Corks will be popped from some very special releases when Sittella Winery celebrates its 25th anniversary in the Swan Valley this year.
The names of these special-release wines are still “top secret” and won’t be revealed until later in 2018, but according to Sittella winemaker Yuri Berns they will become an important part of Sittella’s portfolio and help set the winery’s direction for the next 25 years.
There’s little doubt that the next 25 years will be stellar if Sittella’s past achievements are anything to go by.
In 2017, this multi-regional winery - named after a small Swan River bird - won more than half the awards at the Singapore Airlines Swan Valley Wine Show.
These included best sparkling white, best white wine or blend, best red wine or blend, best Swan Valley white table wine, best Swan Valley red table wine, best fortified wine and the Singapore Airlines Premium Trophy for best table wine of show – the Sittella Museum Release Silk 2009.
This astonishing success is something that couldn’t have been predicted when Yuri’s parents and Sittella founders, Dr Simon and Maaike Berns, bought their land at Herne Hill in 1993 and spent their weekends planting a vineyard.
The Berns’ passion for wine had begun in the 1980s after extensive tours through the wine regions of France and a fortuitous meeting with legendary Margaret River winemakers, Dr Kevin and Diana Cullen.
“Dad spent one year of his post-university training working for Kevin Cullen at Busselton Hospital,” Yuri said.
“He was invited to lunches and dinners where the Cullens opened bottles of wine from all around the world.
“I think it was something that not many Australians were used to back in the 80s, and that really kick-started his interest.”
The Berns soon realised that their passion for wine could go beyond their original aim of producing wine for family and friends and be expanded into a business.
A winery and tasting studio were built in 1997, followed by a restaurant and cellar door in 1998 (fast forward to March 2018 and that very same cellar door was awarded Best Cellar Door with Best Food by Gourmet Traveller WINE).
Thanks to the beautiful grounds designed by a landscape architect, the romantic rotunda and the modern Australian cuisine, weddings also became a big part of the business.
And in 2016, The Nest was opened – a wine bar that makes the most of vineyard views while offering Sittella’s award-winning wines and small sharing platters created by chef Mike Price.
It’s no surprise then that Yuri Berns often puts in 50 to 60-hour weeks and describes his parents as “probably the two most hard-working people I know – they still work six days a week.”
Yuri has been steeped in the Sittella work ethic and passion for winemaking since he was a child.
He worked for pocket money as a “dish pig” in the restaurant in his early teens before moving on to “bits and pieces” of wine making when he was 16.
After graduating from Curtin University in viticulture and oenology, he took his father’s advice and headed overseas, returning to Sittella in 2012.
“I spent five months doing a vintage in the Napa Valley in California,” he said, “and it massively changed the way I looked at wine making.
“It opened my eyes to the amount of detail you need to know and the broad spectrum of skills you need to be successful.”
He puts Sittella’s outstanding achievements down to the foundations laid by his parents and, on a personal wine-making level, to a string of mentors who include Sittella’s original winemaker, Matt Bowness, sparkling wine expert Tony Jordan and Sittella’s current chief winemaker, Colby Quirk.
But it’s also Sittella’s skillful blend of the traditional and the innovative, and its commitment to its home State, that’s taking the winery to new levels.
Social media marketing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been embraced and the winery maintains a wine club, events calendar and comprehensive website that covers everything from online wine sales to restaurant bookings.
Investment in infrastructure is also paramount.
“We invested in a new press for making finer white wines,” Yuri said, “and a new technique in how we treat our white juice, all in all increasing age ability and our quality.
“With the red wines, we have a new way of extracting flavour and colour from the grapes. We’ve stopped using pumps and instead have a new technique using atmospheric air to inject oxygen directly into red ferments, again with the main principle to increase quality and enhance our style of wines.”
In January of this year Yuri was announced as President of the Swan Valley and Regional Winemakers Association and his approach to this role basically sums up the Sittella philosophy.
“First and foremost you’re an ambassador for the region,” he said, “so you have to represent the region in the right way with ITS vested interests at the forefront, not just your own.
“You also have to leave some sort of legacy during your tenure as President – an influence on the region.
“I was brought up to believe that you leave something in a better state than you found it.
“It’s always been a sense of place for us. We want to showcase what WA does best and a big part of that is what the Swan Valley does best.”
It's a great time to visit Sittella in the Swan Valley.