Catherine Kidman was mid-way through an undergraduate degree in Viticultural Science when a passing comment from a well-respected colleague and mentor planted a seed of possibility in her mind, and set her on a new career direction.
‘I was on a summer cadetship at the Department of Primary Industries in Irymple, Victoria, immersed in the world of viticultural research and science. I was fortunate enough to apprentice with Dr Mark Krstic (ASVO Viticulturist of the Year 2020) and was exposed to some really exciting research on yield forecasting, tannins and irrigation.
2020 Australian Women in Wine’s Viticulturist of the Year Dr Catherine Kidman
‘Mark saw my keen interest in the research and suggested I should consider doing a PhD. It was a lightbulb moment for me, and I realised this was the area of the wine sector I wanted to be in.’
Years later, with her PhD under her belt – and the announcement that she has been named both the 2020 Australian Women in Wine’s Viticulturist of the Year (an award sponsored by Wine Australia) and the 2020 Gourmet Traveller WINE Viticulturist of the Year – Dr Kidman is able to reflect on the importance of inspiring leadership.
‘Never underestimate the influence you may have on someone. I have been fortunate to have some amazing mentors in my career and I am so grateful for their interest and support over the years. They have inspired me and helped keep the lights burning bright for me.’
Dr Kidman said it was serendipity that she ended up in the wine sector.
As a child growing up on the outskirts of Melbourne, she loved going for long walks exploring the paddocks and reserves around her home at the base of the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges.
‘I loved plants, flowers and biology and so when I saw the viticultural science course during my final year of high school, I thought I’d give it a go!’
Dr Kidman did her undergraduate degree at LaTrobe University in Bundoora and then was awarded a Wine Australia-funded (then the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation) honours scholarship that took her to Merbein to study at CSIRO’s iconic Merbein research station.
‘It was an incredible research station; so many amazing projects and scientists have called Merbein home so I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work there.’
In 2011, Dr Kidman joined the viticultural team at Wynns Coonawarra Estate, overseeing the technical program and implementing R&D projects exploring vine water status, climate mitigation and investigating techniques for early, accurate yield predictions.
Along with her role at Wynn’s, Dr Kidman is also an alumni of Wine Australia’s leadership program Future Leaders and supervises both Masters and PhD students.
Dr Kidman said there has never been a more interesting and exciting time to be a viticulturist and she is motivated by the challenges and opportunities that the season, soil types and varieties present.
‘A key focus for me is developing a better understanding of how our grapevines respond to climate and how we can better adapt our vines here in Coonawarra to cope with a dynamic environment. It’s a really exciting space to be in actually and I have learnt to never underestimate how savvy our grapevines actually are to adapting.
‘That’s the magic of wine – in every bottle you get to experience the unique vintage and how the vineyard and vines have responded.’
Dr Kidman said she hoped the exposure created around her awards would allow her to ‘lift others up on their journey, expose them to possibilities and opportunities that perhaps they hadn’t considered – and show people how great it is to be in the Australian wine community!’