“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.


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