May 29, 2020

Weekly Crush: Nick Dry, Foundation Viticulture

By Angela Oemcke

Meet Cellr’s Weekly Crush: renowned South Australian viticulturist Nick Dry, the 2019 Perpetual Viticulturist of the Year (Gourmet Traveller Wine). Nick worked the Yalumba nursery for 11 years before amicably parting ways to start Foundation Viticulture, where he consults with wineries to “build profitability from the ground up”. Nick discusses everything from uni days, marketing sustainable varieties, the future of viticulture, the truth about Australian biosecurity, career highlights, family, fat cats and more… Scroll along to get the full scoop from one of South Australia’s most renowned viticulturists. 

If you have any questions or enquiries, Nick can be contacted through his LinkedIn, via his Foundation Viticulture website.

Why did you choose viticulture, and what led down the path of becoming an expert in vine health?

It’s been documented before, but basically I applied for Viticulture at Uni because I did so poorly in year 12 (from perhaps having too much fun!) and viticulture was the only course I could get into.  Surprisingly having Dad as lecturer wasn’t enough to put me off.  I just wanted to be at uni regardless of the course. Fortunately for me viticulture made sense and I graduated. One opportunity leads to another and the next thing you know you’ve accumulated an extensive knowledge in a very specific area that is really only useful and interesting to about 0.001% of the population. 

What do you think the future for viticulture looks like? 

Woah, big question. We have to find ways to maintain yield and quality with less water and we need to market non-traditional varieties that may be better suited to climate change or disease resistant to consumers. Clearly this isn’t easy. The challenge is in the fact that we manage a perennial crop that requires significant investment in establishment and is budgeted to stay in the ground for between 20-50 years. Viticulturists when establishing their vineyards need to ask the questions; how do I set-up my vineyard for the conditions of tomorrow and how do I build in the flexibility to allow for adaptation to new technology?  

Are people still interested in viticulture and where is the next generation coming from?

There are definitely more experienced viticulturists out in the industry working then most people realise- it’s just that you don’t necessarily hear about them because viti’s by nature don’t seek the limelight and typically are happy to plug away in the background.  Initiatives such as Gourmet Traveller WINE and the ASVO viticulturist of the year are putting viti’s into the spotlight which is great and will help inspire the next generation coming through.  

What is the strangest thing you have seen at a vineyard? 

I wish I had a more exciting and surreal answer but, probably picking grapes in Germany; the slopes were so steep they needed a sled attached to a winch to help bring the bucket carriers to the top of the row. If you accidentally knocked your bucket over it was a long walk down and a steep walk back-up. 

What is the importance of biosecurity in Australia? 

It is undervalued because through our geographic isolation, biosecurity regulations and luck, we have been fortunate to avoid the ravages of phylloxera, flan-leaf virus, red-blotch, esca, pierce’s disease and many others.  Prevention is much cheaper than cure.  

What is a highlight in your career?

Working for Yalumba was a goal of mine from an early point in my career and so when I got the opportunity to work at the nursery it was very special.  Managing the nursery allowed me to extend myself in many different ways technical, production, sales, marketing and people management.  There are no other viticulture roles in Australia that expose you to so many different parts of the business.  The 11 years I spent there in many ways have defined my career. 

What is one of your favourite photos from a vineyard or nursery, what’s the story behind it? 

This photo of my two eldest daughters, Zooey and Lottie, amongst the baby vines at Yalumba Nursery. Most weekend’s of the nursery season they would come and help me check on the potted vines in the glasshouse.

You spent some time working at Vintage Cellars while you studied, what importance does understanding the finer details of a wine’s origin play in engaging customers? 

Huge, selling wine was much simpler when I had the information to convey a simple, authentic story.

Direct to Consumer Engagement… We asked Nick to shed some light on his experience on the sales side of the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for winemakers. 

Which region do you have a soft spot for and why?

My wife Clare is from the Mornington Peninsula and we go over every summer- it’s our 2nd home. I’ve also had the good fortune to spend time over there giving presentations and working with the local wine community and I love their passion for learning.

What wine(s) were you drinking the most over summer, who made it (them) and what song(s) would you pair it (them) with? 

Clare and I love Chardonnay and I’m a big fan of Kurt Vile so if I had to create an ideal scenario I would combine a bottle of Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay with Kurt’s album ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’. Bliss.

Do you have any pets? Tell us a bit about them. 

Our two cats; the black one is Frank (aka Frank Worral jnr aka Frankie-doodle).  He is massive, I’m sure he is pilfering food from the neighbours.  The other cat being fed by my youngest daughter Mimi is called Sissi after the Austrian princess. 

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