Earlier this year, Jim Chatto joined the team as the new Chief Winemaker. Amazingly, he is only the fourth Chief Winemaker to be based at Mount Pleasant since the legendary Maurice O’Shea established the winery in 1921. Jim brings stellar credentials and an appetite for creating exceptional wines, boasting 20 vintages of Hunter Valley Winemaking experience and the title for 2009 Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year.

We caught up with Jim to chat about his plans for the winery, his favourite wines and everything that is great about the Hunter Valley…

Q: Why did you choose to live and work in the Hunter Valley?

A: I first came to Hunter in 1993, with my dad, looking for a vintage job. In my mind’s eye it was a special place, full of larger than life characters and a real sense of history. It’s a great place to live with a very tight wine community. There is a great sense of camaraderie between producers. I fell in love with the wine styles and the landscape.

Q: When you started out as a winemaker what were your ambitions?

A: My initial ambitions were simply to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible, both domestically and overseas. I was young and hungry, discovering a wonderful world of wine- it was a job that felt more like a hobby.

Q: What does Jim Chatto bring to Mount Pleasant? And what does Mount Pleasant bring to Jim Chatto?

A: I bring a new chapter in the story of Mount Pleasant. Fresh eyes, and someone who has been yearning to make Lovedale Semillon since first tasting it at University 20 years ago. Mount Pleasant presents a dream come true- wonderful vineyard resources, a rich history and the opportunity to be part of something truly great.

Q: You are now working with some of the oldest vines in Australia, what sort of future do these vines have in the future direction for Mount Pleasant

A: The ‘Old Hill’ planted in 1880- hard to get my head around- is an amazing site, producing a unique Hunter Valley Shiraz of power and poise. The old vines are great but the site that is their home is the key -only the great sites get to have old vines! At Mount Pleasant we have an incredible array of mature vines on diverse soil types and aspects. Our vineyard sites are truly unique, producing authentic Hunter wines with real personality that cannot be made by anyone else. This is the key to our past and our future.

Q: You have been a Judge and Chairperson of many wine shows. Are they relevant in today’s consumer driven market

A: Wine Shows throughout Australia are at a crossroads. Most people acknowledge their great service to our industry to date, shaping style and driving quality. However, a few are starting to question their continued relevance into the future. I still believe wine shows have a very important role regarding the wine industry, especially at the regional level. That said, they must continually evolve in order to remain relevant.

Q: What is your view of the new 100 point scoring focus for the Australian Wine Shows circuit compared to the 20 points system or other systems?

A: In a wine show setting you could argue the method of scoring is largely irrelevant, as the primary goal is to separate the wines into distinct quality bands, thus highlighting the standout wines as benchmarks of quality. However, the 100 point system does allow better separation of wines as there are more scores available. It is also the international currency used by most international wine shows and critics. The move to the 100 points in Australian wine shows helps make our results more meaningful and relevant in the global market.

Q: What do you feel is the most important piece of equipment in the winery and its significance to the final product?

A: The fridge plant. The advent of refrigeration in the Australian wine industry has played a vital role in the quality of our wine.

Q: You are stuck on a desert island and you can take one wine with you, what do you take and why?

A: One bottle? ‘78 La Tache. The greatest wine I have tasted. One wine? Champagne. I never grow tired of good Champagne.

Q: I’m looking forward to…

A: Discovering the intricacies of our vineyards, and with time, harnessing their greatness.