It was a love of vines and a touch of serendipity that drove Nick Dry to viticulture, and it is his important work in the field that makes him deserving of this award.
Australia’s viticulturists are the unsung heroes of Australian wine with the 2019 GT WINE Viticulturist of the Year, Nick Dry at the forefront. Our winemakers bask in the limelight, while our viticulturists toil in the vineyard often in baking hot or freezing cold conditions. For Nick Dry the path was clear, though not preordained.
Dry joined the Yalumba Nursery in 2008 following a career with Vinehealth (formerly the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia) from 2004-2007 and an earlier stint with Pernod Ricard. Dry published an important work in 2007 – Grapevine Rootstocks: Selection and Management for South Australian Vineyards. The topic may seem ‘dry’ (Nick’s pun, not mine) but it’s this level of detail that’s defined Dry’s stellar career.
The Yalumba Nursery dates back to 1975, founded to help provide cuttings to Yalumba’s own vineyards and their vast network of growers. Fast forward 40-plus years and the Yalumba Nursery has become a leading provider of new high-quality clones, obscure varieties and (perhaps more importantly) virus-free rootstocks. It’s in this area that Dry’s knowledge and technical skills shine. That Dry has been appointed the Chair of the Vine Industry Nursery Association speaks of the regard he’s held in by the industry and his peers.
Dry deserves this award for his intellect, his foresight and for his ability to share his knowledge.
Dry has vines in his veins but that’s not the reason he became a viticulturist, it was more serendipity. School was (too much) fun for Dry, he admits he only focused on the academic stuff later on. Having put viticulture down as one of his electives, it turned out to be the only place he was offered.
A mundane first year of science on the city campus of the University of Adelaide failed to enthuse Dry but it was when he went to the Waite Campus and the lectures turned to vines that the viticultural spark was ignited. Even being lectured by his dad (Dr Peter Dry is an Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide) failed to dampen Nick Dry’s enthusiasm.
Dry attributes his time selling wine at Vintage Cellars to fund his studies as an important factor in his success at the Yalumba Nursery. Listening to customers and understanding their needs is as relevant in a wine store as in a commercial nursery. He acknowledges his father’s influence but highlights his mother, Chris’ career in the medical world – moving from general nursing to become the state manager of a specialist medical equipment supplier. His mother’s sales skills filtered through to Nick and have been a counterpoint to his intellectual prowess.
Dry has a fine mind and a focused outlook that sees things way beyond the now. In the viticultural world it takes almost 10 years for a new variety, rootstock or clone to be imported, quarantined, propagated, planted, to bear fruit and be made into wine. Rootstock trials likewise take years and years.
He is a consummate communicator, just watch the video of his rootstock trials in Mornington Peninsula or his wanderings in Best’s 1860s Nursery Block to source much forgotten Rhône varieties such as piquepoul noir, carignan and bourboulenc. At a workshop on chardonnay clones he presented a few years ago, his deep knowledge was palpable, and his energy and charisma turned a ‘dry’ subject into an exciting session.
Unlike some other grape vine nurseries, Yalumba is focused on the core varieties, with Rhône varieties Dry’s speciality. Fine tuning is more Dry’s thing with a clear eye to the future – a future that’s clouded by the looming issue of phylloxera with many of Australia’s vineyards still planted on their own roots. Dry and his team are ensuring that our winemakers have the tools to manage the transition to virus-resistant rootstock with an increase in overall wine quality.
Dry deserves this award for his intellect, his foresight and for his ability to share his knowledge. He is in his prime with much more to come.
Photography by Ben McPherson.