Nestled in the hills of Invermay, sits White Swan Vineyard, run by the Happy Winemaker; Jean-Paul, who lives locally with his wife and two young boys.
Born in Holland, Jean-Paul wanted to be a farmer, so he studied Agronomy to better understand crops and the soils they grow in. As a worker at a vineyard in Burgundy, France, picking grapes, wine was soon running through his veins. He stayed on in France and studied a Master in winemaking and viticulture in Bordeaux and Montpellier.
From France to Chile, South Africa and now beautiful Australia, Jean-Paul has perfected his knowledge and love after working at many wineries around the world.
So, Jean-Paul tell me about your business, the name behind your wine?
I have worked for many people, in many different countries around the world, I guess it was around 2015 that I wanted to make wine under my own name; Jean-Paul, including The Happy Winemaker, which is the business name.
My aim is to make wines that are French inspired because that was where I was trained. I wanted to make wines with personality, with my own tastes; luckily enough people like my taste. I like to work with lesser known grapes.
I am very small, nothing compared to the other boutique wineries. I do all the production myself, from picking, to barrelling. I produced probably around 6000 bottles last year with no problems in trying to sell it.
So, what makes you different from the other wineries?
What makes me different, I guess it would be that I pick the grapes myself, ferment them myself, make everything myself. With many wineries everything is so compartmentalized, everyone has a set job that they do, where someone runs the vineyards, somebody else makes the wine, and then someone sells it. Up to last year I made the wine in my shed, very low tech. I didn’t have things like a big bladder press, or a forklift. You could find me working with a shovel and a little pallet jack.
I really want to be able to make wine that reflects the variety and where it comes from. I think nowadays we have so many technologies we can use: we can temperature control, we can add yeast, we can shape wines that are malleable – to make something different. I don’t mind that my wine is going to be different from last year, because it is a different year. I also produce in smaller quantities, which will always promote differences. I like to use indigenous yeast, which is already present on the grapes. I don’t inoculate, and I don’t do temperature control, what you get from this normally is multiple yeasts from the grapes and more complexity in the wine.
I like to experiment. It’s not only a wine product, but a challenge. Winemaking to me is more like a philosophy, because there are so many ways you can do it, that is what I love about it. Every year is different, with all the problems you must face, the struggles, the logistics of things, and the limited space you must work with.
How many varieties of wines do you have?
A month ago, I had about 15 varieties, now I am down to 10, so I am currently sold out of a few. I’m sold out of Riesling – I made both dry, still white and a Sparkling Riesling. That is the beauty with grapes, you can do multiple things with them, and not just be known as someone who makes one type of wine. The driving force for this year is to make a great Sparkling and Rosé, if it ripens, only of course if the sun decides to come out.
So, where are we able to purchase your wine?
I also sell at Lola Hotel, Moon & Mountain, Mitchell Harris, and a couple of other places around Ballarat, Geelong and Daylesford. I also I sell at a couple of speciality wine shops and wine bars in Melbourne. People can also contact me.
Tell us about the labels on the wines
Some of our bottles have wooden labelling. I love the texture of the wood, it gives a different sense to the bottle, gives them character, and each piece of wood can represent a different wine.
Compared to the colourful wine labels on the market, mine are either a simple white label with black lettering or the wooden labels. I think it’s important to have a point of difference that people also recognize your bottle. It’s nice now that I started get a bit of recognition, even in town with people I haven’t met before.
This year, there is going to be one barrel of Vermouth made – I don’t mind taking a risk on something new. The beauty of wine is that there is a lot of science behind it, but in the end it’s not only science, it’s more.
Beautiful, is there anything else you would like to mention?
Come to the market, check out my stall, I will be the winemaker with a happy smile on his face. Happy Winemaker.
So, what do you have in the plans for 2020?
This year I will try and get some Nebbiolo, which just happens to be one of those grapes that is the hardest to grow, it is one of the most beautiful of wines, hard to make, but I am up for the challenge. And this year I am going to make the Vermouth.
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