Quenching a Thirst for Creativity – Craig Stansborough

Leader (Barossa Valley) June 2014

Craig Stansborough is convinced he has the “best job in the world” as he reflects on his successful career in winemaking. “I still get a kick out of opening a bottle of wine I’ve never had before,” he said.

The 2014 Barons of Barossa Winemaker of the Year has just completed his 21st vintage with Grant Burge Wines where he began as cellar manager before working his way up to chief winemaker. Craig admits that winemaking wasn’t the first occupation he thought of as a young man, growing up in Gawler and fresh out of High School. “I did everything from working in a factory to roof tiling… “I had an interest in wine, but didn’t think it would end up as a career. Then I landed a job as a cellar hand at Seppeltsfield – my first job in the wine industry. Basically, after about day two that was it; I knew what I wanted…I found it pretty intriguing.” Craig found himself in an environment conducive to learning. One filled with characters, “traditional” cellar hands, “interesting, genuine people” who all helped him embrace his new found passion for the wine industry. “I found the people lovely…I was lucky. I was there with Nigel Dolan and James Godfrey, Wendy Stuckey, Ian Shepherd…”

Craig’s drive, focus and commitment to the industry caught the eye of winemaker, Grant Burge who offered him a job with his winery in 1993. What followed was a meteoric rise within a growing company that was developing into another success story for the Barossa. But the Williamstown father of four has never lost sight of the bigger picture and is philosophical as he shares his thoughts on the industry he loves working in. “Of course there’s your ego and you want to make something that’s great, but I think sometimes we take ourselves far too seriously. “I’m not the sort of winemaker that thinks it’s a matter of life or death. I’m not a cancer research scientist, I’m not a doctor; I look in awe at people who find cures…who have to make decisions on people’s health and life every day. “I’ve had some personal experience… my first wife passed away with a brain tumour. Once you go through stuff like that, your perspective is brilliant. “It’s also important to know there are so many people employed in the company that are relying on the winemakers to do a good job so the sales people can sell and people can stay employed. That is really critical, especially in this environment at the moment…”

Craig is a hands-on, creative winemaker who likes to “push the boundaries” and work with grape growers whilst still being mindful of those who appreciate the award winning Grant Burge style. “Certainly, one thing I do as chief winemaker is to push our guys to push themselves. To make sure they try different things… I don’t think we want to be constrained… I’ve got a pretty vivid imagination when it comes to some stuff, I picture things in my head and try and bring them to fruition.” This creativity is allowed full reign with Craig’s own label. Purple Hands – a project he and his friend started in 2006. “Grant is very generous in allowing me to do that. It just keeps things a bit interesting…mucking around with other varieties. You ask any winemaker, they all have lots of ideas…visions of what they want to do and what a wine should look like. Sometimes, you just want to branch out and do something a little bit different. Craig is appreciating the resurgence of the old grape variety, Grenache grown in his own vineyard. “I feel we’re sort of part of that in terms the style we make for Purple Hands…. “Pinot-esque”, lighter styles. Making really elegant wines which I think some people out of the Barossa don’t think is possible. “It’s been really successful for us in terms of Halliday ratings. We got voted in the top ten new wineries in the country last year, we’ve had wines at 96 points.”

Trying out new ideas whilst maintaining traditions keeps Craig motivated. He also has a passion for fortifieds and the team at Grant Burge is expanding their range which includes a 20 year old tawny, muscats and sherries. “We don’t want the history – the art of fortified winemaking to die.” And as a Barons of Barossa Winemaker of the Year, Craig is also very keen to promote and market the Valley. “I’m very motivated in ensuring that the Barossa doesn’t get pigeon holed into one particular style.‚ÄĚThere are ways and means of making beautifully elegant wines from this region and there are already lots of guys doing that. But somehow, we get stuck in this big alcoholic, big wood type scenario…

There is plenty of scope for making beautifully structured, elegant wines that are great drinks. “In the end, to me, that’s what wine is… it needs to be a really great drink.”