Heidi Schröck - Owner & Winemaker of Heidi Schröck Wines
*This interview was conducted in person and has been transcribed & edited for clarity.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell us briefly about your background and your current position today.
I finished school at age 18 in 1979 and from there I began working on Germany wine estates to determine if I liked the work. 1979 was the first vintage I helped to produce. My first vintage I produced on our family estate was in 1983.
The property has been owned by my family since 1780. We were fortunate that when phylloxera struck about 100 years later that our estate had mixed crops and we were able to still produce and sell other crops. While my great grandfather considered moving the family to Nairobi (then a German colony) my great-grandmother fought to stay. So the family remained and were able to come out the other side and expand from 4 hectares to 10 hectares of vineyards in Rust of Burgenland, Austria.
Admittedly I enjoy all aspects of the business. It's not just the winemaking point or viticulture point. During the year it's viticulture. During harvest, it's winemaking and after harvest, it's also the winemaking and bottling. Now we are back to also traveling and marketing.
Did you have a particular "aha!" moment that propelled you into wine?
In 1980 I became 'Wine Queen' of Burgenland and then a year later of Austria. From there I traveled and attended many conferences and wine festivals in South Africa. At the time you couldn't even purchase a travel book on South Africa, they were still under apartheid. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't even know who was picking me up. It was really adventurous. And when I came there, it was so we were we were a group of international students. For the first time in my life, I had the impression of being part of a community, of a network. I have really many contacts all over the world. And it's, I want to say that this is a very important feeling for me. It's enough for some of my colleagues to have this land and work on this land and I want to be part of a bigger family.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
My work as a winemaker to bring back and change the perception & reputation of sweet wines to the larger community.
What do you do to create wellness balance in your life? Any particular activity, practices, etc. that are meaningful to you?
Admittedly I a not very good at balancing. However I love traveling! Seeing new people, cities, new experiences. I need a purpose though. I am doing some stand-up paddling and I am a part of an online class that focuses on body conscious movements. Which is where you try and focus to move with purpose.
What changes do you hope to see in the wine industry in the next five years?
It is very rewarding to see where women are at now in the wine profession. Back when I was getting started you might not see women at tastings such as these or being published. The newer generation of mine are confident and capable! I would like to see more winemakers not using all the technology but embracing a more literal and old school approach. As one may taste and discuss and grow with their wines.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equal pay. In Austria we employ Hungarian workers to help in the vineyards. I have been paying my workers, men & women, equally. I had an older woman colleague come by my house and demand to know why I was paying my workers equal. And I countered why not as they were doing the same work. I think us all being seated at the same table because we work together and we should eat together as well.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the same sector of the wine industry as you?
Name some people who inspire you in the wine industry and please explain why!
May de Lencquesaing, the Grande Dame of Glenelly Wine Estate in Stellenbosch who once owned a historic Château in France and sold it to establish herself in South Africa.