Jennifer Doyle, winner of the Viticulturist of the Year award at the 2017 Women in Wine awards (AWIWA), talks to Ray Ruano about the importance of sustainability and diversity in the industry.
In November, Jennifer Doyle celebrated five years at Jansz Tasmania, home to one of the most highly regarded sparkling wine houses in Australia.
But her viticultural journey began 25 years ago, in a career that has taken her across the cool climate regions of Orange, Pemberton, and Margaret River.
She has now settled in southern Tasmania and currently works between Jansz’s three vineyards: Pipers River, Coal River Valley, and Forcett.
A career in viticulture
Growing up on a farm in country NSW, Doyle always had an interest and a deep respect for the natural world.
Fast forward to studying for a Bachelor’s of Rural Science degree at the University of New England, Doyle spent her holidays working at vineyards in the Hunter Valley.
“It was here that my interest in viticulture and wine was ignited,” said Doyle.
She saw the agricultural industry as an opportunity to become part of the complete lifecycle of its produce and go beyond just simply growing it.
“From planting to rootling grapevines on a chosen site to sharing a bottle of wine with family and friends at the table, years, and maybe decades, later,” Doyle shared.
Doyle wholeheartedly embraced the industry, which gave her the chance for explore her passion of science and nature.
“It was a career that was dynamic, that enabled the melding of both science and art.”
Dealing with climate change
Doyle has taken a natural approach to the management of growing grapevines and caring for the environment.
“Viticulture is a dynamic pursuit, constantly changing with the ebb and flow of environmental influences,” Doyle said.
While the process of planting grapevines is a lengthy prospect, there are many tools for viticulturists to move reasonably nimbly within the whim of nature and consumers, Doyle explained.
She discusses the careful process of choosing a new site to plant a vineyard in regard to environmental factors.
“We use these findings with the most appropriate variety, clone and rootstock, to match both the environment and what is intended for the bottle.” Doyle continued. “Finally, there are the considerations for ongoing management of the mature vines…”
This includes: suitable attention to balanced nutrition, compost/cover cropping, responsible use of irrigation, and organic and Biodynamic block trials to oversee resilience and reflection of the natural wine environment.
“Our overarching focus in Tasmania is on sparkling wine, the varieties for which are very well-suited to this crisp, cool climate, and the purity and elegance of fruit that this frigid clime evokes.” Doyle said.
Sustainability in the wine industry
The role of sustainability in the practice of viticulture is a significant one.
Doyle discussed the holistic wine business in terms of viticulture and explained what it means to work with nature.
“One continually grows an understanding of how each minute part works and acts to influence the whole [while] exploring alternative methods of managing pests, diseases, and unconventional weed control measures…” Doyle said.
This process acknowledges the multi-faceted value of protecting and enhancing biological diversity.
In 2012, Doyle participated Dr Don Martin Sustainable Viticulture Fellowship study tour, which inspired this pathway.
Sustainable strategies include ‘living mulch’ trials to suppress weed growth to eliminate the use of chemicals.
For example, Doyle oversees the vine nutrition program that is based on compost rotations— kelp and fish emulsion.
‘Insect pests are managed through the use of guinea fowl and native insect predators, Fungal diseases are kept in check with organically certified fungicides (compound) and Botrytis cinerea (fungus) with applications of predatory fungus, to supplement naturally occurring populations,” Doyle explained.
These methods are used to gradually build resistance in grapevines to ensure their successful production of cool climate fruit for the future.
“They provide a nourishing and rewarding livelihood for those who work among, and with, them,” Doyle said.
Working in the wine industry
When asked what she wished she'd known at the start of her career, Doyle said: “Trust your own experiences as unique and worthwhile as they may allow a different perspective to a viticultural, or other, challenge that others don’t have.”
As a viticulturist, she shared her love for being ‘among the vines, observing, smelling, feeling, the buzz of the biome at its most minute.’
When asked what most people don’t know about a viticultural profession, she noted: “Much of what you can’t see with the naked eye (yeasts, bacteria, fungi) is contributing to the unique terroir and ultimate flavour, texture and aroma of the wine…”
In regard to the challenges of the job, Doyle discussed the individual challenges of climate, soil, and the natural environment.
“Being an island, wind is a given, and it can be our friend or our foe,” she said.
Diversity in the workplace
Doyle shared that diversity offers the most intriguing and inspiring aspects of growing and savouring wine.
“We have some wonderful viticulturists in our team, both budding and accomplished, who constantly ask questions and stimulate one to think beyond previous experience and understanding.” Doyle noted.
She mentioned that ‘there are infinite ways in which an environment, a viticultural and winemaking hand – and the inexplicable – can influence the exclusively distinct character of that which ends up in the bottle.’
With an ‘eclectic mix of backgrounds’ such as ‘an ex-chef NSW mid-north coaster, a knowledge-craving Bhutanese refugee, a petite Japanese dynamo and our local Tasmanian,’ Jansz Tasmania genuinely values the importance and representation of diversity in the wine industry.
“How boring would wine be without diversity!” Doyle exclaimed.
For more information on Jansz Tasmania, click here.