For as long as he can remember, growing up winemaker Steve Flamsteed wanted to be a chef. He loved cooking; working with fresh ingredients to create delicious dishes for friends and family to share. And while his days as a chef are now far behind him, there’s still a clear connection to this past life in his current role as Chief Winemaker for Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley. Steve still works with finest raw ingredients, but rather than proteins, fruits and vegetables he is now working with grapes from exceptional vineyard sites across the Yarra. From this fruit he crafts refined wines that represent and elevate the modern Australian wine paradigm. These are fine Australian wines that resonate with critics, peers and wine consumers around the world, and with good reason. But we may never have had the chance to taste the fruits of Steve’s passion for wines. As a young man Steve tried to run away and join the circus, got sucked into the London scene and, oh yes, we can’t forget about the time he was a cheesemaker... So welcome to the wonderful world of Steve Flamsteed, we hope you'll enjoy the ride…
Steve Flamsteed – the early years
Like many of us, when Steve finished high school, in the regional centre of Toowoomba in Queensland, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. Yes he had a passion for cooking, but wouldn’t it be better for him to head to university like most of his friends and get a degree in something, anything? So, Steve applied to attend university to complete an arts degree. But something was nagging him. Did he really want to float around at university trying desperately to find something to interest him for three or more years? Steve pondered this dilemma over the summer holidays: Follow his passion or do what others might have seen as the ‘right’ thing. One day passion got the better of him so he jumped in his car and headed to the (relatively) big city lights of Brisbane. There he applied for an apprenticeship as a chef and got the job. Life dilemma number one, sorted.
Steve tries to run away and join the circus
Like many young chefs it wasn’t long before Steve was inspired by the culinary traditions and cuisine of France. He fell hard for their cheeses, their wines and their classic recipes. There was only one solution for this rising French fever and it wasn’t more cowbell. He got on a plane and headed to Europe, landing in London without a dollar to his name. The plan was to work in London as a chef just long enough to save some cash to move to France, but as it's done many times before, London swallowed up this young Australian and the move to France was put on the back burner for a year. It was during this time that Steve began to pursue another of his passions, circus skills (no-one said he's not eclectic by nature!) He trained hard and improve his juggling, equilibristics (tightrope walking, uni-cycling etc.) and vaulting and while he became good enough to audition for the Russian Circus and to apply to attend a French Circus University, he failed to vault the final hurdle in running away and joining the circus. The big top's loss was the wine world's gain.
Steve Flamsteed's French connection
After exhausting his options for joining the circus, Steve finally overcame the cost of living and working in one of the world’s most expensive cities had saved up enough money to head to France. He took a job in the famous Alpine ski resort town of Chamonix and during the winters he ran a couple of ski chalets and took the time to improve his skiing. The French Alps also provided Steve the chance to expand his cooking repertoire and he worked as a chef over the summer. But these jobs weren’t serious and were more about lifestyle than a true passion for a craft and it took a chance encounter with an Australian winemaker to make Steve start thinking seriously about a life in wine.
Parlez vous Francais? Nah, mate!
After a stint working on a cruise ship in Spain, he headed to the renowned wine region of Beaujolais - not to make wine but to pick grapes. In a wonderful twist of fate, the owner of the vineyard and winery of Jean de St. Charles had an Australian winemaker working for him. This was great, apart from the fact that this Australian winemaker couldn’t speak a word of French! Luckily Steve spoke just enough for the owner to offer him a job working in the winery, translating for the now-legendary Barossa Valley winemaker, Dean Hewitson. Dean took Steve under his wing, showing him the ropes and sharing his passion for wine with the young Padawan. It only took a month's hard work hard during the vintage for Steve to gain lifelong friendships and a lifelong passion for winemaking. Before long he was headed back to Australia to study at the famed Australian winemaker factory at Roseworthy in South Australia. But like any good habit, Steve couldn’t shake his existing wont, that of being a foodie. So he worked as a chef at Maggie Beer’s legendary Pheasant Farm restaurant at the weekends, slowly weaning himself off food and into winemaking. Winemaking, however, wasn’t the only yen vying for his attention; his passion for cheese that had blossomed during his time in France would have one final play in shaping his destiny.
Steve Flamsteed - Chef. Winemaker. Acrobat. Cheesemaker?
Steve’s admirable ongoing pursuit of his passions didn’t finish when he was awarded a degree in oenology. In a perfect world he wanted to combine his three remaining passions in life; winemaking, cooking and cheese making. He was qualified in cooking and now winemaking, so to cover off the cheese making he pursued and received a Queen’s Trust grant to return to France to study cheese making. The next few years of Steve’s life sound like heaven to most people, a life filled with food, wine and cheese. He bounced around between a life in the winery and a life in the creamery, working vintages and working as a chef and cheese maker. While running the King River Cafe in the King Valley, Steve met his wife Jano with whom he'd go on to have three beautiful children, Lucy, May and Maxine. From here, life could have gone yet more ways for Steve. He could have easily got married and settled down in this beautiful part of the world, but it will come as no surprise that Steve didn't settle, not yet anyway. So, we must ask the question, did the winemaking life choose him or did Steve choose the winemaking life?
Finding true hospitality in the wine community
It’s a tough call, but it was probably the winemaking life that chose Steve Flamsteed. One thing that struck him was the sheer generosity of the wine community. People went out of their way to share their knowledge and their expertise with him. This made a huge impression on someone who’d worked with artisans in the kitchen and the dairy who were guarded and lacking in generosity. While he’d been involved in the business of hospitality since he left high school, Steve found true hospitality in the wine community.
A fantastical journey leads to the Yarra Valley
If ever there was a living example of good things taking time and patience, it’s Steve Flamsteed. He spent time travelling the world collecting experiences and pursuing passions before finding a place that has become home. A place where he can focus on winemaking while indulging in his other passions. That place is Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley. A place that has become known as one of the most exciting and progressive wineries in Australia. A place where food, wine and cheese come together and are celebrated. A place where Steve Flamsteed explores the unique terroirs of the Yarra Valley through the lens of the region’s best varieties, but that’s a story of exploration for another day…
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