Meet our Assistant Winemaker: Gareth Hogan
There aren’t too many people who can take some positives from the pandemic, but it was conveniently timed for Gareth Hogan. “I was studying Wine Science and working in hospitality, and my final year was in 2020 when everything started to shut down,” Gareth says. “So, I took the year off work to finish my degree.”
Like most things in the pandemic, studying remotely involved a little improvisation, with Gareth carrying out the required lab exercises in his lounge room (his wife, he says, is “very supportive”). Now he’s putting all that education and his years of winery experience into practice at Billy Button, where he joined the team in early 2021.
Following the pull to wine
Raised in Brisbane, Gareth moved to Melbourne after studying music production and began working at a local wine store, which provided extensive training and connected its staff with growers and producers. While Gareth’s dad has always worked in the industry, he’d never considered a career in wine – until he started to learn more about it. “I fell in love with it by accident,” he says. “Winemaking isn’t strictly scientific. You can be very creative and artistic, too.”
Increasingly intrigued by the world of wine, Gareth was soon wanting to experience it first-hand. “In 2013, I reached out to a winemaker in the Barossa Valley who I vaguely knew, and said I’d come and volunteer over vintage,” he says. “I wanted to dip my toe in the water to see if I liked it, and I just fell in love with the characters, generosity of spirit, and feeling of community in the wine industry,” he says. “That’s when I knew I wanted to give this a go.”
Since then, Gareth has worked a vintage almost every year, with stints everywhere from Victoria’s Sunbury, Macedon and Heathcote to New Zealand, Canada and Austria. Each experience taught him something different, but his time in the World Heritage-listed Austrian region of Wachau was particularly inspiring. “It was stunning, right on the banks of the Danube, with these 2000-year-old terraces built by the Romans,” he says.
Now, though, there’s no doubting that North East Victoria and Billy Button Wines are home. “I had sold Billy Button wines and met Jo at a tasting many years ago, and I was excited about working with more grape varieties, so I reached out to them,” Gareth says. He loves the beauty of the region and says even the 45-minute drive to work is a joy. And despite his Brisbane upbringing – or perhaps because of it – he thrives in the cooler climate. “The colder the better!” he says.
Diversity and camaraderie at Billy Button
Working with such a wide-ranging portfolio of wine varieties and styles is one of Gareth’s favourite parts of the job, especially the rare Italian varieties that grow so well in the region’s cool climate. “We also have small-batch wines to play with here, too,” he says.
Among Gareth’s standout varieties to make – and drink – is the Billy Button Schioppetino (ski-op-a-teeno). “It’s super peppery because it’s quite high in rotundone, which is the compound found in a lot of things we like, such as rosemary and thyme. It gives the wine a really herbal, savoury edge, which I love.”
Gareth also enjoys the unconventional structure of the winemaking team, led by Glenn and Jo, with several others all working together. “It’s a structure I’ve never encountered before and it’s very democratic. There’s no one person who does all the grunt work – we all chip in, and we all taste together as a group.”
It’s also clear that Gareth has proven invaluable to the team, thanks to his love for order. “I’m a neat freak and very methodical, and my strengths are in organisation,” he says. “It sounds neurotic, but I love organising things. It can get messy here, and nothing brings me more joy than thinking I need to find a particular tool and knowing exactly where it is, finding it, and knowing that’s where it belongs.” he says.
Gareth still creates music in his spare time, and even though he sees music and winemaking as both being creative endeavours, he likes how different they are. “Music comes from the heart and soul, so there’s a bit of ego and sense of ownership about it,” he says. “Wine, however, comes from nature. We guide it through fermentation, but ultimately, there’s no ego or pride – it’s more about not ruining something that’s already there!”