Chrissie Smith makes ‘Young Gun of Wine’ top 50 with her Intrepidus Wines

Intrepidus Wines, produced from a little vineyard in Yass has stepped into the national spotlight with winemaker Chrissie Smith selected in the top 50 new winemakers from around Australia in the Young Gun of Wine awards.

‘Crazily I made the list with two wines that I submitted from a vineyard in Yass that I manage and make the wine from,” declared Chrissie.

The Intrepidus moniker is well-fitted to the fearless approach Chrissie has taken in her debut into the wine-making scene and she has reaped the rewards of hard work and risk-taking.

“I am the only one in the Canberra region on the list and one of six from NSW, the rest are all interstate. I think that’s pretty cool for a little vineyard from Yass.”

The Young Gun of Wine Awards website sets out Chrissie’s journey and how to purchase and vote for her wines.

Chrissie Smith’s Intrepidus Wines was only born in the 2021 vintage, working from a one-acre vineyard in the Canberra District that she farms herself. And that’s critical for her philosophy, with an abrupt career shift leading her to wine and quickly to a vineyard-first approach, recognising that the work done amongst the vines was just as important, if not more so, than the work in the winery. The label is currently built around sangiovese and shiraz, with tiny amounts of external grapes to allow for experimentation. Blends of the two home grapes make up a rosé and light red, while shiraz is also co-fermented with a splash of viognier, marsanne and roussanne.

Smith fell for wine later than some, but she fell hard. So much so that after an inspirational chat in a bar, her interest was sufficiently piqued to take on some work amongst the vines. That was in 2017, and while it doesn’t sound that extraordinary, maybe a little impulsive, the fact that she turned away from a more reliable career, had three young daughters and was in the middle of a divorce, make it that much more extraordinary. She has not looked back.

“I was sat in a local wine bar that I was doing some event organisation for and got chatting to a winemaker,” says Smith. “Bill invited me out to the winery to get my hands dirty for vintage. First day there I was hooked. I had found my happy place. Literally, that next week, I quit my desk job, took a job as a vineyard hand and applied for wine science at Uni.”

With three daughters under 11 and a single parent, she has managed to piece together an impressive practical resumé while now also studying viticulture, which is a course she is halfway through. “I found my passion in the vineyard,” says Smith. “Originally enrolling in wine science, it soon became clear to me that although I loved making wine, the real difference I could make to the quality starts in the vineyard.”

Smith’s first roles were as a vineyard hand before she was offered a position in the winery and vineyard at Clonakilla. She stayed for three years, “learning both from Tim for Clonakilla’s wines and a more natural approach with Bryan Martin for his Ravensworth wines.”

With the disastrous fires in 2019/20, the Canberra vintage was all but abandoned, so Smith took up an opportunity to work the vintage with Rob Diletti at Castle Rock Estate in Western Australia’s Porongurup region. “I got to learn about a different region, working with some great riesling and pinot,” she says. “Wanting to learn more about other varieties, I worked under Alex McKay at Collector wines for the 2021 Vintage, and I am now the vineyard manager at Jeir Creek Wines.”

Smith leased her own vineyard in 2021, officially releasing her Intrepidus label in 2022. Along the way she completed the AWAC (Advanced Wine Assessment Course) at the AWRI, and associate judges and helps to run the Canberra Wine Show each year. She is also on the board for the Canberra Viticultural Society. The first wines released were the 2021 Shiraz VRM and 2022 Sangiovese Shiraz Rosé.

Those first wines mainly came off the vineyard she manages, which is only planted to shiraz and sangiovese. “Intrepdidus Wines to me is ‘courage in new ventures’,” says Smith. “Slightly off the beaten track but always with solid walking shoes. The label design depicts an unhealthy vine to a healthy vine, for my belief that the more you can achieve in the vineyard, the better quality fruit you have to work with.”

Smith sees her label as a way to learn more about the impact of viticulture and winemaking first-hand. “I like to experiment with varieties and blends but ensure there’s a quality wine in the glass at the end,” she says. “The first red I made, I had just read a paper on the impact of white varieties fermented with shiraz. So, I fermented three different pots of shiraz, one with marsanne, one with roussanne, one with viognier. The impact of about three per cent of each variety was incredible. To taste the literature is 100 times better than reading it, and sharing it is even better.”

That spirit will see the label constantly evolve with Smith’s interests. “Only having two varieties on my vineyard, I want to play around with the varieties and make very different wines. The 2022 Rosé is mainly sangiovese with half fermented for a week on skins and blended back in. Most of the shiraz I wanted to make it as a lighter, little less alcohol red, so I blended in some sangiovese to lighten it up. This vintage I’ll play around again to make a cab-mac sangio, I think… Again, just seeing what expresses the fruit the best.”

Gorgeous Nero d’Avola getting added to Intrepidus wine lineup this year

Managing two vineyards, which were both neglected, sees Smith implementing similar protocols in both. “I work with cover crops and planting insectary plants and try to minimise fungicide use to where necessary to help with biodiversity and soil health,” she says. “I got a scholarship from DPI to attend the first advanced vit course run by the AWRI. It was hearing talks from people such as Mary Retallack on sustainable viticulture and beneficial insects that Inspired me to look at better, more sustainable vineyard practices. …At Jeir Creek, I have also introduced mulching all our green and cardboard waste back into our marc compost or under-vine mulch.”

Re-trellising, replacing diseased vines and regenerating the soil is an ongoing job for Smith, but it is clear that her favourite place is amongst the vines, no matter the myriad challenges. “Each day I find you learn something new in wine. You can have all the rules and procedures, but mother nature is going to do its thing regardless. Each vintage seems to throw something new in the mix in the vineyard, whether it be fire, hail, drought, bogged tractors… The style of wine you intended to make may go out the window in a day. My golden rule is to try not to stress about it and just enjoy the winemaking, as that’s the reason we all work so hard. Easier said than done, I know.”

Visit to vote for Chrissie’s Intrepidus Wines.

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