Monday, 01 May 2017 07:52

Dancing to the wine tune

Written by  Tessa Nicholson
Sophie Harris – from dancer to winemaker. Sophie Harris – from dancer to winemaker.

Sophie Harris has to thank her mum for more than most people around her.

The assistant winemaker at Rod McDonald Wines in Hawke’s Bay may never have considered a career in the wine industry, if it hadn’t been for her mother’s tenacious mid-life career change.

Looking for something she could see herself enjoying, Harris’s mum decided to undertake the EIT Diploma in Viticulture and continued on to complete the degree.

From there she went on to manage the Kim Crawford cellar door.

So Harris herself also got to do some part time work there, not that she thought too much about it.

“I didn’t think her decision to study at EIT had influenced me at the time, at least not when I was leaving high school and was unsure about what I wanted to do. I was working in the cellar door, but wasn’t really that interested in wine at that time.”

Instead her interest was in the performing arts, contemporary dance in particular. Initially she had dreams of being a dancer, but after a year of study at Unitech in Auckland, she realised that maybe there wasn’t a future in it for her.

“I loved it and I would love to be doing some dancing now. But I wasn’t sure what I was going do to with it in the future. I didn’t want to teach dancing and that was the only viable option if you are not going to be in a dance company.”

So back to Hawke’s Bay, where she once again joined the cellar door staff with her mother, before heading to Marlborough to undertake a vintage at the Kim Crawford winery . Even this wasn’t enough to set her pulses racing – it was just a way to earn some money so she could travel to Australia.

So what was it that turned this young woman from dancer to winemaker?

“I came back after a year in Australia and did another vintage. When I did that first vintage I loved it and loved the work, I just didn’t understand what I was doing. But when I did the second vintage in Hawke’s Bay, it all clicked. I loved the physicality of it, there was so much to learn and it was so exciting. The people were exciting and they were all so passionate about what they were doing.”

She decided she was going to be a winemaker, despite the fact she hadn’t been the greatest science student at school. “I probably wasn’t interested in it back then, but when I went to EIT, I loved the chemistry side of things. I could see where it was heading and all of a sudden it had a purpose.”

Graduating in 2012, Harris then took off to gain as much experience as she could, via vintages around the world. She believes that international experience has helped her develop as a winemaker.

“It was really important, the gaining of knowledge and making relationships with people. Hearing the way others think about things is also important. It makes you think differently.”

The work in places like Italy, Napa and Australia gave her hands on experience with a range of varieties – and a love for Cabernet Sauvignon.

“I found that variety really appealed to me, especially as I got to taste a few older wines. They are so deep and really interesting.”

Rod McDonald Wines doesn’t normally produce a straight Cab Sav, Harris says, but just recently they made a one off.

“Rod had this beautiful parcel of Cabernet from 2014, sitting in barrel. It looked spectacular and he didn’t want to lose it by blending it with anything else. It is looking amazing, so that is really exciting.”

As is her new position.

“I am getting to see everything through to bottling. I hadn’t done a lot of the finishing of wines before I came here, so now I am getting to do things I have never done before. And working with Rod is fantastic. He is well known as a great winemaker – I just think I am so lucky to be learning from him.”

 

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