An­drew Wat­son from Wood­lands Win­ery

Co-owner of Wood­lands Win­ery An­drew Wat­son looks in­wards to bring his sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Mar­garet River wines to the world. By June Lee

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

“There’s no ego in our wine,” muses An­drew Wat­son, al­most to him­self. The hand­some, tall Aussie is sur­pris­ingly Zen-like, hav­ing spent the last 1.5 hours cheer­fully an­swer­ing my ques­tions but then turn­ing thought­ful when my ques­tions get closer to the roots. There have been many turn­ing points in his life, from leav­ing a thriv­ing law ca­reer in 2005 to read­ing a book that fun­da­men­tally changed his think­ing in 2008. Meet­ing his French wife Marie in 2011 and start­ing a fam­ily has also brought out a dif­fer­ent side of him, one that thinks about the third gen­er­a­tion a lot, which has also in­flu­enced a big push into or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Fam­ily first

An­drew’s par­ents David and Heather Wat­son first planted grapes in Wilyabrup in 1973, in­flu­enced by agronomist Dr John Glad­stone’s re­port of the Mar­garet River area hav­ing Bordeaux-like ter­roir con­di­tions. David, a sur­veyor and a big fan of Bordeaux, par­tic­u­larly La­tour, con­cen­trated on Caber­net Sauvi­gnon to great ac­claim – Wood­lands Win­ery’s 1981 ‘An­drew’ won best red at the Perth Wine Show and was the first from Mar­garet River to win a Na­tional Red Wine Tro­phy as well. How­ever, he and Heather, a crim­i­nal lawyer, fo­cused on bring­ing up their three chil­dren in Perth and pro­duc­tion stopped in the 1990s.

“My first job in the vine­yard was la­belling wines for pocket money,” re­calls An­drew, who grew up spend­ing week­ends and hol­i­days at the win­ery. It was a close-knit com­mu­nity, where his dad would play tennis with Kevin Cullen over at Cullen Win­ery, or the kids would head to Vasse Felix to play, or end up at the Wat­sons’ own lit­tle fam­ily home. Young An­drew was fas­tid­i­ous about up­keep­ing the grounds, and would try to keep it look­ing neat by pick­ing up branches and leaves. “When we were grow­ing up, our books were of Old World chateaux and vines,” he laughs. “Those es­tates looked so beau­ti­ful, and I wanted so much to cre­ate that in my fam­ily land. Look­ing back, that’s all I ever wanted to do.”

Wood­lands was also one of the first winer­ies in Aus­tralia to use fam­ily names ev­ery year for the flag­ship Caber­net Sauvi­gnon. The cur­rent one is Matthew, which we en­joy over the fi­nal course at Ginza Rokukakutei, an oc­hazuke style rice bowl that com­pletes a fine meal of kushi­age. But it is the Clé­men­tine Caber­net Mal­bec Mer­lot 2016 – named af­ter An­drew's daugh­ter – that he’s most proud of, and also in­ci­den­tally it comes from the Wood­lands Brook Vine­yard ac­quired in 2008, where he and Marie fell for each other.

A dis­tinc­tive style

Though he stud­ied law, An­drew came to re­alise that he liked the tan­gi­ble and the abil­ity to make things. El­der brother Stu­art joined the win­ery full-time in 2002, and An­drew jug­gled a law ca­reer while help­ing out. “That first year in 2003, we were both young men who wanted to make young men wines,” dead­pans An­drew. “We made wines higher in al­co­hol, chest-beat­ing wines be­cause we wanted peo­ple to pay at­ten­tion. But we re­alised those were not the wines we wanted to drink years later, so by 2005, we were look­ing for those with fi­nesse and el­e­gance.” By 2005, An­drew had quit his job and joined the win­ery full-time.

Con­stant in­vest­ment in the es­tate has taken a toll fi­nan­cially, but the wines have never been bet­ter. A Bucher sort­ing ta­ble helps sep­a­rate berry by berry, tak­ing away stalks and un­ripe fruit while keep­ing the best grapes – the wines are brighter and have more pu­rity as a re­sult. This year, they’ve also in­vested in four new tanks to vinify the fruit sep­a­rately.

“Chardon­nay just wants to be com­plex,” ex­plains An­drew. “Other white fruit can go into a big tank where you need just one per­son pro­gram­ming the tanks for one hour a day, but to get the high­est qual­ity Chardon­nay, ev­ery drop is fer­mented in a bar­rel. With 250 bar­rels of our Chloe Chardon­nay, that’s 70 hours of work per day; stir­ring, top­ping and check­ing it so that you get 250 fer­ments. With Chardon­nay, you get back what you in­vest.”

Na­ture is al­ways teach­ing them, not the other way around, adds An­drew. “Did you know that Ja­pan's Shinkansen (high speed rail­way) was de­signed based on the king­fisher?” he probes. “There’s noth­ing new in this world that you can't learn from na­ture. Itʼs ar­ro­gance to throw out the old. We were one of the first in the 90s to prune leaves for thicker skins and higher qual­ity, some­thing we still do by hand and not machines. It keeps the vines healthy and less prone to dis­ease. My fa­ther wanted to make claret, and back then there were very few in­struc­tions on how to do it here. The Wood­lands ap­proach to learn­ing has al­ways been hands-on with a view to qual­ity.”

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