Adelaide Hills Vine Improvement Incorporated (AHVII) has a new Operations Manager, Louise Christian, who would like to encourage local growers to establish new source blocks in the Adelaide Hills, with a focus on a broader clonal selection of traditional varieties and a greater range of alternative varieties.
Louise also has ambitions to help the South Australian wine industry by developing a resource-base of clonal material that is currently available for winemakers and viticulturists, and to better understand and manage the impact of grapevine viruses.
Her background isn’t a typical wine industry story. Louise, most recently an executive within the pharmaceuticals industry, wanted to be a palaeontologist as a teen and studied geology at the University of Adelaide.
“But when I got to the end of the course, I had the option of going into academia or doing something else. I couldn’t picture myself working as an academic in palaeontology at that time, so I moved to Melbourne and started working at Mitre 10’s national head office in retail analytics,” Louise said.
“It was really interesting work – very commercial, which I enjoyed, and I could use the logic and critical thinking abilities developed through studying a science degree to help the company.”
Louise worked her way up in Mitre 10 in a variety of roles, including inventory and merchandise planning, store network planning and operations management, and started studying for her MBA to gain a more rigorous business grounding.
The MBA led her down a new path, as a friend she met while undertaking her studies was in the process of setting up a pharmaceuticals consultancy business. She left Mitre 10 to join the start-up.
“We built it into a multi-million-dollar pharmaceutical analytics and consultancy company with around 20 employees, working with all of the key pharmaceutical companies to provide sales, marketing and strategic insights. Based on this success, the largest clinical trials and data analytics company globally, IQVIA, took a stake in the company, and I moved into an executive role working between Melbourne and Sydney,” Louise said.
“The opportunity then came to move to Singapore to build a new regional data analytics team for Asia Pacific. It was fascinating work, as I was able to set up a new team, successfully negotiate access to many new data sources across the Asia Pacific region, and conduct real world studies looking at trends in health care.
“I had a fantastic opportunity to travel throughout Asia, but travelling two weeks of each month lost its appeal after a while. I had always wanted to study viticulture and winemaking, so I decided to take the plunge and move back to Adelaide.
“I started my Masters in Oenology and Viticulture at Adelaide University and I worked in a couple of cellar doors, which helped my understanding of the consumer’s point of view with respect to wine varieties and styles.”
Louise was working with Henschke at their Lenswood vineyard over 2020/21 Christmas break when David Coleman from AHVII dropped by and mentioned he was looking for an Operations Manager to replace him, as he was retiring. It was fortuitous timing.
“Vine Improvement wasn’t ever part of the plan, but I don’t like to have a set career path. I prefer to make the most of opportunities that come along,” Louise said.
“I’m really enjoying the work, especially working with growers to find out what their needs are in terms of clonal material, and what factors are impacting their vineyards. And I’d like to work more extensively with winemakers to develop a greater understanding of the impact of vine health, clonal variability and site specificity on winemaking outcomes.
“Viruses are a growing concern in the wine industry, including in the Adelaide Hills. We need to get a better understanding of virus impact and control. I’m not daunted by this challenge – I like complexity in my work!”
The AHVII crew is currently out in the vineyard taking cuttings from Pinot Gris blocks.
“We’re currently working out how we will fulfil our orders this year which are through the roof!” Louise said.
“We have twice the volume of orders compared with last year. People are replanting after the fires and there’s a significant shift to new varieties. Pinot Noir is still dominant, but also Tempranillo, Pinot Gris, Graciano and others which we can’t currently supply in large volumes as we need to establish source blocks.
“I’d like to support this push to new varieties and the availability of more diverse clonal material for traditional varieties like Chardonnay. I’d like to work with growers to establish more source blocks in the Adelaide Hills, and I’ve been talking with a few growers who are keen to help with this.”
Source block establishment is vital to AHVII being able to supply high-health propagation material to growers. Growers who work with AHVII to establish source blocks benefit in a number of ways, including being ampelography inspected to ensure trueness-to-type and annual virus testing. And as cuttings are taken from the block for customer orders, vines are pre-pruned to the viticulturist’s specifications.
“I also want to establish a resource for growers to more readily access information about the available clonal material, including vine habit, phenology, ideal site conditions, yields and flavour profiles, as this information is not currently available in a single source, and would be really useful for growers and winemakers in planning future plantings,” Louise said.
Louise would also like to establish some projects focused on grapevine virus to help growers and winemakers become more aware of the impacts of viruses. “I’d like to analyse the rate of virus spread in vineyards and the impact on yield and wine quality over three or more years. I’m scoping up a project in the Adelaide Hills on this at the moment,” she said.
Meanwhile, Louise and her partner are enjoying living in Verdun on a 70 acre property and she would like to plant some vines in the near future.
“Just something small that I can work on over the next 20 years or so,” Louise said. “Nebbiolo is my passion so I’d love to have some Nebbiolo vines.
“It’s a big change from Singapore!”