New viticulturist for Howard Park as star winemaker departs

December 2, 2021
By Ioni Doherty

Howard Park Wines has appointed viticulturist Steve Kirby as Group Vineyard Manager as its star winemaker, Janice McDonald, leaves the winery following a decade long tenure.

Mr Kirby joins the winery to support its growth strategy with the winery having acquired two prime chardonnay vineyards and with more plans for growth in the future.

He joins Howard Park following eleven years at the highly regarded Brookland Valley Wines located in the nearby Wilyabrup Brook. Mr Kirby’s arrival comes as Director of Winemaking, Janice McDonald, departs Howard Park Wines after a stellar career there.

Ms McDonald introduced Allingham Chardonnay to the Icon portfolio at Howard Park Wines and its NV Jeté Brut Blanc won Best Australian Sparkling Wine at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships in 2017.

Ms McDonald was named Winemaker of the Year by Gourmet Traveller Wine in 2018. At the time, the writers said, “we, the consumers, are the lucky recipients of her talent, tenacity, and intellect. Every bottle she makes is a delicious celebration of the joy of wine”.

Ms McDonald owns Stella Bella Wines in Western Australia which she founded in 1996 with Stuart Pym – winemaker at Voyager Estate at the time – and which was launched with investor support.

Mr Kirby has worked in some of the country’s finest vineyards, in both regional Victoria and Tasmania, and has helped produce countless award-winning wines over the course of his career for producers like Bay of Fires, Hardys, Houghton and Brookland Valley.

He is drawn to the Margaret River’s unique ability to produce outstanding chardonnays and cabernets thanks to the abnormally long vintages from year to year. And while Mr Kirby believes the region can make some of the finest wines in Australia, the South West is also home to some of the best native landscapes you will find anywhere in the world.

Over the years, he has contributed to wine industry research initiatives through both the Riverland and Western Australian vine improvement committees, with much of his focus on increasing the industry’s understanding of varietal mixes and clone selections in Australian vineyards.

“Vineyard management is combining all the things you can semi-control and being ready when situations arise that you can’t control. Site selection, vine material, work programmes, machinery, and winemakers are all part of your day-to-day thoughts and then weather can come and change all your plans. It’s never a dull moment in the agriculture game. But when it all comes together, and you can deliver fantastic fruit to the winery, it’s a great feeling,” Mr Kirby said.

Howard Park Wines intends to expand its land holdings and Mr Kirby will manage this strategy as well as the newly acquired sites which are prime for making chardonnay.

“As well as great Margaret River cabernet sauvignon, regionally expressive chardonnay has had a special place here at Howard Park. We are consistently inspired by how the variety can express the nuances of the South West region, enhanced by the great work of our brilliant winemaking team,” Howard Park Wines owner and founder, Jeff Burch said.

“Our Allingham Chardonnay and Marchand & Burch Mount Barker Chardonnay are outstanding examples of what the region has to offer. With Steve joining our talented viticultural team and more of the Margaret River to work with, we are looking forward to sharing an exceptional taste of the region through these two terrific sites.”

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