Down to earth winemakers aren’t necessarily rare, but it’s always delightful to encounter one. This is the case for the interview we recently had with Ashleigh Seymour, winemaker for Paxton Wines in the McLaren Vale.
The experience Ashleigh gained from working in Europe for over a decade pairs refreshingly with her no-nonsense winemaking philosophy; above all, make sure it’s a decent drop. A simple goal that she delivers with sustainability, innovation and teamwork front of mind.
With Paxton Wines being a pioneer of biodynamic and organic practices in the McLaren Vale, we can’t wait to see (drink) what Ashleigh gets up to! But for now, let’s dive in and get to know Ashleigh.
The Tasting Room
What does the perfect drop of wine look like to you?
Anything where you can’t believe you have finished your glass, or the bottle has disappeared completely.
What is your knock-off beverage of choice during Vintage?
An organic beer, but these are hard to come by! So generally a beer from one of our wonderful local breweries here in McLaren Vale.
What’s a style of wine or grape that you feel is massively underrated?
I’m super excited to be working with Grenache, a versatile variety that really lends itself to a contemporary winemaking interpretation.
What is one thing you hope never changes when it comes to the wine industry?
The eclectic group of wonderful people that make it what it is.
Where is the most interesting place your career in wine has taken you?
A private tasting at Chateau Grillet, its own AOC within the region of Condrieu, famous for Viognier (Northern Rhone Valley)
The Full Case
Where did your journey into the wine industry begin, and what led you to becoming a winemaker with Paxton?
My parents had a lot of dinner parties growing up and wine was a big part of that, my father encouraged us to join in tasting wine as we grew older. We also spent quite a few family holidays wine tasting, I distinctly remember visiting Michelton and Tabilk in Central Victoria, and Howard Park and Madfish in Margaret River amongst many others. These experiences cemented a curiosity in me, and after travelling Europe for a year after high school, I decided to move to Adelaide to discover and study winemaking.
From there I have worked at Peter Lehmann, The Lane Vineyard, Andre Perret (Condrieu/St. Joseph), Yarra Burn, Bay of Fires, as well as an 11 year stint at Avignonesi in Montepulciano, Italy before landing at Paxton in January 2021.
How would you describe your philosophy around winemaking, and what have been some of the major influences behind it?
First and foremost, wines need to be delicious, otherwise what are we here for?
Wine for some of us is a necessity, but I suppose the reality is that the world could go on without it. I don’t believe that we should be destroying the planet to produce such a luxury item when we have the ability to farm and make wine sustainably.
In saying that, wine must be above all things a decent drop. Otherwise, regardless of whether it was farmed sustainably or not, it is all a waste. A waste of wine, a waste of resources, a waste of everything that went into making, marketing and selling the product and that is also not sustainable.
What impact would you like to have through your role at Paxton’s, and your career as a winemaker?
Paxton has solidified itself as a trailblazer and leader in the organic and biodynamic space and is uniquely positioned to benefit from the increase in market desire and improved perception of these products. What I’d like to achieve is more mainstream recognition for the work that we are doing, both in terms of the quality of the wines and the sustainability side of winemaking as well. I’d also like to get a little more experimental with wine style and emerging grape varieties…watch this space.
Winemaking is a team sport. I’d like to see more collaboration and understanding between viticulture and winemaking teams, something I learnt in Europe that is fundamentally important to making incredible wines. On a personal note, after the upheaval of our lives over the last 18 months I’m actually enjoying being present in the now, totally focusing my energy on what’s important today and not overly planning my future.
What do you think are the key things the Australian, and even global, wine industry should be focusing on in the next few years?
Definitely using new technology in both viticulture and winemaking, the industrial 4.0 revolution is coming and the wine industry needs to not let itself be left behind. The more low intervention we are, the more we need to have serious observation and information to help us, rather than just fixing problems after they arise. These technologies allow us to be proactive and have a deeper understanding of what we’re doing.
From a winemaker’s point of view, what are the things you wish that consumers understood more about wine and how do you think we can help to educate them?
I find many consumers have a hard time articulating what they like and dislike about a particular wine. I don’t think people need to be told what they are specifically tasting so much as be a little more guided through some more broad tasting terminology, when people don’t taste or smell what they are being told they should be tasting I feel that they switch off and close down, thinking that they’re doing it wrong or aren’t good enough. If we can be more open and encouraging in this space I think consumers will be able to provide much more informative feedback and not feel so intimidated.
At the end of the day, what is it that makes your work as a winemaker worthwhile?
We have to be honest with ourselves: we’re not saving lives or sending rockets into space but we are possibly saving people’s sanity from time to time. We are creating something that helps us form social and cultural connections with other people, wine teaches us about different parts of the world and can definitely take us on a journey, even if it isn’t to space. I really hope the wines we make at Paxton can take people on such a journey of discovery, connection and wonder especially in the challenging times of lockdowns and border closures that is our current reality.