Mark Nikolich: Chief Winemaker at Rob Dolan is Hanging Up his Boots

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“Thank you for being the leader of our Winemaking team for the past 7 years” – Rob Dolan

Another Yarra Vintage “bites the dust “and what a year it has been for Mark and the Winemaking team.

The question regularly asked to Mark and most Winemakers is “So what the hell do you people do in vintage and what do you do for the rest of the year. All you need to do is pick grapes then crush and ferment then pop into barrels – sounds like a piece of cake to me!!”

A quick summary of Vintage 2019 provides a unique insight into the world of a Chief Winemaker in Vintage in the age of warmer temperatures and significant climatic change – that means we crush the same amount in 8 weeks as we crushed in the nineties in 14 weeks.

So what the hell does Mark do and what are some of the key skills has he needed to lead the team and make wines of excellence:

  • Be well planned to ensure an orderly weekly grape intake/arrival of grapes at the Winery and to have the team and equipment ready and tanks available for fermentation;
  • Possess incredible forklift skills and the ability to speak calmly whilst driving and talking to anxious growers and contract clients;
  • Be quick on his feet and 100% dedicated to vintage;
  • Have a great and supportive family – no watching kids cricket matches;
  • Be fully planned and organised and be able to think clearly at all times – regardless of the 100 tonne of fruit sitting ready to be crushed prior to going home;
  • Keep calm and carry on at all times – even when AGL wants to switch the bloody power off in mid vintage;
  • Have great people skills and an ability to crack a joke at the flick of switch to ensure staff and growers are happy with harvesting schedules, ferments, temperatures and addition rates to ensure healthy ferments;
  • Careful vintage planning must be done – budgets must be in place and expected quality levels set to be achieved on all sites – the mindset of “it will be a great vintage” must be kept.

And that was his mindset leading into the 2019 vintage. Maybe he was dreaming? But he did have everything under control, as he always does. New vintage staff were arriving in late January and early February. Vintage was due to kick off in late February. He had assembled a great team for a great vintage ahead. Structure was established.

“Pre-season” we lost our centre half back to the Hunter Valley (Ben Dolan) – he had gone off to chase a lady friend. This was followed by an ACL injury to another half back (Geoff) and our USA import (Andrew) was due to be a late starter. How quickly things can change.

Thank God we had the new draftees and second year players and wow did they perform fantastically – going with youth and giving them responsibility and confidence pays off. Surely youth will give Essendon the premiership this year.

After an orderly start in the first week with grapes being harvested at a leisurely pace and samples coming in from the early ripening vineyards all was looking well. Then all hell broke loose with continued warm weather and no rain of significance.

Fruit ripened everywhere and all at the same time – even Old Sticks made a comeback to a hands-on cellar role. Some positional changes took effect and a move to two x twelve hour shifts was made to ensure daily work-loads were completed. Yep – think on your feet and be decisive.

It has been dry and tough in the vineyards and growers carefully manage water. It has been the driest year in the last twenty seven Yarra vintages but we keep moving forward – will there will be some respite? Not likely.

There was incredibly low rainfall – probably less than 20 mm, but it was a lot tougher in South Australia – no sense complaining.

Vintage 2019 commenced on the 18th February and finished on the 16th April – it was another short year and a “cracker vintage” following on from the incredibly strong 15/16/17/18 vintages.

28 varieties were made into wine – new varieties included Bastardo, Friulano, Graciano, Nero D’Ávalo, Uva Di Troia, Vermentino and Negro Amaro just to name a few.

Rob Dolan Wines received grapes from 24 vineyards that totalled more than half the 2130 tonnes made into wine.

We made wine for 18 Winemaking clients from a total of 53 vineyards and all this was achieved in 43 crushing days.

The total number of separate fermentation batches was in excess of 187 across the 28 varieties with Pinot Noir accounting for 30% of production.

I still can’t work out why after more than 15 years of winemaking someone would want to take a break have time with the kids to watch them grow – travel to Italy – lie on a beach in Dromana – write a book – smell the flowers – be the scorer at kids cricket matches and take them to school………………………

Mark – Thanks for being an integral part of the Rob Dolan Wines journey and all the best for the next chapter.

From Rob and all the team at Rob Dolan Wines.

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