Working his way through the ranks at Church Road, Chris Scott is now chief winemaker and puts everything he learned on the way up into his winemaking today – he’s a Hawke’s Bay specialist.
After Chris Scott was promoted to chief winemaker at Church Road winery in 2005 their wines leapt in quality. At the time I gave Scott full credit for this dramatic improvement, but he puts a more modest spin on it. “My promotion to chief winemaker coincided with a period when a lot of work we’d done in the vineyard came to fruition,” he states. “We’d been challenging the way we’d been doing things for a while and had been trialling alternative methods, which led to practical applications being adopted at about the time I got the job. We also started getting a lot more of our red grapes from the Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels districts of Hawke’s Bay.”
Scott started his winemaking career in 1995 after being bitten by the wine bug while half way through an accountancy degree at Waikato University. After some early investigation he made the hasty decision to follow what was then a fairly vague dream. He quit his degree and moved to Hawke’s Bay to study wine science at the Eastern Institute of Technology in association with Charles Sturt University, graduating in 1999. Scott has been based at Church Road for most of his winemaking career, working his way up from part-time vineyard and cellar door duties from 1995 to 1998.
“It took until I returned for my second season in the vineyard before I was promoted to tractor driving,” Scott explains. “I was pretty excited about the new position, until I bent the new trimmer. Obviously they eventually forgave me. Before that I was leaf plucking, tucking and debudding, and from memory it paid about NZ$7.30 (A$6.60) an hour. I very much started at the bottom, but I wanted to gain as much experience I could.”
In 1998 Scott was asked if he would like to do a harvest in the winery and was then offered a full-time position in the cellar. He did three vintages on the cellar floor from 1998 to 2000 while completing his wine science degree by correspondence. “The head winemaker at the time, Tony Prichard, was great at including those of who were interested in blending and grading tastings, and took time to explain what he was doing and why,” he says. “It was an awesome opportunity for a newbie. In those early years we were also working with Cordier of Bordeaux. They bought an Old World perspective that was very different to what was being taught in Australasia at the time.”
“I’ve led a fairly sheltered winemaking career really. No overseas vintages and almost all of my experience in Hawke’s Bay and at Church Road,” explains Scott. “I like to think that makes me a Hawke’s Bay specialist rather than a jack of all trades. I think one of the keys to making great wine is understanding your vineyards very well and that relies solely on experience. So perhaps there is something to be said for focusing your attention on one area.”