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From chemical engineer to wine maker

22 March 2018
An engineering career develops into new fruits of labour
Winemaking is not the usual career path for a chemical engineer, but University of Sydney Alumnus Derek Fitzgerald has proven that mixing problem-solving and project management skills with creativity and passion yields success.

Derek Fitzgerald didn’t envisage becoming a wine maker when doing his Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical and Biomolecular).

“I’d worked in various engineering roles both here in Australia and in the UK”, says Derek. “But having developed a love of good wine from my wife Kirsten, I thought that winemaking could be a fun and interesting profession that still used the skills I’d learnt in my engineering degree.

“I love all parts of winemaking – balancing the science with the more artistic aspect of blending to create something delicious that people want to drink with their dinner.”

Working in small-to-medium wineries around Australia has been a great experience for Derek as it’s enabled him to be involved in all parts of the business from capital projects and packaging to bottling, staff management and budgeting. After 20 years making wine, including an award-winning stint at Thorn Clarke, Derek and Kirsten felt the time was ripe to start their own winery – Paisley Wines – in the Barossa Valley in 2016.

Beyond the funding and other challenges for any new business, Paisley Wines is trying to find its niche in the highly-competitive Australian market. In 2017, there was estimated to be 2468 wineries and 6251 grape-growers across 65 winegrowing regions in Australia, contributing over $40 billion annually to the Australian economy[1].

“For us the main challenge is getting noticed. There are numerous brands out there and new ones added every day, not only from Australia but from overseas, and the quality is generally very good to excellent”, says Derek. “For us it needs to be a step at a time, selling the wine to use the cash injection to make larger quantities – to become self-sustaining while producing excellent wines.”

“The many skills and experiences I’ve gained from my chemical engineering degree and in working as an engineer have assisted my career path in winemaking. Obviously, it’s the pure scientific principles from chemistry and engineering but also the problem-solving engineers do every day, and the management of teams or projects. Most importantly learning to being thorough and uncompromising has helped me every day.”

 

[1] Source: https://www.wineaustralia.com/market-insights/australian-wine-sector-at-a-glance, accessed 22/03/18