Working magic in the lab

Peter Lehmann Wines’ laboratory manager, Darren Schutz with his award winning team, Brie Lowke, Sarah Rohrlach and Christine Batten.

Well known in the Barossa for his performances as a talented magician, it seems Darren Schutz is also weaving magic in his day job.

The laboratory manager has worked for Peter Lehmann Wines for the past 32 years and is thrilled to have led his team to winning the “Patrick Iland Laboratory of the Year” award for the second time in three years.

Recognising the best performing laboratory in the Interwinery Analysis Group proficiency testing programme, “IWAG” was founded in the Barossa back in 1983 with just 7 wineries. Today there are more than 200 members representing every winemaking region in Australia as well as New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and France and is touted as the largest proficiency testing organisation of its type in the world.

But it has only been in the past 5 years that an award has been presented to the top lab.

 “There are so many awards out there for winemakers and wineries and so many classes in wine shows, so the committee of this group decided they should recognise the best performing lab,” Darren said.

Along with laboratory technicians, Brie Lowke, a lab veteran of 10 years; Sarah Rohrlach, 5 years and latest recruit, Christine Batten, three vintages, the team maintain the high level of care and attention to detail Darren says is key to achieving their outstanding results. 

“There’s an element of luck to win it once but to win it twice just cements for us that it’s not just luck,” Darren said.

“This achievement is a testament to our accuracy and consistency….it validates the work we do every day; our internal checks, calibrations, methods and procedures.

“It’s all part of the role the lab plays in making sure that every wine produced at Peter Lehmann Wines is as good as it possibly can be.”

Six times a year, member labs are sent two bottles of wine marked ‘A’ and ‘B’ to analyse.

“Everyone’s wine is the same and we send in our results. That’s tabulated and we receive a report back so we can see where we sit among the group – it’s all anonymous,” Darren

“To win, you have to be consistently accurate over those six testing times…how close you are to the mean for five core tests that pretty much every wine lab does.”

For Darren, it’s a win for the quiet achievers working in a crucial area of the industry which is often considered the “unromantic” side of winemaking.

“The lab is the nerve centre of the winery,” he said.

“When anything happens to any wine, a sample comes into the lab to check and pass. It’s quality control and we pick things up before it becomes a problem.” 

Casella Family Wines group also holds the PLW lab in high esteem.

“When they bought us, they had no idea of who we were, or the quality of our results,” Darren

“Now, for them to say let’s get a second opinion from the Lehmann’s lab is massive for us…they have respect for what we do and our results.”

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