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Alex Cassegrain, ASVO Winemaker of the Year 2021

RD&A News | December 2021
16 Dec 2021
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In this issue of RD&A News, we speak with Alex Cassegrain the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology’s (ASVO) Winemaker of the Year.

As a kid, Alex Cassegrain was more likely to be found with his head buried under the hood of a tractor, than buried in a book.

“I always preferred learning by ‘doing’,” says Alex.

Alex spent a lot of his childhood exploring the Hastings River countryside with his brother and cousins around his family’s Port Macquarie vineyard, Cassegrain Wines, and tinkering with his dad’s tractors. Vintage was always a highlight of the year, and Alex loved being in the thick of it.

It was only natural for Alex to gravitate towards viticulture and he began studying his Diploma of Viticulture at Kurri Kurri TAFE. With its adjacent vineyard and hands-on approach, it was the perfect learning environment for Alex.

On completion of his course, he moved to Tasmania to work at Tamar Ridge, under Andrew Pirie. 

“I worked a harvest as a cellar hand and I never looked back. It gave me such a buzz to work in the cellar and I ended up staying in Tasmania for a few years before moving to France to work at Château Guiraud in Sauternes,” he said.

It was also during this time that he successfully applied to the University of Adelaide to study a Bachelor of Oenology and Viticulture. During his studies he returned to France, this time to work for Taransaud making barrels. “It really gave me a great insight into how all the elements of winemaking come together.”

Alex eventually returned to the family vineyard and over the next few years worked his way up to Senior Winemaker. 

Up until the devastating bushfire crisis of 2019–20, Alex had very little experience working with smoke taint in wines. He obtained any information and experiences available, which allowed him to trial different approaches and to "think ouside the square". 

“As a wine community, we didn’t want to walk away from the harvest – and I’m glad we didn’t. We’d been dealing with years of drought, which had resulted in lower yields and loss of revenue. We were convinced we had to try and salvage what fruit we had.”

Alex played a pivotal role working with smoke-affected fruit following the bushfires.

Working as part of a team, he used bucket ferments to trial a range of techniques to reduce the impact of smoke taint on the wine – the results of which he shared at the National Wine Sector Bushfire Conference coordinated by Wine Australia – in May 2021.

Alex recently received a three-year $950,000 grant from the Federal Government's Cooperative Research Centres Projects to work with industry partners in Australia and New Zealand researching the effects of smoke taint in wine. 

Alex said while he was genuinely pleased to be named ASVO 2021 Winemaker of the Year, he felt that winning the award was a team effort for those involved in the project.

“I’m so grateful to all the growers who went on this journey with us, not knowing what the final outcome would be. In the end we were quite happy with some of the wines we produced. Not all were successful, but it was a learning curve and we feel we are in a much better position now than we were before the fires.”

“This award is for all of us,” he said.

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.