Simon Clayfield

Simon ClayfieldI strongly recommend that if you are considering a career in the wine world to undertake as much formal relevant study as possible then get some experience with the right people. The wine world is wonderful and can provide many fantastic opportunities in some of the most beautiful regions on this planet. Education is important and although it is possible to become a winemaker by way of practical experience you will find that you will be asking questions rather than providing answers to others in the wine world.

I left high school at the end of 1973 without completing my final year eager to get a job and earn a living. In 1979 I was working for an Adelaide monumental masonry company and was looking at my fourth year there. The work was interesting but tough and allowed some artistic input but it was also hazardous, dirty, noisy and not really all that financially rewarding. During my time there I had attempted to undertake part-time study in the evenings on several occasions but because of my circumstances I found it difficult. I made the decision to finish my high school education full-time and so I left my job and in 1980 to study full time with the aim to enter university after. Towards the end of that year I decided to enrol in several vocations i.e. mechanical engineering, commercial cookery and winemaking. My mathematics and physics knowledge were not adequate to enter the SA Institute for the engineering but I was able to undertake either of the other two options. My interested in wine at first was fairly basic but being intrigued about it I enrolled in 1981 and started the Oenology and Viticultural degree course at Roseworthy Agricultural College.

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My first year at Roseworthy was terrible I failed almost all of the subjects and was seriously thinking that it was too hard. The fact was I didn’t understand the process and couldn’t see how mitosis or biometry were connected to winemaking. I decided to defer rather than drop out and if possible get some experience in a winery and perhaps this would help me make the connection. The staff at Roseworthy were really helpful with finding work and in 1982 I went to the Leo Buring winery in Tanunda to work vintage. Leo Burings was part of the Lindemans Wines group and was managed by very experienced and professional personnel. The winery was equipped with modern machines such as centrifuges, refrigeration, pumps, presses, ion-exchange etc. and had an efficient laboratory. Of particular interest to me was the maintenance shop where engineers ensure that all the machines functioned perfectly. At Leo Buring I gained first hand experience of how the different types of wine pumps worked and how the refrigeration cycle operates, I saw stainless steel welding and the insides of high speed centrifuges. In the winery I was given the opportunity to do most of the many operations in the cellar including wine additions, racking, pumping, cooling, ion-exchange, tank cleaning, fortifying, and barrel work. By the end of vintage I was starting to understand how things were done, but most importantly I learnt that cleanliness in the winery was paramount and that the laboratory was the most essential tool.

Vintage ended at the end of May and I decided I wanted more wine experience, I made plans to travel to the USA and seek a vintage job in the Napa Valley. One thing about my plans is that they often get changed, rather than travel directly to the Napa I decided to go via Italy, Sardinia, Spain and Majorca, Canary Islands and the West Indies mostly by yacht. In Italy I saw part of the famous regions of Tuscany and Latium. Sardinia was very interesting and I got to see cork bark harvesting and cork stopper production. On the Island of Majorca I relaxed and visited many of the small wine producers trying my best with the little Spanish vocabulary to find out their methods. The Canary Islands were amazing with vines growing in the strangest places but the wines were fantastic and most memorable especially a 90 year old fortified wine. I missed the Napa vintage by a couple of months and arrived during the pruning season, I spent my time touring the Napa and Sonoma areas discovering as much as I could in one short month.

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I arrived back home in time to resume studies at Roseworthy, the next 3 years went fast and was very rewarding the wine experience I had gained along the way the previous year was so helpful. In 1985 for the mandatory vintage work experience I did a vintage at Rouge Homme in the Coonawarra, this experience was fantastic not surprising as it was another Lindemans winery and everything was very well organized and so clean. The fruit quality was exceptional and I remember the smell of the Cabernet being so pungent and pervading every space in the winery. The red vinification used both traditional and modern methods including roto-fermenters which I think were some of the first in Australia.

Towards the end of the year every student that didn’t have a winery to return to was busily writing to wineries seeking employment. I was fortunate to land a job in the Hunter Valley with Hungerford Hill, I spent the next 2 years working under the guidance of Ralph Fowler and Chris Cameron. The cumulative experience of these 2 guys was so important to my early career, both have exceptional palates but more importantly they were willing to share their knowledge. Late in 1987 I applied for a winemaking position at Best’s at Great Western and subsequently started there in December. Best’s is an interesting winery to work in, there is a strong reminder of how the wine industry was during the early days and it’s incredibly rich in wonderful old vines. I left Best’s early in 1997 partly because I was offered another job and felt the need to focus on my winemaking future. Over the next couple of years whilst winemaking at several other places Kaye and I established our vineyard and by 1999 we decided to make wines for ourselves from fruit that we purchased from local growers.

In 1997 I planted a some Shiraz here at Moyston expanding the planting to 2 Ha in 1999 9this is covered in more detail in the Vineyard section on this website). Now almost 20 years on our own little vineyard is producing some spectacular fruit, in 2010 we released the first Ton Up Shiraz produced entirely of our own grapes and were fortunate to win Gold Award and 2 Trophies at the Ballarat Wine Show. Personally I consider this the best achievement in my career, having planted the grapes and tended them through various tough times and finally making a wine of such good quality. Since 2012 Clayfield Shiraz is produced mostly from our own Moyston vineyard, however I still source a small amount of fruit from another local grower.