You know Cate Looney is having a good day if she’s cutting laps on her ride-on lawnmower.
“I love it,” she says. “I won’t let my husband on it.”
Cate loves the satisfaction of a job well done. There’s certainly plenty to mow. The couple recently purchased a 30-acre hobby farm near Wangaratta in regional Victoria.
“My happy place is sitting out the back here with a glass of wine in my hand,” she says. “Relaxing with friends or family.”
The home looks out over the Mount Buffalo Range. “We’re close to the Ovens River so there’s a lot of big river red gums. The landscape is flat but it’s a beautiful outlook.”
When she’s not trimming grass, Cate is chief winemaker at Brown Family Wine Group.
She joined the company in 2005, after turning her back on an early career in food technology.
Cate grew up on a sheep and cropping farm in New South Wales. “We were just outside of Forbes, a little place called Bogan Gate. The Looneys from Bogan Gate – that always got a good laugh.”
A gap year when she was 21 was life changing. “I was a governess on a big sheep and goat station near White Cliffs in outback New South Wales. I spent 12 months looking after three kids who were doing school of the air,” she says. “It was amazing because it’s so remote.”
Isolated was an understatement. There was plenty of time and space to think, especially over a glass of wine with the property owners. “I thought, ‘I really need to get my act together and work out what I’m going to do with my life’. That was the moment I decided to go back to uni and study wine science at Charles Sturt.”
Cate loved the mix of science and creativity. She also enjoyed producing something people appreciate. “To be able to share something you’ve made is great. To hear people say, ‘Oh my god you made this?’ … I just absolutely loved it.”
As stepping stones go, landing the traineeship at the Charles Sturt Uni Commercial Winery was a great start. “It was the old winery so we did everything there and it was a fantastic learning ground. It was the first time I’d ever turned on a wine pump. We did everything from sparkling right through to fortifieds.”
Next, she worked vintage in America. Despite intending to stay longer, a full-time job offer at Geelong’s Scotchmans Hill was enough to lure her back. “I spent five years down there with chief winemaker Robin Brockett and the crew, making lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Robin was a fantastic mentor for me.”
When the job came up at Brown Family Wine Group, the timing was right.
“I’d only ever worked in smaller wineries and I thought it was a good opportunity to work somewhere a bit bigger. I knew they had a really broad range of wines and styles… 15 years later, here I am.”
Read Katie Spain’s feature story about Cate Looney in the November-December issue of WBM – Australia’s Wine Business Magazine.