What’s the best thing about winemaking? “Anything barrel-related. Except cleaning them,” says winemaker Lisa Halgren.
Lisa Halgren is an assistant winemaker at award-winning Eden Road Wines. Wine writer RICHARD CALVER is curious about the 32-year-old’s journey from bottle shops in Sydney to barrels at Murrumbateman.
What sparked your interest in wine, and into becoming a winemaker?
I worked and managed bottle stores around Sydney for over six years and developed an increasing curiosity and passion towards wine. Beginning as most teenagers do, with Moscato (but the fancy kind – “the DOCG d’asti kind”) and moving towards kiwi sauvignon blanc before progressing further and finding my groove with red wine during my trip to NZ in 2012 in Pinot Central (Otago).
There began my long-term relationship with pinot noir. In 2017 I decided I wanted to learn more about the production side of the industry, to understand more the “whys” and “hows” as opposed to the facts and the fancy operations that don’t mean much until you’re standing in front of a batch and seeing it happen.
During this time, a young, confident and very sassy man walked into the bottle shop I was managing, and I helped him to his car. In his boot he had a box of wine labelled De Salis.
Turns out it’s his family winery and he is the son and marketing manager. I asked him if we could get the wines into the store. After a few weeks of pestering him, we got the wines into the store and sold a heap. There started my professional relationship with the family.
One day I mentioned I was studying wine science and asked him if I could get some experience at the winery, and he put me in touch with Charlie Svenson, the father, founder, and head winemaker at the time, who invited me to meet with them.
I attended a very intimidating blind tasting of which I was the only woman amongst 20 older men. I also accompanied Charlie to a private dinner with two other winemakers in their home. This is the moment I got invited back to assist in the 2018 vintage at De Salis.
Three weeks out from vintage, I had just quit my job, had thrown myself a goodbye party to embark on this exciting new venture for the next three months, when I received a phone call from Charlie informing me of the devastating news of the bushfire that had broken out on Mount Canobolas, which had impacted on the grapes and hence, vintage 2018 was no longer. Despite this setback, I spent two weeks at the vineyard voluntarily, in the family home and in the winery helping with lots of tasks.
Later in the year, I was back in Sydney working for Prince Wine Store when I received a call from Charlie saying that he’s looking for an assistant winemaker and he wanted me to apply. That was my cue… and the beginning of my career in winemaking.
Where did your wine journey take you, that is what jobs in the industry have you had?
I started out managing various bottle shops in Sydney, before commencing my winemaking experience as assistant winemaker at De Salis Wines in Orange. Then my current partner Léonore, who is also a winemaker, and is French from Bordeaux, moved to Canberra for her job, which led me to Murrumbateman, where I was very warmly welcomed by Celine Rousseau, head winemaker of Eden Road Wines.
Where have you been studying?
I completed a WSET Level 3 in my early stages of wine-life, before I realised that I wanted to know the nitty gritty parts of wine – the production. So, I enrolled into a Bachelor of Wine Science at Charles Sturt University in 2017 (offered part-time and on-line). Seven long years later, I have finally graduated.
What is the best thing about winemaking?
Anything barrel-related. Except cleaning them, actually. The choice and selection of producer, toast, size, spice – selecting that barrel for a specific batch is truly quite fascinating. Blending is also a hoot.
But my favourite aspect that I’ve had the luxury of working with is traditional method sparkling wine. De Salis specialised in this. I fell in love with the demanding nature of the method, the insane number of steps that are involved, tirage, dosage trials and seeing what lees-ageing does to the wine.
Have you confronted sexism and how has that manifested?
Not specifically/directly in this industry. There are times at which strenuous jobs have been delegated only to men, and that’s when I have taken initiative myself, I’ve been told to “let the guys do it”. So I guess this is sexism, but more directed towards men than it is to women.
Have you a plan for the future?
I have a sparkling wine from 2021 that I made during my time at De Salis. It’s currently sitting on lees. One day I will release this. In the meantime, I plan on dabbling with some more pinot noir.
Perhaps one day Léo and I will have our own label. She wants to have a tiny plot of vines on a block of land where we have our own house and veggie garden. You know what they say? Happy wife, happy life.
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