29/06/2004 - 22:00


29/06/2004 - 22:00


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The label names give a clue to the attitude driving one of the South West’s up-and-coming wineries. Julie-anne Sprague reports.


The label names give a clue to the attitude driving one of the South West’s up-and-coming wineries. Julie-anne Sprague reports.

It’s obvious from the names Janice McDonald has selected for her wines that she knows how to have a bit of fun with her job.

What’s also clear is that, given that when Ms McDonald started her winery, Suckfizzle – a single vineyard in Augusta in 1997 – while still working for Devil’s Lair as a winemaker, she has immense passion for the industry.

A second vineyard was acquired in Margaret River to produce a new label, Stella Bella, in 2000 and last year a third label, Scuttlebutt, was launched.

But while popularity for the wines has grown, Ms McDonald and her partner Stuart Tym are in no hurry to expand production.

“We are focused on maintaining the quality and the style,” she says.

“Sometimes that means we can disappoint a lot of people because we are not making more wine.”

The launch of Scuttlebutt last year was part of a strategy to take more wine to market.

“We did a small run last year on the request of our Perth agent. We took a step to see how it would go and we’ve now put it into the UK through Sainsbury,” Ms McDonald says.

“That’s given us a bit of volume without messing with our focus with high quality.”

At $15 a bottle, Scuttlebutt is positioned at a much lower price point than Stella Bella and Suckfizzle.

But while volumes have marginally increased through the introduction of a third label, Ms McDonald believes sticking to the foundations she and Mr Tym established in 1997 will ensure those quixotic names remain a fixture in Margaret River.

“I want to see this winery grow and see it become part of the furniture and to have a heritage and longevity,” she says.

“So in that respect I am motivated to grow, but to grow organically.”

In fact, the vineyard operations remained very small from 1997 to 2001 to enable Ms McDonald to concentrate on developing very individual labels and wine blends.

“We created very individual wines under the labels. We did a pink muscat which was a low alcohol and a little fizzy. We really did experiment.”

Stella Bella wines still include the pink muscat, a tempranillo, and blends of sauvignon and cabernet. The single Suckfizzle vineyard produces a sauvignon blanc semillon and a cabernet sauvignon.

The operation’s Margaret River and Augusta wine output is still relatively small, producing 20,000 cases a year across the three brands.

Ms McDonald first studied viticulture at Charles Sturt University in NSW in the late 1980s where she met fellow wine student Phil Sexton, who had already obtained his brewing qualifications.

Mr Sexton went on to establish Matilda Bay Brewing Co, Little Creatures, Devil’s Lair and Victorian vineyard Giant Steps.

Ms McDonald has worked for all of Mr Sexton’s Western Australian operations, having accepted a job as a brewer with Matilda Bay Brewing company after completing university.

It was an experience that’s made her a much better wine maker, she says.

“Without question brewing makes you a much fussier winemaker.

“Beer is so much more perishable; wine is foolproof in comparison. At the time I was involved I had a great teacher and I got fantastic experience.

“I was thrown in the deep end but it was a real baptism of fire.”

Ms McDonald also gained a degree of knowledge from another of Matilda Bay Brewing’s founders, Gary Gosatti, who now operates his own Margaret River winery, Arlewood Estate.

Ms McDonald is firmly entrenched in WA’s South West, a place she became fascinated by more than 20 years ago.

Ms McDonald is visiting Perth later this month for a guest winemaker dinner at Gershwin’s at the Hyatt, scheduled for Friday July 30.

“It’s a really great evening. It’s a group of people who come along to eat great food and wine and listen to a few of my stories.”


STELLAR PERFORMER: Janice McDonald with her dog, Stella Bella, the inspiration behind the name of one of her vineyards.


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