From the tasting team

Staying power: Eloise Jarvis

By Jane Faulkner

Winemaker Eloise Jarvis is determined to return Cape Mentelle to icon status. It’s a labour of love, she tells Jane Faulkner.

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Amidst the throng at Margaret River Brewhouse, dappled light streams through, casting shadows over Eloise Jarvis – yet nothing can mask her joy. It’s early September 2022 and she’s a mere two weeks in from landing the senior winemaker role at Cape Mentelle. Her dream job. 

Outside the region, some may say, Eloise who? Well, get up to speed folks because Ely, as she’s better known, is on the rise, and rapidly. Much like the tempo of her words, which she neither minces nor wastes. 

In December 2021, Cape Mentelle asked Ely if she was interested in applying. With a successful consultancy business, a recent appointment as the newly created Margaret River Wine Sustainability Engagement Officer, plus a fun, innovative small label (La Kooki) with husband Glenn Goodall, also chief winemaker at Xanadu, there was a lot to consider. 

“I went home and said to the family [of three children, the youngest in her mid-teens], it’s a huge thing for us to be working [in significant wineries] and it’s always been important to us that we are accessible, as parents, and I thought, can I do this? They said ‘go for it, Mum. This is your dream job. It’s what you’ve always wanted to do’,” Ely says. 

Ely JarvisEly Jarvis.

“It’s true. It’s the only gig I would give up everything for and now, the time’s right.” 

Then began a six-month screening and interview process with then owners, Moët Hennessy Wine Estates, a subsidiary of luxury goods behemoth Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). 

Ely had heard all about the rumblings, the instability, and lack of leadership. This historic winery seemed rudderless, despite decent folk working there. It makes good wines, but great ones were scarce and its glory days under original co-founder, the legendary David Hohnen (who left in 2003), long gone. This pioneering producer put Margaret River on the international wine map, thanks to David, who also co-established Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, which LVMH now owns. 

So, um, why is this Ely’s dream job? 

Cape MentelleCape Mentelle is one of Margaret River's pioneer wineries.

Her love of winemaking and the wine community was cemented at Cape Mentelle. Back in 2005 she was offered the same senior winemaker gig, but the timing wasn’t right. 

“Glenn and I were two babies in to having three and we were always very honest about that. I said to Tony Jordan [then the recently appointed CEO of not just Cape Mentelle, but LVMH estates and wines in Australia and New Zealand], ‘we are going to have three kids, are you prepared to let me go part-time?’ He said no. And that was fine.”

Those who know Ely call her clever, determined, strong and competent. I’d add lucky. She seems to be in the right place at the right time. Guess who sowed the seed for her vocation? Kevin Cullen. 

“Dad and Kevin were doctors along with Bill Pannell [formerly of Moss Wood] and Mike Peterkin [of Pierro fame]. While they were part of the wine fraternity, Dad just went along for the fun ride. I grew up messing around in the vineyards with the Pannell boys and the Cullen kids, they were a bit older; Vanya had been my babysitter. I remember thinking it was a cool lifestyle. 

Kangaroo in the Cape Mentelle vineyardIn five or so years, Ely wants Cape Mentelle to be recognised as a benchmark producer of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.

“I remember Kevin drilling me about what I wanted to do – be a winemaker. ‘You are way too young, go away, live life and do something relevant then come back if you truly love it.’ I asked what’s relevant and he said, ‘I don’t know, horticulture’.” 

Ely was only 16 then, but she took note, eventually completing a bachelor of horticulture majoring in viticulture/soil science and loved it. As a segue, she presented on the ABC’s Gardening Australia for a year, followed by another two as a weather host on Channel 9.

Time to get back to wine. Ely had applied to study winemaking, yet still hadn’t worked in a winery. Word got out that Cape Mentelle needed a lab technician. 

“I landed on my feet with my first vintage job there in ’96 with John Durham [another legendary winemaker] and David,” Ely says. She then recalls the biggest botch-up of her career, still mortified even now, when she added something like 100 times more sulphur dioxide to a prime cabernet than necessary. 

“I screwed up, but David said, ‘It’s not your fault’. David and John could have sacked me, but they didn’t. I’ll never forget how they treated me, and that catapulted me to love this job, to love this industry. Ever since, I have always felt connected to Cape Mentelle.” 

Cape Mentelle barrelEly's first vintage job was at Cape Mentelle in 1996.

Next, Ely won a scholarship for the year-long post-graduate winemaking diploma at Adelaide University, where she met Glenn. They spent a couple of years in California and South Africa before returning home married. In 1998, Ely was lured back to Cape Mentelle, initially as a cellar supervisor, then winemaker alongside David and John.

For David, nicknames are a term of endearment, and Ely was stamped with ‘Houlihan’ after Major Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan from the 1970s–80s comedy series M*A*S*H. Appropriately he calls Glenn ‘Hawkeye’, Houlihan’s love interest in the series.

“Ely’s a natural born leader,” David says. “She came into the winery in a pair of kick-arse boots, army pants and tank top. It was a good look, and she was formidable. [In a male-dominated environment] she handled it well, didn’t belittle anyone but didn’t take any nonsense from the blokes either. Firm and fair, she brought with her skills, and they were considerable, ensuring the workplace was productive and happy. She brought stability.” 

Stability. It’s an appropriate descriptor of what a more experienced, more mature Ely brings to Cape Mentelle today. She’s quick to add that positive change began in ’20, led by estate director Penny Dickeson, winemaker Coralie Lewis and viticulturist Dave Moulton.

Cape Mentelle grapesEly says the 21 chardonnay is a cracker.

“When people found out I got the job, they were over the moon, and that was beautiful, but I really felt for the team. Those people have spearheaded this move to get the place back to one of provenance, back to fruit being the shining star. It’s all about the vineyards and those old vines.” 

The 2022 reds are impressive, the ’21 chardonnay a cracker, she adds. “Quality is there, it just needs to be harnessed and brought together. People often think too hard about the process rather than intuitively feeling the space. That intuition comes from a lot of time spent in vineyards and remembering we are merely a custodian of a brand bigger than all of us.” 

She was only at the helm four months before the worst kept secret in Margaret River was realised – in January 2023 the Endeavour Group had bought Cape Mentelle. (The Endeavour Group owns hotels, Dan Murphy’s and BWS, plus the Paragon Wine Estates portfolio comprising acquisitions such as Oakridge Estate in the Yarra Valley, Josef Chromy in Tasmania and Chapel Hill in South Australia.) 

Marri treesDavid Hohnen, Cape Mentelle's original co-founder, calls Ely "a natural born leader".

Too early to gauge how this will pan out, encouraging hopefully; Ely and her posse are not going anywhere.

In five or so years, she wants her beloved Cape Mentelle to be recognised as a benchmark producer, especially of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. It will happen, says David Hohnen, who agrees that the company he created (and its wines) had lost their way. He deserves the last word. 

“LVMH bought the big ugly sister when it wanted the golden girl (Cloudy Bay),” he says. “Someone in Paris wasn’t interested in Cape Mentelle and so nothing much has happened there for several years. They have a good crew now and with Ely showing leadership, they will win back the market and Cape Mentelle will get back to being one of the most respectable producers in the region and one of the most respected in Australia. Bring it on.”

This article appears in issue #71 of Halliday magazineBecome a member to receive the print publication as well as digital access.