With a long history associated with wine and vines and a family who are grape growers in the renowned Watervale sub-region of the Clare Valley – Stuart Bourne has recently taken up the post of Chief Winemaker at Château Tanunda, one of Australia’s Internationally acclaimed wineries.
Gaining experience at several major wineries in Western Australia, Clare Valley, and Victoria, Bourne was drawn back to his South Australia roots and the Barossa Valley 10 years ago when he became the winemaker at Barossa Valley Estate. In explaining his return to the region Stuart explains “It has some of the oldest vines on the planet and no phylloxera,” Bourne notes, “but it’s not just about the soil, it’s about the 150 years of planting, the history of the area, and the culture.” Bourne’s mastery of Barossa style was recognized by Wine Spectator for one of the “Top 25 Benchmark Wines from Australia,” and most recently, he oversaw the final blend of Château Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz 2008, which was the highest-rated Australian wine at #33 on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines of 2011.”
Bourne believes great wines begin in the vineyards, so he is heavily involved in the estate’s viticulture, meeting regularly with the growers and ensuring the health and quality of the grapes. “At the end of the day, I’m just a farmer,” he says. “Winemaking is doing as little as possible, to not modify the expression of the grape in any way, shape or form. We use very minimalist and old-fashioned techniques so that the wine pays homage to the fruit. When you open a bottle of Chateau Tanunda, it should speak ‘Barossa’, and have a sense of place.” For example, he respects the fruit by de-stemming rather than crushing, and employs the artisanal principle of creating wines batch by batch. “It’s similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle,” he says, “putting the wine together piece by piece, until you finish with a beautiful picture.” Further, he denounces the over-use of oak, using a balanced mixture of old and new barrels. “And if the wine is a picture,” Bourne continues, “then oak is the frame – it should be used judiciously, only to enhance the intrinsic beauty of the wine.” His philosophy in assembling the final blend of a wine is remarkably simple. “We have one word in the tasting room: ‘delicious.’ Above all else, we must sincerely love the taste of the wine, otherwise, what’s the point?”
Bourne originally studied medical sciences at Adelaide University, where he eventually earned a BSc in Pharmacology, Anatomy and Histology. During that time, though, he worked in the Adelaide hospitality trade, managing restaurants and hotels, and the experience gave him valuable insight into the varied tastes of wine and food consumers – and it also sparked his inherent passion for wine. Bourne “saw the light” and remained at the University to earn an additional degree in Agricultural Science in Oenology.
When he’s not making wine, Bourne spends time with his family, coaches his children’s sports teams, tends to his motorcycles, and works on keeping his golf handicap under 18.