Interview with Chef George shinas

September 2008

Jim Clarke: What first turned you onto wine, and what made you decide to make your own wine?
George Shinas: I have been making wine since a child with my father. We never sold the wines we made; we would consume a great portion of it and the balance of the wine was gifted to family and friends. My heritage is Greek. My parents migrated to Australia in 1952. My grandfather was a winemaker in Greece; the Shinas family has been making wine for more than 8 generations. My first vintage I made to sell was in 2002. I was continually asked by local restaurants in my city to supply them with my wine. We made around 400 cases and Shinas Estate Australia was formed.

JC: I understand your parents were in the restaurant industry while you were growing up; has that made you more aware of food and food pairings when you're making your wines?
GS: Absolutely. I was born in a restaurant. At the age of 6 I was chief bottle washer and was doing food prep by the age of 10. I started cooking at the age of 14. I left the restaurant industry at age 25 and by then had acquired a great deal of experience in pairing food to wine.

My wine style is all about food wines. In Greek culture wine and food goes hand in hand. When we eat, wine is always on the table.

JC: Mildura is a large and productive wine region, but – for Americans, at least – does not have the name recognition of Barossa, McLaren Vale, and so on. What attracted you to the area, and what characterizes to the region's wines?
GS: Mildura is renowned in Australia for its brilliant Mediterranean climate, fantastic lifestyle, and great restaurants. The place is amazing, a vibrant city of around 30,000 people surrounded by gorgeous vineyards, orchards and small farms producing amazing produce. Because of all this fantastic fresh produce Mildura has some of the finest restaurants in the world. I’m a great lover of fine food. The Mildura climate and soils are perfect for growing grapes that will produce great food wines. Hey, I’m in paradise. The only way I will leave Mildura is in a coffin.

JC: How important is irrigation in your vineyards, especially given the drought problems of recent vintages?
GS: I’m an optimist and I see the drought as having a positive affect. The less water we use to irrigate, the lighter the grape crop. Light grape crops produce grapes with intense flavours; this is the main ingredient in producing good wine. On the other hand, we are in Outback Australia and we receive around 10 inches of rainfall per year. Vines in Mildura need at least 25 inches of rainfall to stay alive, so at present it is a major issue, keeping our vines alive. The 2008 vintage was very difficult, due to the continuation of the drought; it seems the 2009 vintage is heading in the same direction. At present, there is no water available for us to irrigate. We are in our 10th year of drought.

JC: What interested you in growing and producing a Viognier?
GS: I love the taste of Viognier and I only produce wine that I enjoy to drink. In my humble opinion it’s the king of white wines. Viognier grows extremely well in Mildura; our soils and climate is just perfect for this grape variety.

JC: You made a Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2005 vintage, in addition to your Shiraz and Viognier; are there any other new varietals in the pipeline at the moment?
GS: I won’t be producing any more varietals, and I won’t be planting more vines to increase production of The Guilty Shiraz and Innocent Viognier. I commenced making wine and to this day I still enjoy at as much as I did as a child. I don’t want this to change.

I spend enough time working and getting stressed out at my other occupation; my vineyard and wine-producing is my stress down-time.

JC: Outside of Australia, what region's wines do you enjoy drinking most?
GS: I love premium Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. I absolutely adore the Napa Valley, it is such a beautiful place and I visit there regularly. My highlight trip to the Napa was during the 2006 harvest, when I was given the opportunity to walk through some of the finest vineyards in the Napa and pick and sample grapes, and then being invited to assist in the 2006 vintage grape crush.