Responsible for winemaking across three different labels, Janice McDonald creates delicious wines in a range of styles and pricepoints making her a worthy winner.
Congratulations to Janice McDonald, the highly deserving winner of the 2018 Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year award. From a field of superb winemakers, McDonald, chief winemaker at Burch Family Wines, impressed the judges with her relentless quest for quality at all pricepoints, her continual refinement of wine style, and her insight into the Margaret River region as well as her understanding of the strength and potential of Great Southern.
McDonald oversees the production of wines under the Howard Park and MadFish labels and works in collaboration with Burgundian winemaker Pascal Marchand on the Marchand & Burch range. She was also instrumental in the creation of the highly awarded Jeté range of sparkling wines.
McDonald took over the winemaking reins in 2011, and quality has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
Of course, it is a team effort and McDonald would be the first to admit that it is the harmony between all facets of the winery and vineyard which allows for the production of such a strong range of wines year in year out. Senior winemaker Mark Bailey, viticulturist David Botting and the wider winemaking and cellar team are all integral to the high-quality of wine produced, not to mention the leadership from the Burch family themselves. But there is no denying the tone that McDonald’s approach has set. Over her career, her exceptional wines have displayed a restrained power with fruit elegance.
“The level of insight and knowledge that McDonald has is the culmination of almost 30 years dedicated to her craft. ”
It is evident, from tasting through the extensive range of wines, that as much attention is given to the affordable MadFish range as it is to the icon wines of Howard Park.
The MadFish Chardonnay, for example, is a modern, expressive wine with freshness and energy, representing outstanding value. The sauvignon blanc semillon blend is intense and vivacious, and the pinot gris is soft and gently savoury. The price of these wines belies their sophistication.
Next comes the Howard Park regional range with high quality across the board. The ever-impressive, age-worthy rieslings from Mount Barker and Porongurup are linear, pristine and focused, and highly reflective of their distinct vineyard origins. And the Leston and Scotsdale reds, made from shiraz and cabernet sauvignon grown in Margaret River and Great Southern, display the impact of site on the expression of varietal character. The Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon and Allingham Chardonnay are the icon wines; both are benchmarks with good cellaring potential.
McDonald’s entry into the industry came from an intense love of wine and the stories that each bottle contained. It was the grape variety cabernet sauvignon that lured her to Western Australia.
After studies in science and wine, she took an assistant winemaking position with Vasse Felix before working as a brewer with the Matilda Bay Brewing Co. She returned to winemaking as senior winemaker for Devil’s Lair before beginning her own label Stella Bella with partner Stuart Pym. In the early days of her career, she also worked in the Hunter Valley, Coonawarra, Milawa and the Yarra Valley.
The level of insight and knowledge that McDonald has is the culmination of almost 30 years dedicated to her craft. Never one to seek the spotlight or spout her virtues, McDonald’s success has come from hard work, attention to detail and determination. She has a finely tuned palate that leads to the creation of wines that have finesse and balance. For these traits, she is much admired.
We, the consumers, are the lucky recipients of her talent, tenacity, and intellect. Every bottle she makes is a delicious celebration of the joy of wine.
Photography by Frances Andrijich