University of Melbourne Magazine

Raise a glass to my bit of dirt

  • BY MANDY JONES (BAppSc 1982, University College)


    Mandy Jones. PICTURE: ROB CLEARY

    My father, Doug, was the winemaker at Seppelt in Rutherglen and I suppose there were expectations that I would follow in his footsteps. But I didn’t want that, not back in the late 1970s anyway.

    When I graduated from uni, winemaking was far from my mind. A possible career in the petrochemical industry (I had a summer job at Shell analysing oils) beckoned, but by the third year I knew it wasn’t for me.

    I got my degree and then I was off. Two years of travel across South-East Asia and Europe followed. In London I found work as an au pair for a well-to-do Notting Hill couple with four children. The wife was a fantastic cook. I have worked for a few people who have been excellent cooks. I’d be forever looking over their shoulder to see what was happening or helping out.

    I was always doing that with my mum, too. She wasn’t such a great cook but us kids were always putting cubes of cheese on skewers or making pinwheel sandwiches when my parents entertained.

    Often now I will look through my family’s old recipe books and it’s my dad who has written out the recipe. My dad was really into his food. On Saturdays he’d load us up into the car with Eskys and we would drive to Albury to the only delicatessen for miles and buy Hungarian white-skinned salami, smoked oysters in bottles, camembert in cans and port salut. We would complain in the car on the way home how much it stank.

    After Europe, I was back at home in Rutherglen (300 kilometres north-east of Melbourne). I needed a job. Finally, winemaking won out.

    I started with my uncle Les, at Jones Winery, just outside town. It would have been around 1987. He was a bit of a seat-of-the-pants winemaker, so after a couple of years with him I took myself off to Charles Sturt Uni to study winemaking. I won the Ron Potter Scholarship, making me a cellar hand at the uni winery, but it led to the opening up of so many more doors.

    I worked vintage in Portugal, Chile, and then Bordeaux in France. That led to a permanent job at Chateau Carsin in the Cotes de Bordeaux. I was made winemaker – the first woman cellar manager in the region’s history, according to one French magazine. I was 30.

    What a learning experience. We had one contract with a big UK supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, to make wine for their private label, including a Cuvee Prestige Claret. The Sainsbury’s people came to me one day and put a bottle of Yalumba shiraz on the table and said, ‘Can you make that?’

    I said no, I’m in Bordeaux, I can’t make a wine like that but I can make a wine with as rich a mouthfeel as I can. We started off small making 160,000 bottles of that style and by the end of the contract Sainsbury’s was selling over one million bottles a year.

    After 10 years I was ready for home, but before I left I lived in Paris for six months and attended the Cordon Bleu Culinary School, finishing with a diploma and some great cooking skills. We learnt to truss a bird properly, de-vein yabbies while they were still alive, chop up live crayfish, frogs’ legs. You could say it was challenging!

    Jones Winery is where you will find me these days, making wine, overseeing the preparation of meals for our cafe and special events, and working with my brother, Arthur, who looks after our 9.17 hectares of vines. The winery dates back to 1860. There is so much character here.

    I stick to Rutherglen grape classics for the most part – shiraz, durif, malbec, muscat – but there are alternative varieties that seem well suited here, too, such as Italy’s fiano.

    With our wines you will always see a sense of place.

    I learnt that philosophy in Bordeaux – seek out the varieties that do well on your bit of dirt, stay true, don’t give in to trends.

    I would never try sauvignon blanc or chardonnay here. It’s just not right.

    I have been lucky in my life. Fate, too, has played a part.

    I will always be proud that both Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev have been served my wine – a Chateau Carsin White Bordeaux. Not bad for a girl from Rutherglen.