◆ How did you get into the wine industry?I started my career with Penfolds Wines in 1963, working in the laboratory in the bottling hall at Tempe. I was a Sydney guy, from Kogarah, the same street as Clive James who wrote ‘The Kid from Kogarah’. I had several years electrical engineering training and a BSc in chemistry but no background in wine. My father was a beer drinker, I was a bit of a beer drinker, mum hardly drank at all. In my 15 years with Penfolds they sent me to Roseworthy College on a 2-year Oenology course in the Barossa Valley, and I had to give them 7-years’ service, which I gladly did. Roseworthy was one of the greatest influences on my winemaking career. The formality and the science of winemaking was revealed to me there. After Roseworthy, I went back to Penfolds in Sydney, then to Upper Hunter to a new winery at Wybong (Dalwood Estate) near Muswellbrook, then to South Australia as South Australian production manager in 1973, in charge of all production in South Australia and the Riverina District of NSW.At Adelaide I worked at Magill, and Max Schubert was in the next office to mine. I got to know Max well, though my direct superior was Don Ditter. I was very interested in the production of Hunter whites and reds in my early days, and when I went to Adelaide I saw the better reds being made, especially Grange Hermitage, the 389s, 28s, and other great Penfolds reds. They were magic wines and magic training for me. Don Ditter, was probably my personal mentor. I started with him at Tempe, he got me into Roseworthy, and taught me the basics of blending and tasting, and trained my palate to where it is now. You can’t buy that sort of training ‒ it is something that takes many years. I have Penfolds influence in my blood ‒ I make wines like Penfolds do, I love American oak, I love Shiraz, and I stick to the classics. We grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, and more recently Pinot Noir.◆ From Penfolds where did you go and why?When Penfolds was bought by Tooths, there were new people with a brewery background who didn’t have a clue about wine, which is when I left. I soon became chief winemaker at B. Seppelt & Sons, a family company from Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley, with a long history. They were heavily into fortified wines, so it was a fresh challenge to see how we could lift their game in the red department. I was there 4 or 5 years, and we eventually got it up to a very modern winemaking operation.After Seppelts, I was at Krondorf from 1984 to 1988, with Grant Burge and Ian Wilson. They were two guys out to make a name for themselves, and had access to good material mainly from the Barossa, and their own vineyards. I brought the skills of a bigger company and that worked well. I had spent 3-4 years there, when we were taken over by Mildara, and I ended up back in the big game. I was made chief winemaker of the new group, which was manageable. Then Ray King, managing director of Mildara, went on the acquisition trail from 1988 to 1996, acquiring nearly 20 companies including Yellowglen, Yarra Ridge, Andrew Garrett, Balgownie, Ingleby and St Helens, by which time I had 22 winemakers to organize ‒ it was like herding cats. The end came through the breweries again ‒ we were taken over by Fosters. So I pulled the pin and said I’m going to do my own thing now. And that was the start my own operation. In retrospect, I should have done it 10 years earlier. It is so gratifying to do everything.The 35-hectare vineyard in the Adelaide Hills◆ How did you go about choosing your vineyard location?I had a house up in Springton and was living in Adelaide at the time, and Adelaide Hills was starting to become popular, boosted by Brian Croser. We spent about a year looking for a suitable block, and finally found where we are today ‒ 85 acres of grazing country, good water license, rolling hills, basically facing north with east-west undulations so that we could grow vines east-west. We got a good price, bought it in 1997, and planted it in 1998 and 1999, about 30 acres a year. My son, another chap and I did everything. We bought some old tractors and a post knocker, had the irrigation surveyed and laid out properly, planted Shiraz, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet initially, and then added more Shiraz and Merlot, 60 acres in total. Of course Merlot didn’t sell, so we grafted some to Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot, and more Chardonnay. Today we have about 15 acres each of Shiraz and Cabernet, 7-8 of Pinot, 8 of Merlot, 5 of Sauvignon Blanc, and 10 of Chardonnay. Those 6 varieties, 4 reds and 2 whites, make our 7‒8 wines. The soil in the block is very uniform, some of the tops of the ridges are a little bit stonier and need a bit more water, but it is underlying clay soil so it holds moisture. We have all drip irrigation, and only irrigate enough to keep the vines in good nick. We’re not interested in big crops, we want fruit we can produce the best wine from, which is 3-4 tons per acre. Sometimes the Shiraz does better than that and we can make very good wine from a higher yield. Pinot we cut right back to 2-3 tons, but it grows like a weed.The vineyard was designed with 2 meters between vines and 2.75 meters between rows to accommodate tractors and grape harvesters.