It can be hard to track Tom Ward down, because, as a passionate viticulturist and winemaker, he prefers to be out among his vines than talking about his wines, or himself, at his iconic Swinging Bridge cellar door.
Tom hails from a Canowindra farming family of some 150-year standing, so you could say that soil is in his blood. But it was when he turned his attention to the family vineyard, and, in particular, further afield to the vineyards of the nearby Orange region, that his passion for making premium cool-climate wines took hold.
Over the course of his early career, Tom worked as a viticulturalist in Orange across a number of iconic vineyards and different elevations, working in development and management for one of the industry’s largest viticultural developers. He then went back to university to study winemaking, to finesse his skills from vine to final wine.
The Swinging Bridge viticulture team is constantly walking the vineyards and “sweating the details”, as Tom says. It’s all about attention to detail. There are no grand aspirations to be the biggest winemaker, but rather, to build unique small lots with a focus on fruit quality and vine health.
“We’re constantly in the vineyard, which gives the insight we need to produce wines that typify the region, the season and showcase the finest grape parcels.”
Tom’s winemaking philosophy is equally as uncompromising: to make premium-quality wines that speak directly of their regional provenance, and more particularly, the unique terroir of the vineyard. “In a high-elevation, cool-climate region like Orange, the wines need to have brightness and no forced acidity. For a cool-climate Chardonnay, for example, we need the oak to support; not dominate. Most of our best input goes into creating wines with texture and long life.”
His winemaking focus, however, is not only on producing a collection of the highly finessed, elegant blends sourced from the best fruit around the region, such as those in the Swinging Bridge Winemaker and Selector Series, but to push into previously uncharted territory with his Hashtag Series.
“I’m prepared to experiment and try different things. It’s about having fun and showing off our wild side. It’s about pushing the boundaries to evolve styles and create new wines that people enjoy.”
For six years, Tom was president of the NSW Wine Industry Association, which brought many opportunities to engage Swinging Bridge with the broader industry. For him, it was also important to give something back, and specifically to do so while he was still young, despite it probably being the hardest time to do it. Tom still sits on the local executive for the Orange Regional Vignerons Association.
“I’ve always been part of the sharing of this industry – it’s an important part of the learning experience and collaboration is what evolves the Australian wine community.”
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