26 Jun Q & A with Jason Conti
We get up close and personal with our third-generation winemaker, pictured with his dad and mentor, Paul Conti.
Jason, you are a third-generation winemaker at Paul Conti Wines. Tell us about your very first winery memories.
I grew up with the aromas of vintage around me, but one of my first memories was dad dropping our Italian pruners home in North Perth at the end of each day (he’d pick them up in the morning too). Dad would take me along for the ride, and I always thought it was strange that he had to do this, but in hindsight, they probably couldn’t drive or speak English. I remember their faces so vividly. One was called Squealer (because he had a loud, squealy voice) and another called Sam.
When I was about seven or eight, I tried making some wine; I crushed the grapes with my hands, bottled it in a flagon and then tasted it – it was horrible! The variety was Zinfandel; some random cutting Dad had, so I grabbed the fruit. I was probably pretty bored at the time!
How would you describe your winemaking style?
I like to keep things really simple. I just love good fruit flavour and wines that have good length and balance. That’s important to me. I think perhaps this comes from growing up in a warmer area where sometimes the hot weather can dissipate the fruit flavours, so I’m a stickler for tasting the fruit and varietal flavours. I don’t like too much input like tannin, heavy oak or extract either.
You spend a lot of time in the vineyard too. What’s your viticultural philosophy?
I love being in the vineyard – and I’ll do anything…pruning, lifting wires, training, thinning (although I get bored driving the tractor). I’m a big believer in the philosophy that a healthy vineyard will produce clean soft wines with good mouth-fill and balance.
Have you always worked in wine, or did you have another life pre- the grape-stomping game?
Never really had any other job other than winemaking, but my dream was to be a drummer in a rock and roll band; I still have my drum kit set-up at home which gets a bashing now and then.
Paul Conti (your father) is a WA wine-industry pioneer. What does this mean to you?
To be humble. Also, thanks to Dad I have met some incredible people like Gary Steel (DWS’ fearless leader), Dorham Mann (Mann Winery), Will Nairn (Peel Estate Wines) and Bruce Pearce (our vineyard manager but also founding son of the then Forest Hill Wines and previous vineyard manager at Vasse Felix).
What do you like to drink when the clock hits 5pm?
A cheeky chardonnay after work is always good or a glass of red with dinner – preferably cabernet sauvignon. I’d live on Rockford’s Black shiraz if I could afford it – I’d have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Are new varietals likely to star in your repertoire?
Nero d’avola has been an exciting development at our home block in Woodvale; it’s really well suited to our Mediterranean climate for producing soft and approachable, medium-bodied wines, which is what the Aussie palate is looking for I think. Malbec is not a new variety by any stretch, but I’m really excited by the way it’s performing on our Margaret River vineyard.
What are your favourite wine regions – locally or abroad?
I truly love Margaret River and in particular, spending time on our vineyard, but if I had to choose somewhere else for lifestyle and wine, I’d choose the Rhone Valley. Unfortunately there’s no surf there, but it would be perfect if it had waves!
A commonly asked question…but who/what inspires you?
I love reading about my Roseworthy peers like Steve Panel (SC Pannel Winery), Virginia Wilcox (Vasse Felix) and Reid Bosward (Kaesler Winery) and seeing what they’ve been up to and what they’ve achieved. Dorham Mann is a mentor because he has an incredible palate. And, John Worsfold (ex-Eagles captain); he is the same age as me and has done everything. I marvel at how someone could be so successful and achieve so much, so young. He’s an idol for sure.
Your family describes you as a consummate day-dreamer. What’s in the dream-box at the moment?
What I’m going to cook for dinner, of course! And, I’m always thinking about what day vintage will start and when we’ll start picking.
What’s the most awesome part about winemaking?
I do love the smell of the shiraz open fermenters. I love everything about it; the look, feel and smell. I also love watching peoples’ faces as they try our wines, knowing that I’ve been part of their creation from pruning to bottling…it sounds a bit cocky, but it’s incredibly humbling.