Scott McWilliam is a true custodian of Australian wine history, the latest in a long line of Australian wine innovators. While he grew up in one of Australia’s most famous wine families he was never pushed into the industry. Like the vines that have sustained his forebears over many, many years he grew his own passion and appreciation for both winemaking and family business. Today he is a sixth generation winemaker for McWilliam's Wines, a role he cherishes alongside spending time as an Ambassador for the family around the world as well as sitting on the board of directors. Like many in Australia’s next generation of custodians Scott admires and protects the family traditions while always looking to innovate, producing the best possible wines from the wonderful resources of one of Australia’s most renowned wine families.
Scott McWilliam – Every journey begins with inspiration
Scott’s journey in wine, unsurprisingly, started as a young child. If you are a passionate wine lover it might sound like a semi-charmed kind of life. A rusty old push bike was the vehicle for the young Scott to explore the winery at Hanwood in the Riverina region. He was an inquisitive child and the tanks, fermenters, pumps, hoses, crushers and presses were a wonderland. And just next door were his grandparents and great grandparents who Scott loved to visit. We can only imagine the wonderful tall tales and true stories they told of the pioneering McWilliams family.
All of this exploring and discovery had a huge effect on Scott McWilliam. At a very young age he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his forebears who had pioneered one of Australia’s most important wine regions. So at the age of fourteen he got his first job in the cellar. As the sixth generation of the family you couldn’t blame them for giving Scott one of the cushier jobs in the winery. Scott probably wouldn’t have minded that at all but instead he was given one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs in the winery! He was small enough to squeeze through man-holes so he was set to work cleaning out yeast lees from fermentation vats and rinsing the rail transport tankers. Nowadays modern safety rules would never let a youngster like Scott, or anyone else for that matter, do that sort of work. But if Scott was happy to do that sort of back breaking hard labour to work in the winery then there was no questioning his desire and passion for the wine game.
Been around the world and back again
Over the next five or so years Scott worked a myriad of jobs in the vineyard and winery. But the time had come to spread his wings and gain knowledge and experience that he could bring back home. At the age of nineteen Scott flew the coop and headed overseas for first full harvest experience in the historic region of Bordeaux. Given his family heritage it may come as no surprise that Scott loved working in a region of tradition and historic families. Upon his return to Australia Scott decided to formalise his bourgeoning knowledge in viticulture and oenology. After a time working at the world renowned Australian Wine Research Institute he enrolled at the prestigious winemaking school at the University of Adelaide.
It was during his studies in Adelaide that Scott gained an appreciation and a love for another part of the wine game, selling the stuff. He worked at several wine shops, sharing his knowledge and learning what people loved to drink. This work had a lasting impact on Scott, as later on once he’d returned to the family fold he took a year off from winemaking and lived in the USA in a sales support role helping to establish our McWilliam's brand in a key market for fine Australian wine. But we digress. Upon completing his studies Scott gained an abundance of winemaking and harvest experience in a diverse range of wine regions in France and California. The time had come for Scott to prove that he could put all of his knowledge and experience into practice at one of the most historic and treasured wine estates in Australia. Scott returned to Australia, joining the team at McWilliam’s prestigious Mount Pleasant winery in the Hunter Valley. No pressure, mate!
Scott McWilliam – Up for the toughest challenges
The Hunter Valley is Australia’s first wine region, a place steeped in character and history. Names like Maurice O’Shea, Murray Tyrrell, James Halliday and Len Evans have worked the land here, building the legend with every passing vintage. So you could understand if Scott McWilliam was a little daunted by the challenge of working with vaunted vineyards the 136-year-old Old Hill. But Scott relished this challenge and quickly fell in love with the Hunter Valley, so much so that it’s still his home today despite his role with the company expanding greatly. This special place, the vines and the unique wines that they produce continue to influenced Scott and he is a truly passionate ambassador for Mount Pleasant and it’s integral place in his family’s proud history. The legacy of Maurice O’Shea and Mount Pleasant has also been an important influence in shaping Scott’s wine philosophy.
My wine philosophy is to let the vineyard sing. In short this means working out what works best and where, with reference to grapes, their varieties and the microclimates they grow in. It also means a minimal approach to the winemaking to be able to properly accentuate what the vineyard has given us. I believe that 80% of a wine is made before the grapes are even picked, and the decision when to pick the grapes is one of the most important winemaking decisions throughout the whole process.
Scott McWilliam, McWilliams Wines
The importance of family builds on a great legacy
As you can imagine for someone with as diverse experience as Scott there are a lot of people who’ve had an influence along the journey. In recent times it has been members of Australia’s First Families of Wine that have inspired Scott. Family members, young and old, from legendary Australian wine names like Yalumba, Tyrrell’s, Henschke, DeBortoli and d’Arenberg have shared their insights learned from years and years of experience working the Australian wine landscape. Launched in 2009, Australia’s First Families of Wine is a collective that spreads across four states. Combined they own more than 5,500 hectares of Australia’s best vineyards and they share a combined 1200 years and 48 generations of winemaking experience. Heck, that’s more than enough to inspire one hundred people let alone just one like Scott!
Closer to home Scott McWilliam has also been inspired more recently by a man who passed away 30 years ago, his great-grandfather. While he spent time with him as a child growing up around the winery it is only now that Scott is learning his full history. Scott has also gained the experience and the maturity to fully appreciate his amazing legacy, becoming a true and guiding influence for Scott. We’ll let Scott explain more, “To this date he has given me the best advice I've ever received. When I was a young child he used to tell me that when I first greet someone, to "give them a firm handshake and look at them in the eye". I wish more people would receive advice like that these days.” We couldn’t agree more.
The future for Scott McWilliam and the McWilliam family
As part of a pioneering Australian wine family with a wonderful heritage, it’s great to know the future is bright for Scott and the McWilliam family. They will continue to source fruit from some of our finest regions, from Margaret River to the Hunter Valley. Scott will continue to champion New South Wales wine and the exciting cool climate regions like Hilltops and Tumbarumba that are starting to make some noise on the global stage. He has seen first-hand the growing excitement for Australian wine in his role as an Ambassador, from the US to China to emerging markets across Asia. And with someone as talented as Scott McWilliam leading the charge the Australian wine community can be confident that the future is in very, very capable hands.
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