For Steve, talk is cheap; he wants to get his hands dirty

By Vanessa Wiltshire

FINALLY, Steve Oates is happy.

The former sales, marketing and operations manager made his way from Queensland back home to Heathcote after nearly two decades in the wine and hospitality industries

Having worked for large corporates including (Southcorp) Treasury Wines and De Bortoli, Steve felt a strong urge to return home and work in boutique businesses where ‘‘people really cared about what went into the bottle, not just the bottom line’’.

“I’ve always had the yearning to make my own wine,” he said. “I spent so many years climbing the corporate ladder and could talk about it really well. But what I really wanted to do was get my hands dirty and see how it was all made.”

Steve returned to Heathcote eight years ago and worked for several boutique businesses, generally in the cellar door.

“I loved what I did, but I was still talking about wine. Then an opportunity came up at Heathcote Winery, part in the vineyard and part in the winery.”

Steve had done six vintages prior to 2019, but they were only ever helping out on weekends.

“Nothing could prepare me for the snowball of 2019,” he said.

“All of the fruit ripened very quickly this year and everything was picked by the end of March. Compared to 2012, we finished picking Slaughterhouse paddock on the 24th of May.

“From picking to de-stemming, pressing, processing and barrelling, you’d be working 6am to 8pm every day”.

Steve works alongside Heathcote Winery’s winemaker, Brendan Pudney, who is originally from the Clare Valley.

The small team have recently finished classifying 2018 wines – all 137 barrels – and will soon commence the bottling process.

“2018 was a really good year and 2019 is shaping up to be the same,” Steve said.

“The majority of my role is out in the vineyards – this year was the first I’ve driven a tractor. But I’m involved in the tastings and classification, and also the making process.

“As a chef, I like to describe the process to people like cooking. It’s a process and there are a variety of instruments and seasoning, across the entire grape to glass journey.’’

The happiness in Steve’s voice shines through. “I’m doing what I want to do. I have my weekends back and I’ve got better work life balance. I’m no longer chained to a computer. I’d be lucky to get four emails a day, not 40!”