I have a lot of admiration for those who are good at communicating about wine, which is why I thought it might be nice to take a little look at someone intimately involved in writing about wine as a career. Someone who communicates the wine, the people and their stories.
Katie Spain is a journalist, wine writer and author. She was named Wine Communicators of Australia's 2021 Wine Communicator of the Year and won the award for Best Published Feature or Column. She writes regularly for a number of national and international publications. If you want to know more specifically about her many current posts as a writer, you can check out her website.
I first met Katie at a wine party or two years ago, and then in 2016 we studied a WSET course together. I thought I'd ask Katie a bit about her journey as a wine writer and some of her current favourite bottles out of her local area of Mclaren Vale and its surrounds:
I understand your journey into wine writing/journalism wasn't straightforward (unless it was?). Did the journey into wine writing happen suddenly or gradually?
It happened gradually and like Alice in Wonderland, I tumbled through a long, winding and magical back door.
I never set out to be a wine writer, I just knew I wanted to write. I grew up on a dairy farm in rural South Australia and dreamed of being an art teacher, a librarian (who wouldn’t want to hand out with books all day?) or a radio presenter (inspired by long hours in the tractor – listening to Merrick and Rosso on triple j).
Storytelling – in all its forms – drew me in and took me all over the world. I finished professional writing studies in Germany, then hotfooted to London where I worked in digital journalism (travel, music, restaurants, West End theatre) and did a stint at the BBC and an East London radio station. I clocked up a fair whack of debt, life experience and a deeper appreciation for food, wine and culture while I was there.
After seven years, Australia called me home (via Sydney where I worked for NovaFM radio station – with Merrick, Rosso and Kate Rtichie as their digital bitch) and finally home to Adelaide where I’ve based myself since.
That’s when writing really engulfed me: I earned a crust writing long-form features and news articles for a bunch of mags, the local newspapers, Broadsheet and WBM (Australia’s Wine Business Magazine). The progression to wine happened naturally. I drank a lot of it, was thrilled to be part of an exciting and increasingly engaging SA-wine tasting scene, and worked alongside the food and wine team at News Corp. The bug bit deep during long interviews with wine folk for WBM and the rest is history. I schooled up on the lingo (WSET/AWAC and every masterclass known to womankind) and began dipping my pen in wine full time. I’m now national drinks writer for Good Food (Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) and am on a seemingly endless mission to master the freelance deadline dance.
What do you like most about writing about wine (and the people involved with it)?
What’s not to love? I was intimidated at first because I felt like an impostor (how could a girl who grew up covered in milk and manure entertain thoughts of writing about wine?). I also thought a wine writer had to be a certain way. Bollocks.
My love of the stories behind wine and the people who grow and make it keeps me in this game. I adore them and am happiest in a vineyard, winery or someone’s home – listening to their life story. I spend most of my time on the road (or at the keyboard) and as I write this, I’m about to head to the Riverland to spend three days doing exactly that. It’s my happy place.
I like to get to the heart of a story. Wine folk are a glorious mix of ‘salt of the earth’ farmers, scientists, artists and gnarly lovers of conviviality and the connection wine offers. Milk sure ain’t that sexy – or evocative.
You're living south of Adelaide these days, not far from Mclaren Vale - what are some of your favourite wines or general wine-related recommendations from that region?
My partner Ben and I live on a little farm in Hope Forest, located between McLaren Vale’s rolling Ranges and the Adelaide Hills. We straddle the lands of the Kaurna and the Peramangk People and as we work (me writing, him editing photographs). Our community is outstanding.
Danish winemaker Uffe Deichmann (Poppelvej) turns heads around the globe with his low-fi wines using fruit sourced from sustainable vineyards and has a thing for amphora - his 710-litre Nomblot beauties were shipped over from Rhone, France. He also (very patiently) helps Ben and I make a bit of wine in his shed.
The emergence of new varieties and the wine community’s welcoming nature attracts adventurous new blood to the ‘hood. Among them, brands such as SOMOS (Ben Caldwell and Mauricio Ruiz Cantù), VHS Wines (Samuel J. Smith), Lust For Life, Year Wines (Luke Growden and Caleigh Hunt - Best New Act at the 2015 Young Guns of Wine Awards), Camwell Wines (Brad and Kendra White Cameron), Sherrah Wines (Alex and Liz Sherrah), Lino Ramble (Andy Coppard and Angela Townsend), Varney Wines (Alan and Kathrin Varney), Dune (Duncan and Peter Lloyd), Bondar Wines (Andre Bondar and Selina Kelly), Brash Higgins (Brad Hickey and Nicole Mayer Thorpe), Paralian Wine (Charlie Seppelt and Skye Salter), Berg Herring (Sam Dunlevy and Chloe Fitzgerald) and Aphelion Wine (grenache guru Rob Mack and Louise Rhodes Mack – winners of the national 2018 Young Gun of Wine Awards).
There’s some stellar fruit coming out of Hope Forest too. Seek out gems by Moorak, Golden Child, Worlds Apart Wine, Brackenwood, and Travis Tausend.
What music have you been listening to lately?
I can't listen to anything while I write (which is most of the time) but I've been road tripping around SA on story assignments this week - so lots of car time. When I'm driving, I can't get enough of Fleetwood Mac and the oldies. I'm also a sucker for a true crime podcast. I've also been listening to The Blindboy Podcasts' musings on creativity, balance, mental health and flow.
Alright, well let's have a look at a few magical Mclaren Vale bottles that are amongst the many Mclaren Vale gems we have available at the moment:
The Poppelvej 'Rookie' Grenache has a great structure with really pleasant smooth tannins and lots of red fruit and a little dark plum. A lovely example of a modern Mclaren Vale Grenache.
The Moorak Sellicks Hill Cinsault is delicate, as Cinsault often is, and slightly wild, but with a lovely structure and lots of fresh fruit character - a lovely light red!
The Brash Higgins 'CHN' Chenin Blanc is a beautiful, refreshing and textural number from Brash - Aromas of honey, straw, celery, real lemonade and water chestnut. An absolute winner and a lovely Chenin from slightly higher up in the Blewitt Springs sub-region.
Because we love this special region and its wines, we've put together a special little pack called the Mclaren Vale Magic pack:
Pick these 3 up together and save $10 off the individual price!
Well, that's it for this edition of the Hump Day Hero blog. What realms of wine could we possibly be visiting next?? No matter how many bags of letters we receive asking us to reveal the topic early, we'll never tell! Happy tasting, Juiceheads! xx
**please note all photos of Katie Spain by Ben MacMahon