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Pete Bissell retires from over 40 years of Winemaking

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Doug and Annette Balnaves made the decision to start growing grapes in 1976; this was possible when they purchased the land that the winery currently stands on from Doug’s parents who were fine wool producers in the area. In 1990 the decision was made to make the first wines under the Balnaves label designed by Karin Seja at Ian Kidd Design. Soon after, it was obvious that having started the journey of grape growing and winemaking that having their own winery was going to be an important part of the future of the company. Doug and Annette appointed Pete Bissell in 1995 and upon starting at Balnaves, he had the opportunity of every winemakers dream in planning and supervising the construction of a brand new state of the art winery. Pete reflects on the pressure of having this great responsibility “It was a great moment when we won the Camperdown Cellars Best Cabernet Trophy at the Sydney show in 1998, with the Balnaves 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon, the first vintage made through the new winery, we also won the Winestate Cabernet of the Year at the end of 1998.”

With over 30 years of winemaking experience and 25 of those being the senior winemaker at Balnaves of Coonawarra, the winemaking world will be a different place as Pete ventures into his next chapter in life of retirement. Originally from New Zealand, Pete studied and completed his studies at Roseworthy College, South Australia in the late 80’s. While studying he gained experience working in France, and Australian wineries including Mountadam, Lindemans Hunter River, Leo Buring, and Pipers Brook in Tasmania. Pete was appointed winemaker in 1989 working at Wynns Coonawarra Estate as a flying winemaker where he undertook vintages for Penfolds in Russia in 1993 and South of France in 1994.

“I am very grateful to the Balnaves family for the opportunity to initially design and build the winery back in 1996 but also for the 25 years I have spent here, the majority of my career working in Coonawarra and being given the freedom to do experiments, evolve the styles and go in a unique direction.” Pete Bissell.

The Balnaves family with the expertise of Pete’s winemaking skills have had a dream run of awards since, with the Jimmy Watson trophy for Punters Corner in 1999 (which the vineyard was run and made by Balnaves) Qantas/Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year in 2005, Jeremy Oliver Wine of the Year in 2007, James Halliday’s Winery of the Year in 2008, Langtons Classification of Outstanding for The Tally three times, The New York Wine Experience (top 250 wineries in the world) for the 2010 Tally in 2015 and the ASVO winemaker of the Year in 2018 and being a 5 star James Halliday winery for 18 consecutive years.

Vintage 2020 marked Pete’s 32nd Vintage in Coonawarra and 40th vintage in total. Pete leaves the Balnaves of Coonawarra Assistant Winemaker Jacinta Jenkins to take on her new role of Senior Winemaker within the company on July 1st 2020. Jacinta (aka JJ), completed a vintage with Balnaves during her studies at Adelaide University to complete a Post Graduate Diploma of Viticulture & Oenology in 2016. Upon completing her studies, she worked as Assistant Winemaker in the Clare Valley at Pikes Wines before returning to Balnaves as Assistant Winemaker in 2018. JJ has had the advantage of working under one of the best winemakers in the country to learn invaluable knowledge within the winemaking world. She will be lucky enough to have Pete nearby as a mentor, whilst this exciting new chapter starts at Balnaves of Coonawarra.

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