20Q: Vanessa Altmann, Switch
A national finalist in the 2017 Young Gun of Wine Awards, Vanessa Altmann represents all that we love about the modern and ever-changing face of Australian wine.
Having earned her stripes at Langhorne Creek’s Temple Bruer Wines, Altmann founded her own label, Switch, in 2010. We recently caught up to discuss everything from selling her Nissan Pulsar for a tonne of Pinot, to the long lost art of clearing a blocked sink with a chopstick…
1. What do you do for a living?
Right now, I would say that I work in and around wine for a living. I make wine, talk about wine and generally plan most of my days around wine! I’m so lucky that making a living and living my life fully seem to merge – that’s one of the best aspects of working in the wine industry.
2. Tell us about Switch.
Switch started in 2010 when I sold my Nissan Pulsar and bought a tonne of Pinot Noir. My hopes for Switch have always been multi-layered. Above all, it’s in the drinking – I want to make delicious wines for everyone. More than that, though, I’ve always found label design to be one of the most engaging aspects of wine creation, an opportunity to reflect and contrast how I see the world as a winemaker and maybe provoke thought from those who drink my wines.
3. You started your journey at Temple Bruer in Langhorne Creek 16 years ago, how challenging has it been to reach this point?
I think opportunity goes hand-in-hand with challenges. That said, so many of my opportunities have required a huge amount of courage to overcome the challenges that came with them. I think the key is to surround yourself with open-minded and trusted people, sounding-boards who keep it real no matter what the challenge.
4. Where else has wine taken you?
People are surprised when they find out that I’ve never made wine overseas, but wine has still taken me to so many places. From the smallest family-run vineyards to corporate growers, chasing grapes has shown me so many places and people in wine. One of the greatest places wine took me was to the Len Evans Tutorial, a life-changing look into the most amazing wines from around the world.
5. Of all the wines you’ve made along the journey, which are you most proud of, and why?
The Pinot Noir I make called ‘Bel Vino Nino Nino’. I hold this little wine close to my heart, as any Pinot maker understands the variety pushes you into the unknown time and time again. This wine caused a shift in my perspective of winemaking. Simply put, I let go of the need to control everything – there’s clarity when you let the grapes take the lead and don’t stress too much about what you think you should be doing.
6. Tell us about your hood. What makes it special?
My family and people make where I live special. I’ve always lived in the Adelaide Hills, and I don’t think I’ll ever leave – it’s home for me.
7. Whose wines should we be checking out?
Two standout wines for me of late are ‘April’s Dance’ Savagnin Chardonnay sparkling by Gemtree and The Stoke Sangiovese Rosé.
8. What’s so special about Australian wine right now?
Right now, Australian wine is so exciting collectively from the growers to makers to writers and drinkers. If I start with the drinkers, so many are seeking new wine experiences. The days of factory perfection are gone; drinkers want authentic wine. It’s not solely about the wine quality, but the intent behind the wine. This consumer awakening is awesome because it’s helping to drop entry barriers into winemaking faster than I could imagine. Couple this with wine communicators, and the momentum for change is huge. All the time feeding back to winemakers who ten years ago wondered if the market was ‘ready’ for the wine ideas they’d been dreaming up. What a time to be making wine!
9. The most underrated grape on the planet is…
I’ve got a bit of a thing for the block that’s left behind, the one that no one really values. I see it and think, let’s make something delicious. Petit Verdot springs to mind.
10. If you could do a vintage anywhere, where would you do it and who would you do it for?
I honestly have never really considered it.
11. If you weren’t making wine, what would you be doing?
There are so many things I want to do in life! It would probably be in food production. Of late, I’ve been thinking about running away and becoming an organic hops farmer.
12. What’s your ideal way to kill a Sunday?
Late breakfast, watching Ted talks and drinking wine.
13. What’s your favourite smell?
A few drops of rain on asphalt as I’m riding my motorcycle.
14. What skill do you possess that nobody knows you have?
I know just how long I can get away with shoving long objects (currently a chopstick) down the kitchen drain to clear it before having to actually remove the S-bend to clean it out. Two years and counting so far! When I finally do remove the S-bend, I look forward to retrieving the previously dropped chopstick and then we will have a pair again. Obviously, I’m joking… mostly just about rescuing the chopstick. We’ve already bought new ones.
15. What’s your dessert island dish, and why?
I like mussels… and coconut milk – if that’s all that was available, but given the desert nature of the island and the unlikely presence of a coconut tree, I’m not sure it even matters. That said, I’m annoyingly particular about food safety guidelines and would not eat seafood without correct refrigeration. Oh, also, I don’t really like to eat the same meal more than once in a row. Who are we kidding… I am going to die on this desert island!
16. The biggest myth surrounding wine is…
One of the biggest myths in wine is the notion that tangible wine quality equals wine value. For so many of the wines I drink, the value is not only found in the wine, but also in who made it and why they made it.
17. City or country?
Spending a surprising amount of our lives in the city, but waking up in the country every day. Did you know that last month there was a baby koala hanging out on a tree limb that hangs over the roof of our bedroom and is more than likely going to drop in a storm one day and kill us? The tree limb that is, not the koala. He has moved on now.
18. Day or night?
I’m awake for both (honestly that hanging tree limb really concerns me)… but at least I’m supposed to be awake during the day.
19. Whisky or gin?
Funnily, I have just finished preparing Friday night gins… because we have run out of whisky!
20. Prince or Bowie?
I was raised with Johnny Cash and The Bold and the Beautiful. My in-laws introduced me to music. Let’s call them Ground Control, so I’d love to tell you that this question is putting me Under Pressure (see what I did there), but… Bowie!
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The 2016 Switch ‘Snapdragon’ Viognier Trebbiano is available in our latest feature pack, Awesome Autumn.