Meet Brands Laira Lead Winemaker Brooke Blair
Brooke Blair, international winemaker, oenologist, and Limestone Coast local brings her enviable experience, vision, and winemaking philosophy to the Brands Laira winery as Lead Winemaker. We sit down with Brooke to discuss her international experience, unique winemaking approach, and her vision for Brands Laira.
How did you first get into winemaking?
I grew up just forty minutes away from the Coonawarra so I was surrounded by winemaking and viticulture from a very young age. When I started university I was studying Commerce at the University of Adelaide. During the semester breaks I would go home and work at Jack Estate and Hollick Wines in the Coonawarra. Being in that environment was so appealing to me, I loved every minute of it, so I decided to make the switch and start studying Oenology instead – the science of winemaking. This was a really defining moment in my life and completely changed the course of my career.
How did your time abroad influence your winemaking approach?
I worked in total three vintages at Hollick Wines as an assistant winemaker during and following my graduation which gave me an appreciation of the unique Terra Rossa of the Coonawarra and the incredible gifts of this land. But I have always very adventurous and wanted to spread my wings and explore. I moved to Spain shortly after my final vintage at Hollick Wines to work in a variety of premium vineyards. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience and has shaped my approach to winemaking forevermore. I learnt firsthand the importance of the fruit itself – how to cultivate and harvest for premium wine production. I took this knowledge with me to Chile in the 2008 vintage where I worked for nine different wineries. This was a formative year for me – I was exposed to so many different winemakers, ideas, and practices. Through this exposure I started to see that the art of winemaking if the ability to harness and encapsulate the winemaker’s personality while also letting the fruit express itself. It really is an art and you can taste the wine’s that have struck that balance well.
Tell us about your return to Australia
After spending over a decade working in Spain, Chile, and Canada, I was ready to come back to Australia with the knowledge and techniques I had learnt abroad. Once home, I began work in the Riverland and Currency Creek wine regions settling in for a number of years at the Shaw Family Vintners. During my time there, I led the team through the 2022 wine show season, which saw every wine produced receive a gold medal – even our Merlot, which is a notoriously hard varietal in Australia.
How did you find your way to Brands Laira Coonawarra?
The Shaw Family Vintners were acquired by the Casella Family Brands team in 2017 which connected me to Brands Laira team. When the Lead Winemaker opportunity came up at the winery, I couldn’t resist the chance to return to the Coonawarra and work alongside an incredible team of winemakers. Not only do I admire the Brands Laira philosophy of championing fruit, and placing importance tradition, family, and friendship, but the Brands family are friends of my parents. My dad even went to their wedding! So it really does feel like a return to family, with so much potential to evolve and grow the brand. I am looking forward to adding new wines to the portfolio, embracing the past for inspiration to craft a contemporary future.