Steve Webber - Winemaker Series:
Steve Webber is the chief winemaker and manager at De Bortoli Family Wines, based in the heart of the Yarra Valley in Australia. Steve is married to Leanne De Bortoli and in 1989 they moved to the De Bortoli family vineyards in the Yarra Valley, where they still live today - with their two daughters Kate and Sally. Together Steve and Leanne along with other family members and a talented, passionate team have built an internationally acclaimed wine business and winery restaurant. Based on down-to-earth values, genuine friendly hospitality and a passionate commitment to pairing delicious food with wine.
Thanks to his father Ron, at a young age Steve started to develop an interested in wine, developing an understanding of horticulture and innovations specific to the wine industry.
Steve got his first wine job working at Leo Buring / Lindemans back in 1978 and was fortunate to be sponsored through his studies for a Bachelor of Applied Science in Oenology at Roseworthy in Adelaide. Steve spent an informative seven years at Lindemans encountering and working alongside some of Australia's finest winemakers including John Vickery, Philip Laffer and Karl Stockhausen - before moving on in 1989.
Steve brought a new and timely energy and resourcefulness to his role at De Bortoli. Keen and not afraid to try new things, experiment and test traditional techniques to see what could be achieved - an inspiring period, a real learning curve that he and the team are still riding. Steve has been heard to say on many an occasion - that it takes a long time to understand your vineyards and the effort needed to reflect the site that you cultivate.
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. Steve is passionate about all his wines - but even he would agree he is currently slightly obsessed with Pinot Noir. Steve has released several single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula under the label ‘Riorret’, just to name one exciting project he is involved with.
It was actually in London where we first met a number of years ago now - and it has been a long time since I last caught up with Steve - so it was well over due to touch base again. The following is some background, influences, thoughts and insights, since joining the De Bortoli Family - here are some of his brief comments.
• What first attracted you to the wine industry and as a winemaker?
"My father was an agronomist working in the wine industry and wine was a common beverage at our dinner table. This led to early exposure to wine and an increasing interest in it. After High School I had a year working at Leo Buring Winery in the Barossa Valley to see whether it was for me. The rest is history..."
• When and where did you study winemaking?
"I was one of the fortunate kids to be involved with a wine company and studying at the same time. Leo Buring Winery (owned by Philip Morris) sponsored me through Roseworthy College to study winemaking from 1980-1982."
• Which person has influenced you the most as a winemaker and why?
"My first boss was Don Buchanin at Leo Buring. He had been taught by my father earlier in his life and he showed me a lot of wine and we had numerous late evenings tasting all sorts of wine; particularly the older Riesling styles that John Vickery (winemaker at Leo Buring) had made in the 1960's..."
• What is your favourite grape varietal(s) to work with and why?
"Chardonnay. It is grown everywhere but to make it taste like the place that it is grown is extremely difficult. It most often expresses the ‘variety’ over the ‘place’ of origin - but when you do get it right, it is very satisfying. This is why the great producers are so revered. Ravenneau, Vincent Dauvissat, Roulot and Coche (in no particular order). In my opinion, the Yarra Valley is the closest region in Australia to make Chardonnay taste of ‘place’ over ‘variety’..."
• Which grape variety would you most like to work with in the future and why?
"Sangiovese. The flavours of Italian red wine are so suited to our lifestyle; Alfresco dining, tapas’, pizza and pasta. The savouriness and drinkability is quite special. It is a hard sell, but as long as we make it affordable, I think people will embrace it..."
• With each new vintage what do you most look forward to?
"Making better and more interesting wine. My feeling is that we are only 50% there in terms of potential quality and we only get one chance per year. The years are fast running out..."
• To date what has been you most interesting/challenging vintage and why?
"2008. Hot year, very fast ripening and trying to make wine with elegance and some ability to age. Pinot Noirs were very light in colour but we avoided over extraction and the colours finally came (these wines are at the end of their life now but have been quite compelling over 6 years). Chardonnay was very lean, early drinking, but have aged particularly well - lots of life still left. The bigger reds were and are quite full in flavour, have always been a nice drink..."
• Which person ‘past’ or ‘present’ would you most like to meet and why?
"Henri Jayer, a man of the land, great observation, made what he wanted to drink, legend..."
• For your next birthday dinner - if you could open and enjoy any bottle of wine in the world ever-made - what would it be and why?
"I always enjoy drinking the Rousseau Chambertin and Clos de Beze as a pair, so the 1999's would be lovely. Not invite too many people so that you get a decent goblet of each. Why? Pinot from the right place in the right hands is very alluring thing..."
• If you could make wine anywhere else in the world - where would it be and why?
"For me it’s not about the reputation but more about the adaptation of varieties to the climate, making interesting wine for the real people and enjoying your life somewhere special. Sheer beauty, liveability, good people and a great food culture would take me too many places. Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Margaret River, Beaujolais, Pyrenees, Bandol, Piedmont all come to mind..."
• What advice would you give a young person starting out as a winemaker?
"Drink lots of interesting wine and make wine you want to drink..."
• When you are ‘not’ making wine - what is one of your favourite things to do to relax?
With another smile - "Eating and drinking with good friends at our holiday house on the Mornington Peninsula…"
• In the future, what exciting changes can you see, or would like to see for your Champagnes, vineyard or winery?
"I think we are still in the early days of what works in our vineyards here in the Yarra Valley. It is important that we continue to develop our current Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah wines but we also see what some of the real potential is for the ‘newer’ varieties. I think Pinot Blanc and Sangiovese have great potential..."
"Drink what you enjoy. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find an interesting bottle."
Where can you find De Bortoli Wine:
De Bortoli Wines 'from their family to yours' are available in New Zealand and around the world from quality wine retailers, restaurants / wine bars and hotels. Or visit the De Bortoli website - CLICK HERE.