Despite growing up in wineries alongside her winemaker father James Irvine, Jo Irvine initially didn’t think she wanted to get into wine.
It wasn’t until she reached her mid-30s, after 18 years as an operating theatre nurse and wanting a change of vocation, that she had the epiphany to become a winemaker.
“I’d never had any formal training or anything, but I decided I was leaving nursing to go be a winemaker,” Irvine told National Liquor News.
With the decision made, Irvine started studying through the ‘Roseworthy course’ at Adelaide University during the week, while still working part time as a theatre nurse on weekends. After a year, she headed off to test her skills and her passion for the industry in California, and in the coming years would be involved with vintages both at home and in America.
Between then and now, Irvine has been involved with wine consulting with her father, started her own wine consulting business, started a small batch processing facility and finally, started her own wine label – Lévrier by Jo Irvine.
The Lévrier by Jo Irvine label combines all of Irvine’s passions – wine, greyhounds and art, and also helps her give back to the community. Irvine told National Liquor News how these interests all came about and how she melds them together through her work.
“While I was doing some consulting up in the river land in about 2002, I was on my way home driving back to Adelaide and the sun was in my eyes and I could see these cars swerving in the distance as I was coming over the hill. As I got closer, I discovered they were swerving around a dog walking on the side of the road,” Irvine said.
“I stopped my car and opened up the back door because the dog was injured and I didn’t want to scare him. And you know what? He just stepped right into the back of my car. I took him back down to the vet in the Barossa, and long story short – the vet fell in love with him, I fell in love with him and that started my love of greyhounds.”
“Since then, I’ve had four greyhounds and started getting them through the Greyhound Adoption Program, so now we sponsor [the program]. Part of the proceeds from the sale of one of my selection of wines, which is called the art collection, goes towards sponsoring the Greyhound Adoption Program.”
Lévrier actually means greyhound in French, and each of Irvine’s bottles has dog imagery on them. Both the cafe-style Art Collection and premium Mosaic Collection in the range celebrate greyhounds throughout different eras via artistic expression, putting interesting stories behind the beautiful labels.
“All the labels have personal meaning to me, in that they have art in them, they have history, and they have greyhounds… that’s all part of my story,” Irvine said.
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The wine itself also showcases Irvine’s history and story, featuring varieties like Cabernet Franc, one of the noble varieties of the Barossa and Eden Valley; Merlot, of which James Irvine is known to be a master of; and Zinfandel, a variety Irvine worked with in America and which won her International Red Winemaker of the year in 2006.
Like many in the drinks industry, Lévrier by Jo Irvine wine sales have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped them from giving back to the community – in fact, it’s actually made them step up their efforts.
Meals on Wheels is the new effort that Lévrier is getting behind, donating $10 from every box of wine sold to the organisation. Irvine said the donations will go towards the 14.8 million meals delivered by 78,000 odd volunteers per year around the country from Meals on Wheels.
“There’s been a lot of wineries discounting their wines on the way through [the pandemic] trying to increase their sales. But we decided we didn’t want to go down that way, we wanted to give back to the community,” Irvine explained.
“We didn’t actually discount wines, we decided to give an amount back to the people through Meals on Wheels. They’re all volunteers, so we thought, why not give them some of our proceeds to try and help them along at the same time as us selling wine? It was just a natural thing.”
The idea, which Irvine attributed to Brand Manager Glenn Malycha, has been received well in the community so far.
“Some of the volunteers at Meals on Wheels have gotten back to us and said thank you, thank you, thank you, for appreciating what we do. I don’t think we say it enough. There’s also been support from people that have been buying the wine saying they’d prefer to actually pay the same price knowing that some of that money is going to Meals on Wheels.” Irvine said.
Even though Australia is slowly taking steps towards reopening, we’re not out of the woods yet, and every little bit of support industry players can offer to each other or to their communities is valuable.