◆ How did you choose your varietal and clone selections?I basically planted what the district can handle, because it is a very cool climate and you don’t want to get caught with frost. The choice of cultivars was what I knew, what I thought could be grown here, and what I thought the market can stand. Put those 3 possibilities together and we’ve got a reasonable collation of varieties. My son has a great feel for growing grapes, a real feel for the balance of the vine and they’re producing good fruit to work with. It’s the reason we’ve been so successful.One of the advantages of starting a new vineyard is you can it to suit your operational needs. We laid out our vineyard to suit mechanization, with a 2.75 meter spacing with 2 meters between vines. We mechanically prune with a barrel pruner, then go through with pneumatic or electric snips to tidy up, which is a real cost saver. This vineyard is easy to run, and at vintage time it’s like clockwork. All fruit is machine harvested ‒ it is one of the sciences that has come a long way, and is as good as hand picking. There is no MOG (materials other than grapes) at all, some machines have sieves or crushers, you can get just berries, or stalks and berries if you want, and they can pick nearly a hectare an hour. We pick at night for the whites, and the reds as well if it looks like it is going to be too hot. Sometimes we have whites coming into the winery as low as 4 degrees, so they are crisper, and break off at the pedicel a lot easier. The difference is we can pick for $100 a ton or less for all varieties ‒ right now, hand-picking is $800 a ton.The grapevine harvester straddles the vines, shaking them as it goes, so that only the ripe berries are harvested. ◆ How did you transition from vineyard to winemaking?When Judy and I first started, we thought we would be semi-retired, growing and selling grapes and holidaying the rest of the year. Then, when we couldn’t sell our grapes ‒ we were getting $400 a ton, and it cost us about $1100 to grow them, Judy said “you better get back to your winemaking” and we did, starting in 2004. We were just making cleanskins, walking around the district letterbox dropping to sell them at first. In 2006 we entered the Adelaide Hills Wine Show for the first time with our 2005 wines, one was a finalist in the Jimmy Watson (for 1-year old reds on release) in 2006, and we also won the trophies for the top Shiraz, top Cabernet and top Merlot. We didn’t even have a label and we had to present them at an awards dinner, so overnight we had to develop a label and get it stuck on the bottles that were served at the dinner. That was the start of Mike Press wines.◆ How do you approach the different wines in the winery?We make our wines at Gemtree in McLaren Vale. It’s a relatively new winery so they have modern technology and the winemaker is very akin to what I do and want. He’s a perfectionist who wants to make the best wine, everything is treated like it’s his own. They do a wonderful job, have all the processes that we need, the training methods, their ideology is very much like mine, so I don’t have to change much at all down there.◆ How do you maintain your quality/price offering that everybody praises?We don’t have many employees, we work hard, and we watch the pennies. At the same time we have to market and sell it, so we offer it for low margins, and are selling direct to customers in the Adelaide area.◆ What happened in the November 2019 fires?Luckily, the house is still here and we didn’t fare so badly in the vineyard. We physically lost a couple of acres of vines on the perimeter where wood or heavy grass lots were very badly burnt, but the majority of the blocks were unscathed. We lost the perimeters, drippers, two or three rows that were burnt, headlands, boundary fences, about a quarter of a million dollars of gear in the yard that was part of Press Co. The shed with all our tractors in it almost went up, but luckily we had 2 big poly water tanks of 5,000 gallons each, and they melted just as the shed started to burn, and they burst and put the flames out. A lot of vineyards here were completely destroyed and had to be replanted and re-irrigated. We were OK ‒ it probably took us a year to sort it all out, the fencing, headlands and water. But we didn’t suffer greatly. Where we suffered is that we couldn’t use any of the 2020 reds because of smoke damage. The skin absorbs the smoke, in a chemical that is quite unpleasant, and you have to ferment reds on skins to get the colour, so that exacerbates the problem. The whites weren’t so badly affected by smoke. We took a chance and made a Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but we had to free run the juice and didn’t use the pressings because they had more contact with the skins, so we had reduced white and nil reds.Impact of the November 2019 fire in the vineyard.《From Village Cellars》The first we heard the name Mike Press Wines was when the new owners (Robert Harris and Yuko Matsuoka) contacted us about exporting to Japan. We had never heard of them in the export market, but an acquaintance in Australia told us they were known for selling quality wines at reasonable prices. Even now, probably Japan is the only market that Mike Press Wines exports to. Mike and Judy Press’s live on a hill overlooking their Chardonnay vineyard, where they can see the whole vineyard. When we visited, Mike took us to the highest point in each vineyard and passionately talked about the slope anlges. When Mike and Judy visited Japan for the first time in 2018, their simple, genuine, straightforward approach won many wine lovers hearts. We fondly remember struggling to translate very detailed answers they gave to each question.