winery organising the winery and tasting, followed by time at head office and later Tuileries. My job is varied and eclectic which I really enjoy.”

Marc fell in love with winemaking on the first day of his first vintage. Following 12 months travelling through America and Europe, Marc decided to leave his corporate job and try something new. It was when he helped to plant Rick Kinzbrunner from Giaconda’s Nantua vineyard that Marc learnt the importance of the vineyard and how you “can’t make great wine without great vineyards.” 

As Chief Winemaker at the Rutherglen Estate, Marc loves the variety of his job, where he could be “in the vineyard tasting grapes to cleaning a press to tasting the ferment to hosting a dinner in Melbourne, all in one day!” 

And his favourite time of year? Vintage of course!

Marc loves the excitement of the new vintage, spending time in the vineyards trying to get the pick days right as well as spending time by the press getting the press cut on the whites spot on.

When not in the winery, Marc’s hobbies revolve around spending time with family, cricket, football, travel and spending time at his small property in the Beechworth Hills. Particularly watching the cricket over the Christmas period.

A Tip from Marc
“I am seduced by the aroma of wine - take time to smell the roses.”

Did you know?
Marc was a finalist in the 2016 Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year.

MEET CHRIS SKINNER, WINEMAKER, DE BORTOLI WINES RUTHERGLEN ESTATE

“Don’t carry prejudices with wine selection.  Do not narrow your choices by refusing to try white or red, sweet or dry, fortified or sparkling.  If you do, you may miss out on the best wine you will ever drink.”

Becoming a winemaker was a natural step for Chris after working many years in hospitality and liquor retail. He wanted to know why the wine he was selling tasted as good as it did, making the jump to wine production a natural one. Whilst studying a Bachelor of Economics at James Cook University of Northern Queensland and a Bachelor of Applied Science (Oenology) at Charles Sturt University, Chris undertook vintages internationally and throughout Australia before finding his way to Rutherglen Estates, which was to become the De Bortoli Rutherglen Estate.

At the Rutherglen Estate winery, Chris is responsible for the production and maintenance of wine made, stored and bottle readied. His favourite season is the growing season and he loves the smell of the first ferments during vintage. Particularly the whites in the tank “exuding beautiful aromatic esters, followed by the bready/buiscuity smell emanating from the ferments in the barrel shed.”

Chris is absolutely passionate about what he does, especially the element of creativity that winemaking allows and the “satisfaction of crafting a product that gives enjoyment to many.”

A Tip from Chris
“At every opportunity, drink wine with food. They draw out the best in each other.”

Did you know?
Chris was working in wine retail when the 1982 Noble One exploded onto the show circuit and into retail. At the time he had had little exposure to the Sauterne and dessert style wines, just “a few french examples, and Lindemans Porphyry, but nothing as mouthwatering luscious as the revelation that was the Noble One. I would enjoy drinking it with Fruit Salad or a dessert Souffle.”

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