Jane Ferrari is an Australian National Treasure and one of the best wine storytellers around. A winemaking graduate from Roseworthy College in Adelaide, Australia, Jane worked as brand ambassador for Yalumba Winery in the Barossa Valley for 25 years, and currently runs Jane Ferrari Consulting. In 2012, Wine Communicators of Australia named Ferrari its Wine Communicator of the Year.
Learn more about Jane in the written interview below:
Karen MacNeil: You have an unconventional role as a storyteller. Did you know this was possible as a career when you began?
Jane Ferrari: Not at all. Years ago, I started experimenting with a far more entertaining way of presenting information, and it seemed to not only engage people a lot more effectively at the time, but also resonate more with them, over time. I started doing a lot more in depth reading on the history of various wines—where they were grown, the background of dishes that they paired well with—and tried to weave that into my presentation style. I also started to research the places where I was presenting—looking for parallels or contrasts with respect to wine, food and or history—and work that in. Overall, it was like having a “jukebox in my head” of wine, food, spirit, history and character stories that I could mentally scroll through and choose from.
Then storytelling became cool, and I seemed to be in the right place at the right time, with a jam packed ‘”mental jukebox” of entertaining, informative and engaging stories. And it’s a tremendous thing when you’re doing an event somewhere, and there’s someone who has seen me speak before, and they ask for a specific story. That’s pretty special.
KM: Australia has come a long way from the ‘critter labels’. What do you think Australia is doing right when it comes to communication and education?
JF: Wow! That’s a major essay question! I’m going to try and keep it on point, and not too long winded. First – what is Australia doing right? I think that as an industry, we have realized that we make more wine than we consume domestically, and that we have to export. As we’re literally on the other side of the world from the major export markets, we need to do two things well. We need to be able to take our Australian wine to the rest of the world as a group. We need to fly under the flag of “if the Australian Wine Industry does well, then everyone in the Australian Wine Industry does well.” I think we do that very well as both a country and as individual regions. When we travel and do events, we tend to discuss our regions, and what is happening as an overall industry—not just bang on endlessly about our own brand. There is a huge amount of value in the idea of quality by association, and I think the Australian wine industry makes great wine across the board—across regions, varietals and blends—and we’re happy to talk about all of it.
The other thing that I think our industry has done well over the past fifteen years, is to actively bring the world to the Australian regions and make them feel like “part of the family.” We seem to be able to show consumers, distributors, press, sommeliers, retailers or restaurateurs the unique facets of our winegrowing worlds—the wine, the food, the people and the history—and cement relationships that tend to last forever. I think this is the strength of our current industry communications and the ongoing Wine Australia educational programs for the international sommelier communities are just one outstanding example of how investing huge efforts in the trade can reap dividends for a generation.
KM: Where do you believe the Australian Wine Industry is headed?
JF: I very much hope that it’s along much the same lines as its current course, for the foreseeable future! We are so many things: the custodians of an unique viticultural treasure trove of own-rooted, one hundred plus-year-old vines to vineyards of so-called “new” varieties like arinto, nero d’Avola, assyrtiko and fiano. These varieties are great acid holding operators that will produce vineyards that hold their own in the face of climate change. So where are we headed? As winegrowers, we’re still essentially farmers—with our fingers crossed for good luck, one eye on the weather, and the other on the markets.
KM: For a quarter century, you were the Wine Ambassador for Yalumba. Generally speaking, what are the challenges inherent in remaining family owned?
JF: Over that time it became evident that in each generation of ownership there is a crisis challenge of sorts, never the same in its nature. It seems that the continuity of family ownership depends on whether there is a member of the family who has the capacity to step up and surmount that particular generational challenge. Across the 170 years of family winemaking at Yalumba, those challenges included the two World Wars, the Great Depression between them, the changing nature of the Australian industry from fortified to table wine production, and the consolidation of ownership from a large group of extended family back to one.
KM: As a Wine Ambassador, what does a typical day look like for you?
JF: There really isn’t a ‘typical’ day. Depending on the upcoming travel schedule—which is always a combination of domestic Australian and international wine events of all shapes, sizes and formats—you could be doing any or all of the following:
• Trying to juggle connecting flights so that you can work a dinner in Edmonton, Canada one evening, do a radio show in Vancouver the next day with a trade lunch and consumer dinner in the same town, and be down in Orange County, CA in time for their area distributor sales meeting by the following Friday lunch time!
• Designing a food and wine matching menu for a Texas USA or a Toowoomba Queensland steakhouse
• Putting an introductory wine set together for the young staff at a chain of organic grocery markets that have just opened wine departments
• Designing a VIP visit for some red wine collectors that have been everywhere and done everything in your region already!
• Researching the Aboriginal heritage of the areas where the business and its vineyards are established
• Investigating local regional produce and whether it can be sourced where you’re staging an event
• Executing the logistics and protocols for conducting events with international distributors
• Learning the French terms for your house wine aromas and flavours in preparation for events in Quebec
• Reading up on a Canadian ice hockey team in preparation for an event at their home stadium, once the wines had been added to the cellar in the corporate dining room
The list is endless! I had no idea of the many and varied areas of interest that I would cover as the Wine Ambassador for Yalumba—or the expert travel agent it was in my best interest to become!
KM: What challenges are inherent in so publicly representing a brand / region/ country?
