How I Got Here: Chrissie Smith, winemaker and 2024 Young Gun of Wine | HerCanberra

Everything you need to know about canberra. ONE DESTINATION.

How I Got Here: Chrissie Smith, winemaker and 2024 Young Gun of Wine

Posted on

Admit it, we’ve all been there—stalking social media and LinkedIn profiles, trying desperately to figure out how the hell someone got their dream job.

It seems impossible and yet there they are, living out your career fantasy (minus the itchy business suit). It might seem hard to believe, but once upon a time, they were also fantasising about their future career, and with some hard work, they made it.

Welcome to How I Got Here, HerCanberra’s series that reveals everything you wanted to know about the secrets of career success. This week, we meet winemaker and owner of Intrepdius Wines Chrissie Smith, who was recently named as one of the Young Guns of Wine for 2024 – a prestigious accolade.

Existential crisis time: Who are you and what do you do?

I’m the owner, winemaker and vineyard manager for Intrepidus Wines. Previously working full-time for some other fantastic vineyards and wineries around the Canberra district, I then launched my own wine label Intrepidus Wines in 2021.

Originally only to be a small side ‘hobby’ the label and wines have continued to grow, now receiving some national recognition. I now contract to other vineyards and wineries, do some wine judging and juggle single mum life to three gorgeous girls who are their mum’s biggest fans.

Let’s go back to when you were a kid, have you always dreamed of working in this industry?

Not at all – I only started in wine in 2018. I actually had quite a mixed childhood – I moved out of home quite young, was lucky to have a couple of lovely families take me in over a year and then rented my own place whilst completing high school. I wanted to give back and so had planned to be a social worker.

A gap year in England saw me stay for three and half years and work in Acquired Brain Injury rehabilitation. Returning to Australia I was set on opening an ABI rehab one day for younger people, who at that time were often ending up in nursing homes. I completed my Diploma in Community Service Coordination and was working at a children’s respite in Canberra when I rolled my car coming off a night shift whilst pregnant with my eldest daughter. Luckily we both walked away uninjured.

After that scare and wanting a break from shift work, the commute and wanting to focus on my young family I went into working with my ex-husband in a refrigeration and air conditioning company we had at the time (it did service many wineries). In 2018 we went through a separation and having three kids under 8 and feeling rather lost at that time, I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go.

I worked part-time doing some events for a local Wine Bar Yazzbar and it was there I met a local wine maker Bill Crowe who said I should come and help with Vintage. I instantly found my happy place and from there enrolled at Charles Sturt University to do Wine Science and started working at some Canberra wineries in the vineyard and then winery.

Tell us about when you were first starting out, what set a fire in your belly to get here and how did you do it?

I think looking back, in a bit of a lost point in life, I had found something again that set that fire in my belly.  It was in a bit of a self-realisation that I can’t always be everything for everyone else, that it was ok to prioritise something for me. I was extremely lucky to work with some great mentors from the start in Bryan Martin from Ravensworth, Tim Kirk at Clonakilla and Bill Crowe at Crowe Wines.

In seeing their passion and energy for what they do and willingness to teach me, it always kept the passion brimming. My youngest Winnie was less than a year old that first vintage I did with Bill. Everyone used to laugh as she came along in the pram to the vineyard and watch away as we would pick and process. If it weren’t for the support of some fabulous winemakers who made it possible for me to balance starting a career in the wine industry and young kids on my own, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

It was just this last spring that my ten-year-old Poppy piped up from the back seat “Mum did you get that powdery (a vine disease) sorted?”. My girls inspire me every day in their passion and patience for how busy their mum is, as well as being able to show them that you can achieve anything if you really want it.

Recall a time when you wanted to chuck it all in; what did you tell yourself when it got too hard?

Winemaking is not always, in fact rarely the glamorous lifestyle it might appear. Especially during vintage when it is seven days a week – long days – throw in single motherhood, working full time and starting your own wine label on the side there has been many what am I doing with my life moments.

One vintage I had been picking all day which then means to the winery for an evening of processing. Halfway through, the press broke and all the fruit got stuck in the press. After I had spent hours on the phone to tech support to try and fix it and wasn’t able to, I had to dig all the fruit out by hand, reload it into another press, that first needed cleaning (luckily there was another one) and start the whole thing again. This was at 12 am. At 4 am that press stopped working three-quarters of the way through, I had only got ¾ of the juice I needed to from that fruit.

I was literally sat there teary, wet, freezing and sticky from having to dig all the fruit out of the first broken press thinking why the hell do I do this? I took myself home, on the way reminding myself that it is just juice, tomorrow is a new day and that everything is always easier to deal with after some sleep.

That wine has since been named as one of the top Chenin Blancs in Australia by Young Gun of Wine Deep Dive into Chenin 2023. Just a small batch haha.

What was your biggest break?

Being named in the Top 50 ‘Young Gun of Wine’ in Australia two years in a row 2023 and 2024, being only six years into wine making has been a surprise and quite an honour.

I also received a scholarship to attend the Advanced Wine Assessment course at the Australian Wine Research Institute in 2021 which was such an amazing lesson in developing my palate. I have since tasted my way up through associate judging to getting my first offer for a judge position this year which is a pretty fantastic feeling.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

To not doubt myself. To make the wine for yourself, not for the crowd. Making wine is the easier side to wine. You have to be able to sell it and to sell it you need to be able to back the wine in the glass. Winemakers are their own biggest critics of the wines they make.

I very nearly poured a whole tank down the drain after a mechanical fault and the lid had been open for several days. Not many people can see the fault, but it’s certainly my slowest-selling wine as I see I don’t back it. Another moment of taking myself home for a sleep to recoup the next day.

What is it about your industry that you love and what makes you want to pull your hair out?

The wine industry in general is a very close-knit, collaborative industry. Everyone is proud of each other’s accomplishments, happy to share their knowledge, experience, and time. You do gain a whole other family.

Flipside: You don’t go into wine for the money, it has to be a passion. It’s long hours and at times can be isolating from friends and family when you are literally spending every waking moment at a winery for a couple of months during vintage, or you have to get that spray on, on Boxing Day.

Tell us how you ‘stay in the know’, what media do you consume?

I’ve nearly finished my degree in Viticulture, so between study and wine and kids I don’t get a huge amount of time for media, do research papers count? The radio is constantly on in the background in the tractor or in the winery.

I’m ashamed to say Instagram is probably as online as I get, although I have just been convinced I need to join LinkedIn, but need someone to show me how to use it.

I’m more a ‘call a friend or industry colleague while on the tractor to get filled in on the latest industry goss’. I do try and attend as many industry events and webinars to network and gain knowledge that way.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years’ time, I really hope to own my own winery and vineyard and have a little cellar door that I can welcome and share my passion with others. Of course, it would also be nice to have a romantic companion to share that glass of wine with at the end of the day as well.

Why should people follow in your footsteps?

I encourage anyone who finds their passion to jump in with both feet. It is so rewarding to find that part of yourself that is truly happy in what you do. I would certainly like to see more females within the industry, especially in the viticulture side.

Out in the vineyard, we are certainly outnumbered. There is actually a shortage of skilled labour in viticulture and there is often funding available through places like Tocal College for upskilling many agricultural skills including viticulture

What advice would you give your past self?

Believe in yourself more, don’t wait for the right time as there often isn’t a ‘right’ time and you spend more energy upset or frustrated in places or positions you are not happy with than in making the change.

Related Posts

Comments are closed.

© 2024 HerCanberra. All rights reserved. Legal.
Site by Coordinate.