When people think of winemakers from other parts of the world who’ve influenced Sonoma County winemaking, they likely think of France or Italy. They don’t think of Australia or New Zealand. But they should.
In 1989, Daryl Groom, an Australian winemaker in his 20s, was one of the first Antipodeans to move to California to make wine. At the time, Groom was working for Penfolds, one of Australia’s largest and most respected wineries.
“Lisa and I never sought to move from our home in Tanunda in the Barossa Valley,” Groom said. “We had just built our house. I had the best winemaking job in Australia as senior red winemaker at Penfolds, and we loved our community and friends.”
At the time, Henry Trione, then the owner of Geyser Peak Winery, was in a partnership with Penfolds and the Australian wine company wanted their top winemaker to learn about making wine in California.
“I was asked by Penfolds if I wanted to go to California and make wine,” Groom said. “I was 29, my wife and I had a new baby, but Penfolds sweetened the pot by offering me my job back after two years in California. It promised to be a great adventure.”
A few years later, Penfolds sent Mick Schroeter, one of three winemakers who reported to Groom at Penfolds, to California on an overseas wine educational trip.
“I needed someone at Geyser Peak who knew Aussie winemaking techniques and who I didn’t have to train, so while he was here, I offered Mick the job,” Groom said. Today, Mick Schroeter is director of winemaking at Sonoma Cutrer.
For the Groomses, anticipating a new adventure in another country was mixed with concern. “Our only thought, now naïve, was all of the USA was full of crime and violence. On Aussie news at that time you only heard the ugliness of America, and in particular, New York at its worse. We were a little scared,” Groom said.
Groom said he and Lisa found life in Sonoma County easier than they expected. “People were overly friendly and so helpful in the community and at work,” said Groom.
Nick Goldschmidt’s move to California took a different path from the Grooms. The same year that Groom departed Australia for California, New Zealand winemaker Goldschmidt, restless with wanderlust and knowing his wife’s desire to live in California, applied to a number of North Coast wineries and landed a job at one of Sonoma’s iconic wineries.
“My wife, Yolyn, and I didn’t have kids back then, and we had been traveling for a year already, so we were capable of living elsewhere,” Goldschmidt said. “I applied by letter to three wineries in California and ended up working the harvest at Carneros Creek in 1989.”
A year later, Goldschmidt signed on at Simi to work with Zelma Long and Paul Hobbes. He stayed at Simi until 2003.
Before the move, Goldschmidt was on the winemaking team at such noted New Zealand wineries as Kumeu River, Coopers Creek and Babich. The Goldschmidts manage Goldschmidt Vineyards and Forefather wines from their home office in Healdsburg.
Even though there was some trepidation, the Goldschmidts found Sonoma County not much different from New Zealand.
Winemakers From Down Under
There are fewer than 20 Australians and New Zealanders working now in the California wine industry, the majority as winemakers. Some others migrated to Washington, Oregon and British Columbia from their home country.
Most of those interviewed for this article agree that Grant Taylor, a Kiwi winemaker, was the first to come to California in 1979, to work at Pine Ridge in the Napa Valley. Taylor returned to New Zealand in 1993 and is the owner of Valli Vineyards in Central Otago.
The following is a partial list of Aussies and Kiwis, in chronological order by the date they first came to California and their present position in the California wine industry.
Rex Smith (Australia): 1984, winemaker William Knuttel Winery, Sonoma.
Daryl Groom (Australia): 1989, co-owner Colby Red Wine and Groom Wines
Nick Goldschmidt (New Zealand): 1989, Goldschmidt Vineyards and Nick Goldschmidt Consulting
Chris Loxton (Australia): 1991, owner/winemaker Loxton Cellars
Michael Scholz (Australia): 1991, vice president, Winemaking & Vineyards, St. Supery Estate Vineyards & Winery
Mick Schroeter (Australia): 1992, director of winemaking, Sonoma Cutrer
Toni Stockhausen (Australia): 1999, Winemaker, Bennett Valley Cellars
Wayne Donaldson (Australia): 2000, vp production, Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits
Sean McKenzie (New Zealand): 2001, senior winemaker, The Dreaming Tree
Susan Doyle (Australia), 2003: chief winemaker, Spring Mountain Vineyard
Matt Parish (New Zealand), 2003: managing dir., Matt Parish Wines, sold through Nakedwines and International consulting winemaker.
Matt Johnson (Australia), 2008: chief winemaker Americas, Treasury Wine Estates
Andrew Bilenkiji (Australia), 2012: winemaker, Ledson Winery
Sam Glaetzer (Australia), 2016: senior vice president wine & spirits production, Constellation Brands
- Gerald D. Boyd