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A Winemaking Renegade: Meet Ray Nadeson of Lethbridge!

In the latest edition of Decanter Magazine, Anne Krebiehl MW took an in depth look at some of the risk takers and pioneers of the wine industry. She sought out those who did it the hard way, who were not exceptionally rich, who were nowhere near retirement, who turned their lives around completely. Among those profiled was our very own creative virtuoso, Ray Nadeson of Lethbridge Wines in Geelong, Victoria. Below is his journey.

“Ray Nadeson, 52, has a PhD in neuroscience. ‘I spent 10 years applying research on how we can reduce pain in humans,’ he explains. ‘And I was pretty good at what I did – but I didn’t want to be defined by that.

‘All my life I’ve been outdoorsy and somehow I ended up entrenched in a hospital. But I also like being outside, doing things with my hands and I really like working with different people. Being a farmer I need to work with everyone.’ It’s the same story for his wife Maree Collis, who has a PhD in chemistry. ‘Somehow or other Maree and I decided to have a go. We decided to approach it as a research project,’ Nadeson remembers. Tasting countless wines had piqued his interest. ‘Why wine? Because wine allows you to use science and have an artistic element, and it allows you to use your hands and to farm. It unites science, nature and philosophy. But I wasn’t going to be a doctor one moment and then a winemaker, with no transition, so my wife and I got a degree in winemaking [while continuing to work]. Not because you need it to make wine, you don’t, but we wanted to have street cred.’

Nadeson continued in his day job for eight years while they were establishing the winery. ‘I wanted to do every aspect of what it takes, and the last thing I wanted was to employ a winemaker. But I couldn’t do both jobs. So 14 years ago I decided to become a full-time winemaker. It was a huge decision. You leave a job that is secure and well-paid to do something you have no track record at all. My mum was horrified, she could not believe I would give up a prestigious job and become a farmer. Now she loves it,’ he says.

But Nadeson is honest: ‘Lethbridge didn’t make any money for years. I had to make contract wine, consult and do other things to smooth out the cash flow. We didn’t come into the business with a whole heap of money. But even though we didn’t make a lot, we existed.”