Photo: Winemaker Brooke Blair (credit Stuart Bish)
Brooke Blair, the red
winemaker at the Jackson-Triggs Okanagan winery since 2004, has returned to her
“It's time to get nearer to our family,” she told
me last week. “My son is 3 ½ years now, and my husband and I want him to have a
closer relationship with everyone there.
And I'm also looking forward to spending more time with them.”
Her husband, Dave Warhurst, was a cellar hand at
Culmina Family Estate Winery. “It impacts us, too,” lamented Don Triggs,
Culmina’s co-proprietor. He was the chief executive at Vincor International
when Brooke was hired in 2004.
Brooke is an accomplished winemaker with an
impressive series of rewards from both national and international competitions.
She is going to a job at the Riverland winery of
Berri Estates, a major Australian winery.
According to Accolade Wines, the group that owns Berri Estates, this is “the
largest single winery and distillery complex in the southern hemisphere and is
located in South Australia.
It produces more Cabernet than the Coonawarra and more Shiraz
than the Barossa and McLaren Vale combined, not to mention more Chardonnay than
I dug into my files for more background on Brooke.
Here is an excerpt from an interview with her in 2007.
Q. Where and when were you born?
B. A place called Mount Gambier
in 1978. [45 minutes south of Coonawarra.] I went to University of Adelaide
and studied agriculture science majoring in enology. It was a four-year degree.
In my fourth year, I had to do a placement in a winery. I did mine at Hollick
Wines in Coonawarra. At the end of my
placement, they asked me to come back and work there once I had completed my
final year. They created an assistant
winemaker position for me and I stayed there for three years.
Hollick is a family-owned winery. They crushed
around about 500, 800 tons; probably larger now. It was a very hands-on
position. I learned a lot while I was there.
While I was there, I also did a vintage in Spain. I was
there for three months and worked in two or three different regions.
Through a friend of a friend, I heard about the job
here, so I sent my résumé over and got this position.
Q. Why did you want to come here?
B. I wanted to do at least another vintage
overseas. I was thinking of doing either Italy
When this opportunity came up, I thought why not apply and get a chance to see
a bit more of the world. I had heard nothing but good things about Canada. The
wine industry was growing, and still is. From an employment perspective, this
was a good place to be.
I thought I could bring some knowledge from Australia but also learn some things over here
as well, especially Icewine, which we don’t do in Australia.
Q. Was your family in the wine business?
B. My father used to be a viticulturist before I
was born. He has always had an appreciation of wine, particularly red wine. I
was always exposed to that.
That said, I initially started studying commerce at
university, and decided I could not do that for the rest of my life. I wasn’t
too sure what I wanted to do but I had a strong science background. I became
friends with someone who was studying viticulture. I thought I would be more
interested in that and changed to winemaking the following year, and never
I have always had an interest in travelling.
Winemaking seemed like the perfect thing – you can still travel around, plus
get experience. You are not set back in your career. You can keep doing all of
those things you want to do and gain experience and knowledge at the same time
as seeing other countries.
Q. You are the red winemaker here. Did you
specialize in that in your studies?
B. No. Coming over here, I didn’t apply for the red
winemaker position. It was just decided by Rob Scapin [chief winemaker at
Jackson-Triggs] that they were going to split the roles here. Since I came from
Coonawarra, which is well known for red varieties, Rob thought it would be a
good idea for me to be in charge of the reds.
Q. Have you had any surprises about the Okanagan?
B. I didn’t know a lot about the region before I
came. I do remember flying in from Vancouver
and being amazed at how beautiful it was. I thought I had hit the jackpot in
that respect. Mountains and lakes everywhere. I was so well received that it
was not difficult for me to settle in.
I have now stayed for three years, which is an
indication of how much I am enjoying it here. I bought a house in Penticton. I became a
permanent resident of Canada
at the beginning of the year. I plan on staying for a while. It’s a very up and
coming region, just getting worldwide recognition now.
Even since I came over here, the bar has been
continually raised. The more wineries that produce good wines, everyone has to
do the same. In the past three years I have seen the quality levels increase.
It goes without saying
that the quality of Okanagan wine has just continued to improve since that
interview. Brooke shares in the credit for that. She will be missed but her
native land gets a strong talent back.