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Dr Rika Shimo Changes Career Course With Viticulture

Portrait of Rika Shimo

Back in 2012, Rika Shimo found herself enrolling into Melbourne Polytechnic’s Bachelor of Viticulture and Winemaking to ’fill the gaps’ in her land and winemaking knowledge.

Along the way, the degree morphed into the Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology (Viticulture and Winemaking) offered in partnership with La Trobe University.

How it all began

‘I had always been interested in wine and wine appreciation. My mother loved her wines and got me into ‘tasting wines’ from an early age. Later on, when I migrated to Australia, I had some Japanese friends who were very serious about wines, I did the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) 2 and the WSET 3. The next step would have been to do the WSET Diploma.’ Around this decision-making period, Rika and her husband, Phillip Moraghan, visited Japan where she was introduced to a friend undertaking a Master of Wine. He advised her ‘to go into a production course rather than further WSET… so I looked around and Melbourne Polytechnic seemed distance education friendly, so I enrolled.’

Change of Career 

Rika was a lecturer in Translation and Interpreting Studies at Monash University and also a NAATI accredited translator and interpreter. Her career started with technical writing at Sony and then she moved onto teaching Japanese at Australian universities.

So why would Rika go back to undertake another degree?

‘I love doing things formally and getting certificates. While I did learn about viticulture and winemaking through Phillip at his Curly Flat Winery and also through my own research, I strongly felt I had to do the course properly.  It’s important to have a balance of knowledge between what you learn on the job through experience and the theoretical knowledge to back it up. ’

Rika’s deliberate decision to undertake the course saw her conquer fears, too – ‘I have a Ph.D. in linguistics and the Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology is a science course; I was very worried… there is a lot of chemistry and mathematics involved in the course and it was more than 25 years since I had done that at school! It was almost like solving a complex jigsaw puzzle and it was fun.

New Beginnings

Since 2017, Rika and Phillip have been developing a new brand of their own, Shimora Wines – ‘the name comes from our surnames ‘Shimo’ from my family name and ‘Mora [ghan]’ from Phillip.’

Rika and Phillip are ‘looking for a plot of land near the Trentham/Daylesford area’ high in altitude and suitable to combat the change in climate. We want to plant pinot noir and hopefully two Japanese varietals.’

Introducing Koshu

Koshu is said to be a Japanese variety, and it is, but some of the genes come from China.’ The koshu grape ‘has been a table grape and in the past sub quality koshu grapes were used for winemaking, hence reputation as a wine was not great.’

‘I have always liked aromatic white [wine] varieties. Phillip is famous for his pinot noirs, but we drink much more Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and other whites since I arrived on the scene.

Koshu is grown primarily in Yamanashi Prefecture and developed from grapes brought from the Caucasus, across Central Asia and China and finally to Japan all via the Silk Road – the Silk Road, people - around a thousand years ago, there is serious history with this grape. Probably originating in Europe the koshu is a hybrid of Europe’s Vitis Vinifera and one or more Asian vitis species.

‘In recent years, the potential for the wine produced by this grape has risen… making the wine more suited for fish/seafood… the ‘fishiness’ is suppressed… there are two categories within the wines made in Japan; one made from imported grapes/juices, and one made from Japanese grown grapes. The latter is still the minority, but there are now an increasing number of wineries who are very serious about making premium quality wine. Katsunuma Jozo… which produces high quality koshu wine, would like koshu be more widely known through the world.’ They’re not the only ones.

New Wine to Match our Growing Communities 

Rika says koshu ‘has a great potential for Australia, as a lot of Asian (particularly Japanese) cuisine is appreciated here. Also koshu is naturally low in sugar, hence the alcohol can be low (our wines range from 9 to 10 percent). We have been working with Katsunuma Jozo since 2014.’

‘While it is our dream to bring Japanese Koshu and Muscat Bailey A vines to Australia, what makes the experience so special is working in Japan. Phillip has worked in Burgundy, Oregon, etc where, especially in France, he is told what to do. The French obviously know and are proud of what should be done, so his input is basically not allowed. In contrast, the history of winemaking in Japan is relatively short’, says Rika, and ‘when Phillip and I work in Japan, the people at Katsunuma Jozo are receptive to our ideas and we discuss various things that could improve their and our processes.’

Gaining Deeper Knowledge 

Dr. Nicola Cooley, Head of Program for Agriculture and Animal Studies, says ‘Rika joined Melbourne Polytechnic to study part-time in the Bachelor of Viticulture and Winemaking… The change in degree [Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology] enabled Rika to access commonwealth supported funding for her education.  Despite already having a language Ph.D. from The University of Newcastle, Rika was keen to participate in the program.’

Dr. Cooley says ‘I remember asking Rika why she wanted to study winemaking, she told me how passionate she was about the industry, her family business and was keen to learn more about how to make commercial wine. Rika and her husband wanted to grow their business and she was sure the skills and knowledge she gained from the program would assist with this. Rika was eager to learn in her subjects and was able to draw on examples from her own business experience. Rika, like other students in our program, has used the degree to facilitate a career change and a deeper knowledge of the wine industry.’

Study at Melbourne Polytechnic

Rika continues to work in the translation and interpreting area and works with Phillip doing vintage work. Rika says ‘I am away for several months of the year, not to mention the fact that I cannot go to classes on a regular basis. The lecturers were very accommodating and gave me information ahead of time, gave me make-up classes when I could fit it in. I also teach, so I know how hard it is to try and accommodate the needs of various students. A good camaraderie and support with fellow students too, all ‘working hard trying to balance their other career and family life’.

If you would like to learn more about viticulture and winemaking, have a look here!