At The Flying Winemaker, we believe in winemaking without borders. This applies not only to the regions we work in, but also the people who make up our intrepid team. On the ground in Victoria we have Lilian Carter, a winemaking consultant and technical adviser who brings her wealth of international experience to bear at our various Australian wine regions. We recently caught up with Lilian to learn more about her background in wine, her role with The Flying Winemaker and what it’s like to be a travelling winemaker.
Lilian grew up surrounded by the wine industry. She was born and raised in Rutherglen, a winemaking region in Victoria’s north-east that is famous for its sweet, fortified wines: “I grew up on a vineyard there and my parents were involved in the wine industry in a number of ways.” Combined with an interest in science, a future in wine gradually came into focus: “I decided that winemaking ticked a lot of boxes in terms of being outside, adventure, travel, science, romance – all those things melded into one,” she says.
She enrolled in an Oenology degree at Adelaide University, and it was during her final year of study that Lilian got her first taste of winemaking travel. “In the fourth year of my course there was a practical element where you go and do a vintage wherever you like, and I had organised that to do that in South Africa. At the time, everybody I was studying with did it in Australia, so I don’t know why I thought South Africa might be an interesting place to go. It’s not necessarily more interesting in terms of winemaking – but the opportunity to travel really appealed.” Lilian reflects that this “was actually pretty adventurous,” however, this experience planted a seed that would grow into a life-long personal and professional passion.
Finished with her studies and keen to broaden her experience, Lilian took a position in a graduate program with Orlando Wines, a large winemaking company that quickly propelled her from assistant winemaker to winemaker and then commercial winemaker. “It was a good six year chunk within the business. And they moved me around to different locations – I worked with a lot of experienced winemakers and gained a lot of knowledge during that process.”
It was here that Lilian also had her first experience working in China, doing what she describes as frontier winemaking – working and travelling in up-and-coming wine regions. “For two years I went back and forth from Australia to China. It was an eye-opening experience to see what was happening there. I could see the appetite, the growth and interest.”
After finishing her work with Orlando Wines, Lilian decided she wanted to return to her home state of Victoria. For two years she worked in the Yarra Valley as Domaine Chandon’s still wine winemaker, before striking out on her own to pursue a career as a consultant. “I’ve been doing it for twelve years now,” she says, “working with a number of different clients and providing a range of services, whether it’s technical winemaking or help managing relationships or contracts.” Part of that work has taken her back to China: “I decided if I was going to have a set of clients in Australia, I wanted to balance that out with work in the Northern Hemisphere too.” However, Australia remains her home base and it’s where she focuses her attention with The Flying Winemaker group.
“I’ve been working with Eddie and The Flying Winemaker for about five years now. I started out overseeing the winemaking in Victoria and it’s grown to include the winemaking across Australia, as well as some of New Zealand – primarily the Gladstone vineyard. There’s a focus on the technical winemaking stuff, but it’s also about advising on the business, building relationships, working on the distribution – all of that stuff.”
And as The Flying Winemaker’s ethos suggest, it also involves a lot of travelling. “During vintage there’s a lot of driving,” Lilian laughs, “I wish I had a helicopter.” But technology also plays an important role in her work, “whether it’s the contract processing facility, someone sending me photos of the vineyards or in being sent samples – there are a number of different ways that you can connect. And now people are much more open to that – though, the value of face to face contact is still important.”
With vintage currently underway in certain Australian regions, Lilian is looking forward to being in the thick of it over the next couple of months. “Right now, I’m sitting at my desk with two screens and on one is my calendar constantly. I’m asking: Where am I? What day? What’s happening? Where are the kids? Who’s dropping them off? It’s a juggle, but it’s great.”
When asked whether she had a favourite region to work with, Lilian admonished “oh, I can’t choose. That’s like picking a favourite kid!” before showing a touch of home-grown partiality: “I do love north-east Victoria though. It’s great being able to reconnect with friends and family back home when I go out there for work.”
When not out among the vines or under the pump in the winery, Lilian likes to find time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life: spending time with family, reading and spending time in nature hiking, especially in north-eastern Victoria – “going up into the mountains and getting off the beaten track, that would be my dream long weekend.” And when kicking back with a good meal and a glass of wine, Lilian says she can’t go past The Flying Winemaker Pinot Grigio with anything seafood. Yum!