Ever contemplated filing a letter of resignation, enrolling yourself into wine school and cultivating a life steeped in all things viticulture? (Raises glass). For Charlotte Hardy, the vintage wine doyenne behind Charlotte Dalton Wines, this is an all-too familiar conundrum. Today, we’re stealing Charlotte away from the vineyard to distil more about the woman behind the wine. Notepads out, everyone.
Charlotte wasn’t catapulted into the wine industry through familial ties. Her effusive, palpable love for wine was completely organic. (Yes, this gives us all hope). After leaving school, she became a baker’s apprentice and dabbled in veterinary nursing before realising that she “didn’t feel totally fulfilled.” Having grown up on a large farm, she “really wanted to be doing something agricultural.”
Unlike most house-sharing dynamics, synonymous with unkempt kitchens and simmering tensions, Charlotte’s housemate was a viticulturist that managed some big vineyards. She began to work for him on weekends, swiftly falling in love with the art of winemaking. Like most of us, she already loved drinking wine, and boldly quit her job to enrol in a Bachelor of Wine Science. While still hitting the books, Charlotte worked at Sacred Hill in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. She was “one hundred per cent hooked”, reminiscing days where lectures would be spliced by casually tearing through vineyards on the back of a tractor.
“I pruned all winter, planted vineyards in spring, leaf-plucked and fruit thinned in the growing season, picked grapes and worked in the winery on night-shift during vintage. I absolutely loved it. I was lucky enough to land a job at Craggy Range in my last year of study, and I stayed with Craggy for four years. It totally sealed the deal,” she says.
It’s no secret that a fabulous mentor can completely shape our world, far beyond the parameters of work. Charlotte recalls her “young, dynamic, energetic” boss, Doug Wisor, who tirelessly inspired her, answered copious questions and led a team completely infatuated by his leadership. Despite his passing in 2004, Charlotte admits to thinking about him “every day” as one of her driving forces.
Fuelled by an ardent desire to continue winemaking, Charlotte took the leap that every wine-loving lady desperately dreams of: she started her own brand. Deeply in tune with the symbiotic relationship between real people, the soil they tend and the ineffably personal wines that come from that unique connection, she wanted her wine “to be a true reflection of the grapes,” knowing “exactly what fruit (she) wanted, and “who (she) wanted to buy it from.” Her philosophy is simple: “you can turn good grapes into bad wine, but you sure as hell can’t make good wine from bad grapes.”
While most of us know what to look for when touring the wine aisle for a great knock-off drop on a Friday arvo, we wouldn’t have a clue what prerequisites are involved when it comes to making one. Charlotte advocates for “sound fruit and the balance of acids, sugars and flavours.” She notes the nitty-gritty details to check off during post-fermentation, like “how the tannins are evolving, how soft the phenolics are, and how the weight is on the palate.” Complexities of vineyard jargon aside, Charlotte praises wines with personality.
Most mums know how to juggle a pinot in one arm and a toddler in the other. But Charlotte’s typical day in the life sees this balancing act nailed down to a fine art. “I usually walk vineyards in the morning and check the fruit, stopping several times to nurse the new born, change nappies, feed the toddler, come to some compromise with the toddler and answer the phone twenty times. Somewhere in there, I’ll taste the ferments twice throughout the day and decide on whether any ferments need air, pump stuff over, plunge or rack and then return.” Despite a staggering twenty years of winemaking now under her belt, Charlotte admits she will never stop learning. With a vested interest in vintage, she loves the high energy of the winemaking process, mirroring her often chaotic lifestyle.
At the moment, Charlotte’s wine glass is rather empty, with a beautiful four-week-old son on the scene. The only thing she’s “drinking (and spitting) is wines for pre-vintage research,” but she admits to being “super excited to dig into [some] Pooley Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs” bought in the middle of last year. Pressed for her favourite wine, she deems the cream of the crop be a Semillon. She dotes over the acidic drop, admiring how hard it works in the vineyard, its mid-palate weight, and its diversity.
Thanks for sitting in on the chat, ladies! If you’re suddenly feeling a wine coming on, or know a hardworking friend who deserves one, kick off the next cheese night with Charlotte’s ‘Love Me Love You’ Semillon from our For The Foodie pack. Refined and finessed, this pour is bursting with a pulpy grapefruit finish and an atypical light oiliness of palate. Emblazoned by a beautiful bottle design, it’s one truly treasured gem in our Sunday Wine Co cellar.
Sunday Wine Co x