This mum-slash-microbiologist and chef are two of Australia's best young winemakers

Pacha Mama wines’ Nina Stocker, a mum and former microbiologist, and Callie Jemmeson, a chef by trade, don’t follow a recipe or grow any grapes. Instead they source fruit from around Australia and make each wine based on what they receive. During this year’s vintage, Aleksandra Bliszczyk checked in to see how the harvest was looking.

When foodservice speaks to Callie Jemmeson and Nina Stocker, co-owners and winemakers at Victorian label Pacha Mama, it’s 10 days into vintage, and they admit they haven’t been drinking much wine lately. “Right now all we’re drinking is beer and coffee to get us through,” says Callie.

“It probably feels like this every year, but it right now feels like everything [the fruit] has come in at the same time. The winery’s absolutely full to the brim,” says Stocker.

Pacha Mama (meaning “mother Earth”) was started by Callie’s dad Dave Jemmeson in 2010 as a passion project at the tail end of his winemaking career. But since Callie and Stocker, a former colleague of Dave’s, took over three years ago, production has “gone from five to ten tonnes, to 150 to 200 tonnes,” says Callie.

Now, their drops are poured at restaurants and bars across the country, including Banksii, China Doll and Butter in Sydney, and Punch Lane, Charcoal Lane and Scott Pickett’s Matilda in Melbourne. This year, Callie and Stocker were also included in the Young Gun of Wine top 50 Australian winemakers.

Pacha Mama is based on a leased winery in the Strathbogie Ranges. To circumvent the need for seed money, they borrowed everything: land, equipment and even fruit, which they source from 15 growers around Australia (Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley, Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese from the Alpine and King Valleys, and Gamay from Stocker’s own small vineyard in Tallarook).

 Left to right: Callie Jemmeson, Nina Stocker

“We’ve grown small steps at a time, but we haven’t bought a winery or any equipment, we’ve always leased space so we’ve been able to use our money on quality fruit and quality oak. Each year’s just a balancing act between growth and being able to sustain the business,” says Stocker.

While neither started out as winemakers, Callie says their skills are very complimentary. Her chef training has proved an advantage for balancing flavours, and Stocker’s microbiology background has boosted her understanding of fermentation.

Stocker describes their winemaking process as always evolving and “eclectic”. “I reckon we rock at it,” Callie adds.

Some of their wines are natural, some are technically not, but they try to tinker with them as little as possible depending on the quality of the fruit.

“The grower spends 11 months of the year growing it and we’ve got a couple of weeks where we can smash it with all the tricks of the trade, or we can hopefully not do that and just let it express itself,” says Stocker.

The Shiraz grapes they get from Heathcote, for example, “always come in perfect nick,” says Stocker, who says this is her favourite of Pacha Mama’s wines. “It’s soft and inviting and definitely one of those wines that makes themselves. It’s a very low-stress wine.”

“It’s when the season’s tougher, that’s when we have to step up,” she adds. This can involve anything from removing the stems and skipping whole-bunch maceration if the fruit hasn’t ripened properly, to adding yeast when the natural yeast that gathers on the vines isn’t enough. “The last thing you want is a ferment that doesn’t finish and you’re left with a whole heap of sugar in your wine,” says Callie.

“We don’t have one set philosophy, we just roll with what nature gives us,” says Stocker.

“Every day you learn how much more you don’t know,” adds Callie.

Only 10 per cent of winemakers in Australia are women, but the duo comments that they’ve noticed growing support for women in wine and women-owned businesses like theirs. “I think it’s probably been an advantage with people getting behind and supporting women in the industry, [but] all the trailblazers before us have made it a lot easier,” says Callie.

“It’s the age old thing where there are a lot of female graduates who are really keen, but then it’s tapering off massively into the higher roles,” adds Stocker. “That’s a major challenge for the wine industry and the global economy really, getting women into higher roles.”

Stocker has two young children, and acknowledges that she was fortunate to be given the opportunity to head a wine label. “I certainly would never have imagined doing a job like this while having two kids. I would’ve either had to take a back step, or just not do it anymore.”

The two now see it as their duty to normalise women and mums working in any position in the wine industry.

“A lot of women in our business have kids and it’s really important that we’re providing a place for [them],” says Callie, who also says she wants to see mums getting the same employment opportunities as dads.

And she believes hiring mums is good for business too. “All the mums that I’ve ever seen just get shit done.”

This article was first published in foodservice's May 2019 issue. Read the digital magazine here.