Nicholas Schirripa – Winemaker/Viticulturist at Casella Wines

Posted October 27, 2017, by Jenny Sakr
Nicholas Schirripa – Winemaker/Viticulturist at Casella Wines

The Australian wine industry is going from strength to strength and viticulture students are harvesting the benefits. Nicholas studied wine sciences through Charles Sturt University and is working as a winemaker/viticulturist at Casella Wines (now Casella Family Brands), where he combines his passion for wine with a sound knowledge of the winemaking and selling processes.

What did you study and what are the steps you took to be where you are today?

Grew up working on family farms, part of that included a vineyard. Worked in a winery Laboratory for 14 months as well as 3 harvests (Vintages) working in a winery cellar. I studied Bachelor of Wine Science (Oenology) and Viticulture and Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

There were a few jobs I dreamt of having just like any young boy with a wild imagination, however growing up on an orange orchard always brought me back to wanting to become a farmer.

What was your first job?

My first job was working on the family farm doing various jobs such as tractor work, farm maintenance and harvesting fruit. Growing up working on the family farms exposed me to an extensive; diverse range of vineyard (wine grapes), cereal crop, fruit and vegetable cultivation practices.

When did you first know you wanted to take this career path?

I first knew I wanted to go down this career path when a close family friend (also a winemaker) had me along on work experience when I was 15 years old to see what a day in the life of a winemaker involved. As soon as I started walking through the winery, I knew this is what I needed to be doing. 

Tell us what typical day one the vineyard is like…

During Vintage (Harvest, Winemaker)

When vintage is underway, typically from January until April / May, is considered the most important part of the year ensuring fruit is harvested at optimal quality and sugar level which determines the resulting wine.
A typical day would be looking at the incoming fruit on winery schedules determining ongoing processing allocations (conditions pending) on incoming juice allowing the liquid to be clean in specification and ready for fermentation in a timely manner.
Next would be check, assess and taste current ferments including juice being processed and track progress ensuring the current state is acceptable, healthy and if required issue work accordingly to support process specifications. Throughout the rest of the day, time would be spent monitoring intake, liaising with other winery staff (Laboratory and Cellar) ensuring processes are being executed efficiently and as required.

During Vintage (Harvest, Viticulturalist)

As a Viticulturalist during harvest, generally early rising to organise the sampling of vineyards in order to determine fruit maturity, winery intake scheduling and quality parameters. Intake schedulers and winemakers require data and quality markers to create plans with adequate lead time so growers can be notified and winery staffed accordingly.
Once sampling plans are in place, begin on the road to assess and monitor the progress of the grape growing season and fruit maturation. In addition, I liaise with growers to provide support and if required, assess fruit and batch if conditions become unfavourable and fruit quality is being compromised. 

Post-Harvest (Winemaker)

Once harvest is complete, a typical day could include anything from writing work orders to move wine around the winery as to blend, make additions, filter, clarify, fine and/or carry out trial work on all types of wines.
This is in addition to laboratory/blending trials which are carried out by winemakers to classify and allocate wines to specific brands or markets to satisfy what is required by the customer to ultimately make a glass of resulting wine successful and of the upmost quality.

Time could also be spent attending industry meetings to discuss recent harvests or new technologies whether that be for the vineyard or winery. Alternatively, time can be spent taking various guests around the Casella Family Brands winery site in Yenda to showcase how the winery works and bottling facilities to exhibit to people a day in the life at the Yenda site.

What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in your career?

One of the most interesting things that happened to me so far is being awarded the 2014 Royal Sydney Wine Scholarship, being a national scholarship with such a large range of applicants, this really gave me the confidence in my own abilities moving forward. Compounding onto this fact, attending the wine show, judging for a day, stewarding and attending master classes throughout the course of the week at such a young age really jump-started my learning and appreciation for the Australian Wine Industry.

Almost every day being in this job there is always something interesting taking place. I am very lucky to be working with a company that houses such a diverse range of labels which is then further broken down into amazingly diverse vineyard locations. Since I first started working in my current role at CFB, there has been an extensive acquirement of highly respected, iconic ranges of Australian wine brands and vineyards alike. As a winemaker, to be exposed to such a large range of fruit and wine sources allows a Winemaker and/or Viticulturalist to understand the climate and soils of different regions and how the resulting wine can enhance a blend or show such attractive attributes as an individual wine.

Name the best and worst parts of your job

The best parts about my job are definitely being exposed to such a large array of wine styles and fruit from which the wine is made. Especially when I can go from being a Winemaker and when required get out amongst the vineyards and interact with growers on a regular basis. In my current role, working for a large company allows oneself to interact with an extensive range of people with many different backgrounds, intellectual strengths and life stories. This offers endless knowledge, learning opportunities and appreciation to hear and compare other people’s experiences with your own, it allows you to compare where you have been and where it is you want to see yourself in the future.

Sometimes there can be some quite long days and nights especially during harvest but that comes with the territory. There are really no worst parts of my job, everything is a learning curve, I enjoy what I do and people who love wine appreciate what I do therefore results pay off exponentially when the job is done right. An added bonus of wine industry personnel is the chance to judge at wine shows, this adds a different spectrum to self-development being able to appreciate wines from around the country as well as capturing market structure and trends in wine styles. Getting to meet new people on the wine show course adds incredible value as well allowing for networking and to get perspective on different regions encompassing overall status of the Australian Wine Industry.

What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?

Learn and love what you do and do both to the best of your ability, this allows you to work and make decisions with confidence and never stop wanting to learn. These attributes, in turn, allows quick adaptability and help you evolve to new and ever-changing environments. 

What do you wish someone had told you before starting in this industry?

Nothing at all, it’s good not knowing what comes next.

Where do people have to start to get into this field?

From personal experience, having a strong understanding or interest for science is a bonus as most things you will learn at school or university require science, especially biology and chemistry. In Australia, a University degree in Wine Science (Oenology) is required to practice the art of winemaking and a degree in Viticulture to become a Viticulturalist.
Growing up on family farms compounded with living in a wine grape growing region of Australia allowed me to be exposed to knowledge and industry at a young age. This, along with theory learnt at school and following that, University really helped me gain sound knowledge and a depth of understanding that I would have not achieved if I had not had exposure to before. 

What grape is your personal favourite?

Shiraz. It is versatile as a plant as it can survive variable weather conditions and as a wine, if treated properly, can be both individually a magnificent varietal and also blended with certain varieties.

Name a career highlight

Last year I did a vintage (harvest) in the North of Italy in the Treviso (Prosecco) region, it gave me the opportunity to learn how to make some amazing Italian wines. As well as learn the culture and gain perspective and different types of winemaking practices with some beautiful Italian varieties.

If you fancy yourself working in the wine industry, why not study an online course in Science or Viticulture?

Jenny Sakr
Jenny Sakr

Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.

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