As great rootstock is the foundation for great wine, so too the winemaker. For Nadja Wallington, the choice to follow her parents was simple – her wines anything but.
Nadja Wallington has not wasted a minute of her 32 years. Not that she is in a rush. As co-owner of ChaLou wines, with like-minded husband Steve Mobbs, she likes to take the long way with her winemaking, preferring to do things slowly and with more consideration.
“We want to make wines that we are really proud of, that are really engaging and tell the story of who we are and where we come from,” she says.
The philosophy to make wines that reflect not only the site but also the people involved, has been formed through Wallington growing up on a family vineyard in Canowindra, and by working vintages at small wineries in Australia and abroad.
"I stubbornly had not thought of anything else. It was always such a positive memory of my parents. It was the lifestyle and the culture that dragged me into it."
Wallington completed a Bachelor of Winemaking and Viticulture in 2010 at Charles Sturt University, which is where she first met Mobbs, also from a winemaking family. She partook in a trainee winemaking program while studying, making sparkling, fortified and table wines. From there, she ventured into the world, free-spirited yet determined, with a work ethic that saw her land a string of roles in Australia, California, South Africa, and France. On returning home in 2014, she joined Philip Shaw Wines and stayed for seven years. Mobbs moved to the area around the same time, and it was a true ‘meeting of minds’, she says.
Wallington’s international perspective highlighted to her the strength of the Orange region. It was a place she wanted to stay. With Mobbs, their vision was to have their own property, a place to make authentic wines of excellence, improve the land and raise their one-year-old daughter. Through an enormous amount of hard work and courage, they made it a reality.
In 2020, the couple purchased a 6-hectare cool-climate, high-altitude vineyard, formerly Sassy Wines.“It’s a slow journey,” says Wallington. “We are learning about our site.” Varieties include riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz, arneis, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and viognier.
They are planting more chardonnay, plus two clones of chenin blanc, a variety Wallington fell in love with while working in South Africa. And they are slowly transforming their ‘shed’ into an operational winery. The couple produce wine under three labels: ChaLou Estate, Dreaded Friend and The Somm & The Winemaker, a partnership with Wallington’s childhood bestie Louella Mathews, one of Sydney’s top sommeliers.
Growing up in the country, Wallington witnessed her hard-working parents plant a vineyard and make wine. She recalls “all the fun parts” of being involved, such as plunging ferments in the middle of the night, helping with the basket press and getting on the harvester.
With the sudden passing of her father in 2003, her inspirational mother, Margaret, continued to run the farm and vineyard, producing wine under the Wallington label, all while raising four teenage girls.
Winemaking was a natural career choice for Wallington. “I stubbornly had not thought of anything else. I liked the work. It was always such a positive memory of my parents. It was the lifestyle, the work and the culture that dragged me into it.”
During her first vintage at Brokenwood in 2008, she worked with PJ Charteris and Sarah Crowe.Crowe made a big impression on her. “In the cellar, she showed me all the tricks. It was really important to have a strong female winemaker to look up to.”
In 2019, Wallington was selected by Wine Australia to be part of the Future Leaders program, which was a turning point in her life. Her coach, Corrina Wright, gave her the planning tools and confidence to turn her dream of owning her own vineyard into a reality.“
I just needed someone to say, ‘Do it now. You are ready’,” recalls Wallington.She treasures the vast opportunities she has had in the industry, and says the more she becomes involved in the layers, the more she loves it.Receiving the Sydney Royal Wine Assessment Scholarship and becoming a Len Evans Tutorial scholar has propelled her wine judging career.
Wallington is passionate about environmental and social sustainability, including the up-skilling of the local workforce, and is heavily involved in the local and national wine community.
Wise beyond her years, and with strong foundations, one can’t help being excited for the next chapter in Nadja Wallington’s journey.
Photography by ChaLou Wines