2017 Winemaker of the Year: Sarah Crowe

James Halliday by James Halliday for Sub-Zero, Wolf

3 Aug, 2016

I’m prepared to believe Sarah Crowe has ESP or some method of seeing the future. How else would someone whose professional career has been in the Hunter Valley have two Flying Winemaker stints in Oregon with Adelsheim Vineyard and Ponzi Vineyards respectively? Her third Flight was to Paul Jaboulet Aîné in 2008, the connection with syrah/shiraz obvious. But there was nothing to suggest she would be heading to the Yarra Valley in the foreseeable future.

Her career started with Brokenwood as vineyard hand in 2001. She then absented herself for the 2002 vintage as cellarhand at First Creek Winemaking. She returned to Brokenwood, becoming assistant winemaker. By sheer chance, I was in the audience at the Hunter Valley Legends and Wine Industry Awards in 2009 when she was named Rising Star of the Year. The emotion in the room was palpable, as was the pleasure with which her award was received.

She moved to Swish Wine as chief winemaker in 2010, then was senior winemaker at Bimbadgen until she was offered the top winemaking position at Yarra Yering in late September of 2013. I don’t think I am gilding the lily by saying Iain Riggs greatly regretted her departure from Brokenwood, but accepted it was inevitable.

Her winemaking career was enhanced by her roles as a Len Evans Tutorial Scholar (2010); in the Future Leaders Program (2010); as Chair of the Hunter Valley Winemaking Sub-Committee (2011–12); in the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association Executive Committee (2010–12); as Session Chair of the Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference (July 2013); and as Chair of the Yarra Valley Wine Show Committee (2014).

Threaded through all of this is the deep regard and loyalty she engenders, whichever hat she wears. I had nothing to do with her appointment as Yarra Yering’s winemaker, but would have immediately given my support if anyone had asked my opinion.

Would I have guessed she would make wines of the calibre of the 2014 wines? No, I would not. It would be hard to find two regions so different in their make up: climate, terroir and varieties are but a starting point. And 2014 was not of the same class as 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015 in the Yarra Valley.

The foretaste of the 2015 Pinot Shiraz would be compelling even if there was no other evidence, but all the Yarra Valley makers regard 2015 as a very, very good vintage. There are still many wines from the best producers awaiting release as this book goes to print. My mouth dribbles at the thought of the Yarra Yerings.

I’m sure that Sarah’s experience will grow exponentially over the coming years as she accumulates knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of the blocks within the vineyard. If there are hard decisions to make, she won’t shirk the challenge. Her bubbly personality and pocket-rocket size shouldn’t fool anyone. Staring down those with a long connection to the vineyard and its wines, who were horrified at the thought of a new red wine and the lèse–majesté of resorting to screwcaps were dealt with firmly but politely, histrionics nipped in the bud before things got out of hand