We spoke with Bryan about his road to becoming a winemaker, his contributions to paleontology and the highs and lows of recent vintages.
Bryan Currie is a highly accomplished, award-winning winemaker and we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have him at the helm here at Hungerford Hill. That's why it might come as a surprise that Bryan never really had any plans to become a winemaker. He actually studied paleontology and discovered an incredibly important fossil in Queensland – an early tetrapod, preserved from the period when fish first began to walk onto land.
'I actually put a pick right through its skull, but we don't talk about that,' he says, still sheepish. 'Lots of people were looking for one but we found the earliest. It was a lot of fun, but I couldn't stomach studying for a PhD, so I turned to wine. I'd worked in the Yarra Valley doing general vineyard labouring, so I enrolled in a viticulture course at TAFE then went to Griffith to do a vintage with McWilliams as a casual cellarhand. They offered me a fulltime job, then six months later, they offered me an assistant winemaker role. It really just went from there.'
While digging for fossils wasn't to be, Bryan has no qualms when it comes to getting his hands dirty in the vineyard and winery. 'I really do love my job,' he says. 'It's more of a lifestyle, because being a winemaker is such an all-encompassing job. You work seven days a week during vintage and overtime all year, so if you didn't like it, it'd be hell.'
The past few years have been particularly difficult for Bryan and the Hungerford team, with a lot of stress coming from environmental factors out of their control. 'Last year it was fire and droughts, this year it's been rain and floods,' he says. 'That's just farming, but fortunately we got through this vintage and managed to make some great wines.'
And of those great wines made in 2021, Bryan says he's especially excited about the Sweetwater Shiraz. 'It's spectacular,' he says, 'though everything from the Sweetwater vineyard has performed fantastically. Everything ripened beautifully before any rain and the crop level was great. I'm also happy to be making wine from Tumbarumba again because in 2019 we had a hailstorm, which took out most of the vineyard, and in 2020 we had fires, so we didn't make anything. It's nice, because I actually took this job in the first place because I love the Tumbarumba region so much.'
It isn't just the Tumbarumba region that gets Bryan up in the morning – he's equally passionate about chardonnay, which he considers his favourite wine to make.'It's more of a challenge because there are lots of different components,' he says. 'You get a lot of complexity with chardonnay, whereas a great riesling or semillon is pretty straight forward. If there's great fruit, you'll make a great wine – there's not a lot a winemaker can do other than stuff it up. But with chardonnay, there's complexity from the way you make the wine, which I enjoy, even if I don't like doing that much. I enjoy wild ferments with no fining, but you still have to look after the wine and I try to push it a bit further every year.'
For now, that's exactly what Bryan is enjoying most – looking after the wines. 'It's the attention to detail, the one percenters, that turn a really good wine into a fabulous wine. The extra effort gets it over the line and people can see that in the wines,' he says. And it's safe to say we're in full agreement with him there.