Clare Valley winemaker Liz Heidenreich is building a following for her eponymous wine label using grapes planted by her grandfather.
Three minutes with Liz Heidenreich
BEN Tell me about your first career as an ICU nurse?
LIZ It was during high school that I decided I wanted to be a nurse. I started my training at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and spent time working in the RAH Intensive Care Unit and continued with post-grad ICU studies and the next 12 years as an ICU nurse. I loved it, but also had a hankering for the great outdoors and a love of wine. On my days off, I used to hang around up in Vine Vale in the Barossa with my uncles and cousins who ran vineyards. During this time, I applied for Adelaide University’s postgraduate Oenology degree and the rest is history. I was able to still do a few days a week in the hospital while studying and then the first few years of vintage work. I loved the variety.
BEN Were many women entering the industry back then?
LIZ There were certainly more males than females. In the postgrad degree, there were three women out of 22 students. The undergraduate course had about the same ratio.
BEN Are there more women in the industry these days?
LIZ Yes, I certainly think there are; there are many great winemakers both male and female. As a career it offers a lot of variety and is very creative and hands on. I think women have been making great inroads into careers that were historically defined as male roles; they have been very successful. The wider population seems to support and follow great winemakers regardless of gender.
BEN After university you worked vintages in Portugal; what was that like?
LIZ I was lucky enough to meet and work with David Baverstock, a former Barossa winemaker and Roseworthy graduate, while I was studying at Adelaide Uni. He offered me a cellar hand position in the winery he ran in Portugal in the Alentejo region. It was an amazing experience – a very large winery with some structures dating back many hundreds of years, but also with very modern equipment. It was loads of fun and a fair bit of work but I loved it and was asked to return for the next three years to work in Sir Cliff Richard’s Winery in the Algarve region. I was the first female winemaker there as well. It must be a bit of a theme.
BEN Were most people receptive when you were the first woman to be appointed as the winemaker at Sevenhill Cellars?
LIZ The most welcoming and generous person at Sevenhill by far was Brother John May. He had been the winemaker for many years and then handed the reins to Tim Gneil prior to me coming on board. Brother John and Tim were very generous with their knowledge and when I took over as chief winemaker, Br John allowed me to put my stamp on the styles and allowed full creativity. The Jesuits in general were extremely open to having a female winemaker and welcomed the change of guard. It took a bit longer for some of the lay staff!
BEN The fruit for Heidenreich Riesling comes from Watervale, where you live. What is it about that pocket of Clare?
LIZ Watervale has always been my favourite subregion of Clare for riesling. The Clare region has high altitude and Watervale particularly benefits from the cool summer breezes off of the Gulf of St Vincent, which cool the grapes down during summer. This retains the natural acidity and freshness. The soils are rich, with slate and limestone base and Watervale riesling shows such flavour and punch, and really expresses the microclimate and terroir.
BEN When you’re not at the winery, where are you most likely to be found?
LIZ In the vineyard, or on a boat fishing with my husband, David.
BEN A local’s tip for visiting Clare Valley?
LIZ Stay longer … there is so much to do. There are amazing restaurants, with many new establishments having opened recently. There is so much local produce available, too. There’s the famous riesling trail which goes past a number of wineries and restaurants. With the new expressway it’s not a long drive, so come for a night or two.
BEN Why should someone consider a career in wine?
LIZ You will meet some wonderful characters and have lifelong friendships with people from all over the world. There is a lot of variety and it’s a lot of fun.
BEN Something most people don’t know about you?
LIZ I was a state trampolinist in my youth.
This article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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