Fitting like a glove into Mahana Estates winery

Mahana Estate winemaker Michael Glover.
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Mahana Estate winemaker Michael Glover.

Michael Glover is a local lad who has come home to the place he loves, Upper Moutere, as the winemaker for Mahana Estate.

I first met Glover when he was a teenager hanging around his parent's winery, Glovers Vineyard in Gardeners Valley, and it is fair to say his father's singlemindedness and stubbornness has rubbed off on Glover junior.

Back in those days he was a lean, mean racing machine of road cycling. He was a member of the original Upper Moutere Wheelers that was established as a breakaway from the Nelson Club, now called the Tasman Wheelers it is one of the strongest road cycling clubs in the country.

"There was a big element of rebellion, very anti-establishment but looking back it made sense, we got rid of a heap of officialdom, committee meetings were at the bar over a beer after a race," he says.

While cycling was focus during his late teens and early 20s he lived in a household where his put great wines in front of him.

"We were always drinking something really special from Bordeaux as well as German rieslings," he says. "One of the first wines that made me go 'this is what wine is all about' was a bottle of 1979 third growth Bordeaux that was just wonderful.

"Cycling was an obsession in those days but there was also an awakening about wine."

The Glover vineyard was planted when he was about 14-years-old after the family moved from Australia in the mid 1980s and he told me it was pretty special as a teenager picking grapes from vines he had planted and then helping his father make the final product.

"I realised that this was a little spot on the planet that was ours to grow something special on, and that is was actually really cool to be able to do that."

It was when he was in his early 20s when he was training for a lot of hours and getting beaten in national races as a senior that he realised he wasn't good enough or tough enough to race in Europe. But another door was opening as he saw his parents host German, Australian and New Zealand winemakers and where there was always food and fine wine involved.

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He decided to become a winemaker to understand more about the science of making wine rather than just learning from his father.

Because he was born in Australia he decided to go Charles Sturt University to complete a wine science degree.

"For the first two years we didn't touch a wine or vineyard subject, the focus was on science until year three which was quite unlike learning winemaking at most other institutes."

The degree also included working in various wineries in different wine regions, his first vintage was at Rothbury Estate in the Hunter Valley when Len Evans still owned it.

"Len Evans was great mentor but the winery was subject to a hostile takeover and the corporate owners who had control sacked most of the winemakers but I had finished my degree and they gave me a wine making job," Glover says.

"I saw what a big corporate can do compared to owner operated wineries and I think it scarred me for life, it wasn't about making wine, it was making a commodity and they destroyed the soul of the winery.

"In Evans' days the workers had respect for the business but that disappeared under the corporate ownership, we started having to defend wines, if it didn't sell they wanted to change things, people who were making the decisions weren't even wine drinkers and they wanted to do things that didn't respect the piece of dirt and history of the winery, it was pretty soulless."

After a short stint at another winery in the Hunter Valley he went to Moorilla Estate in Tasmania for five years and Glover found it was an environment he loved. It is a cool climate growing area and Hobart is a stunning port location with a strong food culture and a huge amount of history.

While at Moorilla he went overseas to work vintages to expand his knowledge and as he had been buying a lot of Italian wines he went to Italy where he worked with a winemaker who had worked in the Hunter "so we had a real connection and he sent me to different parts of Italy for vintage over a number of years".

For Glover a real eye-opening moment was going to a winery in Campania where he worked with Bruno de Conciliis, the winery was inland from a small village on the coast and they could see the Amalfi Coast from the winery.

"On my first day in the winery I asked for a water and was handed a beer, they had four different beers during the day and jazz blaring out of the stereo, they made agliano (white wine) using arcacia puncheons and fermented the wine on skin in the puncheons, all my training had told me it was something not to do and they were doing it, I was totally arrogant and told him we couldn't do it because it was wrong.

"He quietly said that it was his way and explained the reasoning behind it, he wanted to extract the flavour from skins, he wanted back palate structure and length from the wine and to show me what he meant we tasted wines from back vintages and they weren't just good wines they were truly great wines.

"It was a sheer slap in the face for me, you think you know how to make wine and you don't, there are a hundred ways to make wine and that day I ceased to be the winemaker I was and became the winemaker I could be.

"Wines I am making now have been 15 years in the making, the seed was sown way back then and I have been walking down a different path with my winemaking," a path that included him working as head winemaker at Bannockburn in 2005.

Bannockburn is an iconic winery in Geelong, Victoria (not to be confused it with Banrock Station). The cheapest wine at Bannockburn is $50 and goes up to well over $100 so he had huge shoes to fill when he took over from the previous winemaker Gary Farr.

When Glover left in 2015 he says: "It was a bit like Willy Wonkers workshop, all wines were whole bunch pressed, we used different barrel sizes, cabernet was left soaking on skins for four months, chardonnay was left on lees for five years, nothing was simple, it was about what if, how good can we make this, I could do whatever I wanted."

He ended up back in Upper Moutere back at Mahana when Shane Munn moved to Canada in 2014 and Philip Woollaston rang him and asked if he would be interested in the job.

"It was a bit like the train was at the station and I either got on or stayed in Aussie."

All of Glover's background is informing his winemaking today, he wants to make the the best wine from every batch of fruit not just another Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, he wants to use all the tricks and knowledge he has to make the best wine he can.

"It may not work every time but you have to be brave enough to leave the path and go your own way, reacting to the environment, I want to make wines that create a reaction; don't be afraid of it, embrace your difference and don't take the step toward making a beverage rather than expression of the terroir."

All I can say is watch this space, plenty of people are going to be talking about the wines Glover is producing at Mahana.

 - Stuff

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