Cool jobs: Winemaker

Computer programmer turned vigneron Ewen Macpherson from Symphony Hill Wines in Queensland’s Granite Belt has got winemaking down to a fine science.

Bagging accolades from James Halliday and treating the palettes of Will & Kate are just some of the reasons Ewen reckons he’s got the Best Job in the World. What do you think?

‘Taste testing’ aside, what’s a typical day in ‘the office’ for you?

When I serve people at the cellar door or at a festival like Carnival of Flowers in Toowoomba, they see me having fun with the wine and they think it’s 95 per cent of the job. It is actually only a small part of my day-to-day activities but it is a fabulously fun part of it. It is hardly working!

A typical day for me might include communicating with our wine club members, hosting a bus group of visitors at our cellar door with a wine tasting in our barrel room by candlelight, designing a new wine label, paying bills, sending out wine to restaurants and wine club members from orders that have come in that day, updating financials, following up sales leads, updating content on our web site, spending  time with our winemaker Mike Hayes – perhaps throwing ideas around about wine styles. You get to learn how to achieve the improbable after a few years!

What do you love most about your job?

THE WINE! It is all about the wine. You never forget an amazing bottle and there is no better feeling in the world that enjoying a glass (or three) of a wine that blows your socks up and down and thinking, “I made that”!

How did you get into the business?

I come from family of wine lovers and so was passionate about enjoying great wine as an essential part of the tapestry of life. I spent my first 10 years after university being a computer programmer but I was itching to study something completely different. I was also ready to leave Brisbane and go back to acreage – I grew up on the Sunshine Coast and desperately wanted my children to grow up in the country. So, on my 30th birthday my wife and I came out to the Granite Belt.

We had a wonderful experience with the handful of wineries that existed back then and started drawing up rough budgets and plans for the future over that weekend. Upon looking at the budget we came up with (which screamed DON’T DO THIS – IT MAKES NO FINANCIAL SENSE) we decided to do it anyway. That weekend we visited real estate agents and within three months had bought our first 40 acres. We built the winery in 2003 and opened the cellar door in 2004.

Photo: Wine critic James Halliday with Ewen at the Symphony Hill cellar door.

What’s been your most memorable moment since starting the winery?

There have been so many! I’ve met celebrities who have visited – some of whom are now friends.

We are the only Queensland winery to win national gold medals at wine shows south of the border, so our first Top Gold at Royal Sydney Wine Show stands out. And having been rated 5 stars by James Halliday (one of five in Queensland).

We recently had the honour of our wines being served to the royal couple when they visited Brisbane!

Also memorable is a photo shoot on the Great Wall with my daughter, who we adopted from China, to support the sales of our wine, “Danying”, named in her honour and of which we donate 10 per cent of sales to charities supporting Asian orphans.

But, all that aside, the most memorable would have to be the lethal bushfire of 2002 that swept through the Granite Belt. It was truly terrifying. We had five minutes to gather the possessions we wanted to save. My wife and two kids were evacuated and I stayed to help with the firefighting.

I will never forget the sound of the fire as it raced down the hill and jumped across our dam onto the other side of the road into Girraween National Park. It sounded like 100 trains rushing down the hill and the heat and the smoke were intense. People were leaping into the dam as it went by.

Locals say you haven’t lived on the Granite Belt until you’ve experienced a bush fire, a flood, a drought, a wedding, a baptism and a funeral. We’ve ticked all those boxes now.

Why do you think you have the Best Job in the World?

Because I am realising my life goals and passion for wine. It is quite a rare privilege for someone to do that, regardless of what their goal is, and I do not take it for granted. I love how I can integrate my job with my passions. Not just my passion for excellent wine but also my passion to make a difference.