Peter Leske’s childhood reads like an excerpt from a Boy’s Own Annual.
Growing up on campus at Roseworthy Agricultural College in Adelaide – where his father Ken Leske lectured in finance – Peter had pet sheep, ‘swam’ in an old chaff bin, mucked around on the tractors, snacked on ripe sultana grapes and explored the campus’ many laboratories and classrooms with his trusty dog by his side.
‘I guess I was what you would call a free-range kid. I was the last of five, so all the hard parent-training work had been done by my older siblings.’
This freedom to learn and explore set him on a path of knowledge gathering that has been a constant throughout his career.
Peter Leske, ASVO Winemaker of the Year 2020
Initially, Peter wanted to be an electrical engineer, but a chance conversation towards the end of Year 12 planted the seed of winemaking.
‘It had several attractions in my mind – it was country/ag-based and focused, it involved three years study instead of four, included chemistry, and was considered “cool” by girls my age’, Peter recalls.
After seven vintages with Grosset Wines and almost as many in France, Peter joined the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) as Manager of Technical Services. The position was effectively an extension and advisory role to the wine sector, and further instilled the power of collective knowledge and expertise in Peter.
‘I learnt by observation that people could not achieve things without my help, and I could not achieve things without theirs. Working at the AWRI for five years was particularly instructive; there were many smart people with skills that I did not have (and vice versa) and if we did not work as a team we could not solve the problems that were brought to us.
‘But being a hands-on winemaker is really no different. It takes a village to raise a child, as they say, and it takes a team to grow great grapes and make a good wine.’
Today, Peter is a contract winemaker and makes wine for around 30 clients scattered throughout the Adelaide Hills, Barossa and McLaren Vale, and beyond, in his Revenir winery at Lenswood. He is also part owner of two boutique brands – La Linea and Vertigo – and is a sought-after wine judge.
After last summer’s devastating bushfires, which swept through parts of the Adelaide Hills wine region, Peter offered Revenir’s resources and expertise to provide small-lot winemaking services to growers and makers affected by smoke taint.
His team made dozens of ‘bucket ferments’ on their behalf at no charge. He also managed the recruitment, training, organisation and coordination of a panel of generous and dedicated regional members to provide objective, specialised sensory analysis of these and other wines to determine whether or not fruit was smoke-affected. This was achieved with the valuable assistance of staff from the AWRI and the Adelaide Hills Wine Region.
As part of the longer-term learning effort, Peter collected samples of more than 100 of the wines tasted for subsequent analysis, which will allow the exploration of the relationship between grape, sensory, and wine analysis. Again, with the AWRI (and with support from Wine Australia and PIRSA) he also helped coordinate a large-scale project investigating the impact of early-season smoke exposure.
Peter hopes the projects will add to the understanding of the impact of fires in viticultural regions.
Peter said he was both surprised and honoured to have been named ASVO Winemaker of the Year for 2020.
‘I have worked with so many talented people during my career who have given generously of their time, knowledge and skills. I hope I can follow their lead and continue to share my knowledge with those around me.’