Following on from all of our Virtual Cellar Door videos we felt, for those that don’t already know our winemaker, Nick Toy, that we’d interview him so you can get to know him better! Nick is a huge asset to our business!
How long you’ve been with Feathertop? How long have you been winemaking?
I joined the business in 2013. Feathertop had a fulltime winemaker at the time so my first role in the business was as Food & Beverage Manager to coincide with the re-launch of Feathertop’s Restaurant and Cellar Door. (Prior to my life in wine production, I have extensive experience in the Restaurant and Sales industries) Once we built up the F&B team I then moved to a role as Sales Manager as we were ready to re-structure our sales channels. When the Winemaker position became available in late 2014, I threw my hat in the ring of applicants and was lucky enough to get the gig in time for the 2015 vintage. I have been involved in winemaking since 1999.
Proudest winemaking moment?
I’ve had many proud moments during my career but one of the recent highlights is undoubtedly the 2019 North East Victorian Wine Challenge, which saw Feathertop’s most successful wine show results in our history. To win a swathe of gold medals, many of them top-of-class across a huge range of varieties was incredibly satisfying for myself and the Feathertop team. This was topped by our little, humble variety of Friulano which won the trophy for best Alternate White Wine in show, a class that was very hotly contested. It’s one of the first times this variety has had such success and it filled my heart with joy.
What lead you to becoming a winemaker?
After cutting short my first stint at Uni in 1989 due to having very itchy feet, the proceeding decade was dedicated to seeing as much of Australia and the world as possible, all the while working in restaurants, bars and wine sales. During this time I developed a love of all things wine and I knew I had found my true calling. In 1998, I started studying Viticulture and Wine Science at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga in what was at the time the only distance learning course available for the industry. Around the same time, I left the hospitality industry to start my career as a bottom-feeder in the wine game on the Mornington Peninsula. I must have been doing something right as I was soon given opportunities at a couple of highly reputed wineries and I haven’t looked back since.
What other wineries have you worked at?
To name a few, prior to my career at Feathertop, I had experience at Stonier Wines and Paringa Estate on the Mornington Peninsula and Punt Rd Wines and De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley.
Are you a local or moved from somewhere? What bought you to Feathertop?
I was born and raised in the Diamond Valley on Melbourne’s fringe but have lived in many parts of Australia and the world. After Bright, my second home is Port Douglas in Far North Queensland, where I have spent a large chunk of my adult life. It was here that I met my darling wife, Tania, who grew up in Bright. Once we started breeding, the family pull back to Victoria was very strong and we made the fabulous decision to move here in early 2013. Part of that decision was based on my desire to return to fulltime winemaking (I had been somewhat of a flying winemaker for the few years prior, travelling to Victoria for vintages each year). I had always admired Feathertop Wines from a distance so it was a no-brainer to apply for a job here once we had made the move to the area.
Favourite wines to make and why?
It’s a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child but I have developed a real love affair with making our Feathertop stable of textured, Mediterranean white varieties, especially Vermentino, Fiano and Friulano. The past 5 years of making wine at Feathertop has been a steep learning curve as I had little or no prior experience with making many of the 22 varieties we grow in the vineyard. Watching the style of these textured whites improve and develop over the years as I continue to learn and experiment with techniques has been a revelation for me. I also have to put a shout out for Rosé – something about the nature of it makes producing it seem more fun.
My wife, Tania and my two beautiful sons, Aiden, 12 and Julian, 8 are my world. My wife’s (and now my) extended family also live in the area and own two iconic local businesses – the Bright and Beechworth Ice Creamery’s. Our local clan now includes nine kids all under 13 and seeing my boys grow up amongst the tribe is one of the most satisfying things in my life. My brothers and sisters (seven of us from a blended marriage) are dotted far and wide across Australia.
Predictions on varieties and/or the future of winemaking?
In winemaking, like most things in this world, provenance and a ‘sense of place’ has become more important in recent times. This has led to a shift in winemaking techniques that allows for heightened expression of individual grape varieties, allowing them to show more of their natural characteristics and reflect where they are grown. I expect this push for more minimal intervention during the growing and making of wine to continue.
As far as varieties go, as an industry we are finally taking heed to the fact that many of the traditional varieties grown in Australia are not well-suited to our fast-changing climate. Thick skinned, later-ripening varieties such as Vermentino, Fiano, Friulano and Verdejo are perfectly suited to our warm, dry climate and should be the long-term future of the Australian industry – they are also damn delicious.
Best and worst winemaking moments? Funny anecdotes?
I could talk about 36 hour vintage shifts, catching naps next to the Press which doubled as an alarm clock each time a pressing cycle finished. Or flipping a forklift laden with heavy, machine harvested fruit, alone at 3am during one of these never-ending shifts. (Neither of these occurred at Feathertop by the way – OH&S is king here!!)
But one of the funniest (in hindsight anyway) was when I was working at a very large winery in the Yarra Valley where we crushed 24 hours a day and I was working the night shift during vintage. I was up on a platform checking the red wine fermenters whilst a workmate 3 stories below was about to hit the start button on a press load of small-batch, super, super premium Shiraz we were contracted to make. From high up, I could see the press door had not been closed and my workmate, who tended to drop concentration as he tired, was oblivious to this fact as he started rotating the large press drum. My screaming and hollering from above as I flew down the 6 flights of stairs were drowned out by our ever-present music blaring in the winery. I will never forget the sight that greeted me as I hit the winery floor – a giant tsunami-like wave of red wine, seemingly in slow motion, forming out of the press door as it rotated, about to wash over the top of my work mate, who was singing away and blissfully unaware of the monstrous red wine shower he was about to take. Let’s just say that after we hosed away about half the wine volume down the drain, we had to do some very creative blending that night and our contract customer was none the wiser.