JF: I would say the hardest part of being an Ambassador is ensuring that you provide a 100% strike rate with respect to any presentation that you make, anywhere in the world, on your client’s behalf—be it a winery or region. You are responsible for telling their story and history, and you have an obligation to get it right every time. You are not representing yourself, you’re representing 170 years of endeavour on a lot of people’s behalf, and woe betide you for being the weak link in that 170 year chain!
I think that the current level of technology in our world is the first difficulty that you have to face as a brand ambassador. Anyone with a mobile phone is now an investigative reporter, a paparazzi, or a research analyst! So as a brand ambassador in the public arena, in the first instance, you need to be aware that everything that you say and do can be recorded and / or scrutinized. So, I find that the main challenge lies in being well researched on anything that you present, maintaining a public persona that is above any scrutiny whatsoever by your employer, and being able to maintain the travelling schedules and their component events, that are designed to build your brand.
“What I remember being struck with after that [fortified Muscat] tasting was three things: if you get it right, wine can nearly last forever; the sum can truly be greater than the individual components; and the way that you’re presented with a story can make that story live on in your mind’s eye.”
KM: What international wine regions are most exciting to you and why?
JF: I have two international regions that I find completely fascinating, for different reasons. First, the Cinque Terre on Italy’s Ligurian coastline. I was on a family trip to Italy in 1977 to see my father’s home province for the very first time, and was taken to all five towns via the ferry. I fell in love with the vineyards that appear to be “stapled” to the side of the cliffs above each village. Tasting the regional vermentino with locally caught fish—the wine made on the terraces above the coves where the finny things were swimming hours before—was my introduction to the whole concept of how “regional food and wine cuisine” works! Not to mention the beginning of a lifelong love affair with limoncello after my first tasting in Monterosso (Lemon Town)—another gem from the Cinque Terre. So the Cinque Terre is my sentimental favorite, and I’m thrilled to bits to see that the region continues to be discovered by folks in search of great wine and food experiences across the world.
The second world wine region that I find exciting is the new and emerging sparkling wine producing regions of England! I’ve travelled extensively through the English countryside, and up until recently I tended to find the vineyards more of an amusement than a seriously established premium wine producing industry. But what I saw in the bottle when I was in England last November shifted my perspective. There are a whole raft of sparkling wines being produced from the classic French Champagne method and they’re pretty impressive! Keep your eye on the English. I think their premium bubbles are on the rise.
KM: What wines did you taste at the beginning of your career that you feel deeply influenced your perception of wine?
JF: As a youngster who had just started a winemaking course at Roseworthy College, I went to Rutherglen on our first class tour to a wine producing region, and our first stop was at Baileys of Glenrowan. They made outstanding fortified wines, in particular, brown Muscat. Harry James Tinson, the winemaker at Baileys, was a legend of his time and style and I remember being mesmerized by both his wines and his laconic presentation style. The fortified Muscat’s were such elegant, seductive, silken, sweet things that lasted forever. Some of those blend components were over 90 years old. What I remember being struck with after that tasting was three things: if you get it right, wine can nearly last forever; the sum can truly be greater than the individual components; and the way that you’re presented with a story can make that story live on in your mind’s eye.
I bought their top of the line Muscat (HJT Muscat) that day and have loved the style ever since. I have seen wine as a “story in every bottle” and have tried to put pictures on people’s palates when I talk about wine, rather than taking the technical approach. That early tasting left lasting impressions with me of what the Australian wine world was about: great characters, wine as a time capsule of a certain era and place, and that all of us in the Australian wine business are part of something much bigger that forms part of our country’s agricultural and social heritage.
KM: What was the last wine book or article that you read and was it good?
JF: Look to the Classics When Promoting Australian Wine Internationally is an article written by Nick Ryan in 2017. I go back to it regularly to convince myself to keep telling the story of our history and our characters regardless of what the “influencers” might be asking for. Nick has a lovely way with wine words, and he’s just as three dimensional on the page as he is in the flesh!
As for books, the last one I read wasn’t a wine book, it was a whisky book I bought on the ferry from the Scottish mainland to the Isle of Islay last November. It was my third trip to that magic little lump of peat and rock that makes such great spirits. It’s titled Peat Smoke and Spirit – A Portrait of Islay and Its Whiskies. Written by the truly gifted wine wordsmith Andrew Jefford, it’s essential ferry trip and late-night reading to enhance any adventuring around Islay. Andrew is one of those writers who can put pictures on your palate with words. It’s gold!
KM: Who is the person you especially love to drink wine with?
JF: Not the one person—the people. My classmates from the Oenology and Wine Marketing program at Roseworthy Agricultural College, in the middle of South Australia’s grain growing countryside, not that far at all from the Barossa Valley. It’s a rare thing for any of us to get together, but when we do, it’s bottles of very special things that seem to be opened, and a lot of tremendous “remember when” reminiscing. You just don’t realize at the time that you’re forging lifelong friendships that will be running in a global industry that shares a common aromatic, flavourful and textural language. So the folks I most like drinking wine and telling lies with? My winemates for life from back in the winemaking school day!
KM: Tell us something about you that would surprise most people to learn?
JF: I die a thousand deaths every single time before I speak in public! But, it seems that folks around the world like the stories, and it’s allowed me the absolute luxury of seeing much of the world as I worked. So I buckle down, try and be as best prepared as possible and as soon as I see a smile or a nod of agreement at an event, I’m away.
KM: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
JF: As a single person on one income, being able to find, buy and then pay off [my own piece of property]….a magic eight acre block and house on the side of a hill above the Barossa Valley.