How Anh Nguyen is living the 'uncommon' life: Passion, winemaking and innovating on sustainable farming

How Anh Nguyen is living the ‘uncommon’ life: Passion, winemaking and innovating on sustainable farming

We’re profiling women working in agriculture and related fields, thanks to the excellent support of AgriFutures Australia, in line with our weekly publication for women in agriculture, The Ag Wrap.

Anh Nguyen’s winemaking business, Torch Bearer Wines, is a great example of where STEM and agriculture intersect. 

Her journey to making it happen is particularly intriguing. The daughter of two engineers, and now an engineering academic herself, she found her life’s purpose in in the agriculture sector and a passion for regenerative and natural farming principles. 

Having lived and studied all over the world, she started work as a research engineer and then in 2017 upon seeking a career path with more purpose, moved with her family to Tasmania. 

Anh began pursuing her new-found passion for agriculture, taking ownership of a vineyard in South Tasmania and developing sustainable ways of practicing the art of winemaking. She started Torch Bearer Wines with an ambition to use her engineering background to develop smart biodynamic farming techniques. 

It was this innovation and creativity that saw her named the 2019 TAS AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner. A prize that then enabled her to develop her business even further.

Below, Anh is the latest woman in agriculture to answer our Q&A, thanks to the support of AgriFutures. 

You’ve had quite an incredible career journey, having been born and raised in Vietnam, then completing a tertiary education in the engineering field, obtaining a PhD in the US from the University of Massachusetts. What made you shift to the agriculture sector after so many years dedicated to pursuing a career in engineering? 

The change from engineering into winemaking is a natural evolution – I want to show my inner self, my two little girls, and others that there is an “uncommon” way of life we should all be living, by pursuing what you are passionate about. 

It’s the next chapter in pursuing my purpose in life – caring for the land, the environment and its natural world.  

Can you tell us how and why you started Torch Bearer Wines?

I started Torch Bearer Wines in 2017 because, simply, I love wine and love growing grapevines. More than that, I hope to use wine to communicate and demonstrate a sustainable farming technique. 

I learnt it can take over 500 years to form an inch of topsoil, and hundreds of millions of years to form a fertile layer of soil full of micro life forms such as earthworms, microbes and fungi – or in other word the “wood wide web” that brings us foods and nurture life on Earth. It’s also where the CO2 is being naturally captured and stored every day. However, less than 100 years of modern farming and deforestation have been destroying and degrading the natural world by using toxic chemicals, i.e., pesticides, weed killers, and synthetic fertilizers of all kinds. 

I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility these days to act in whatever small way you can and that caring for the soil is the easiest, and most important steps toward a sustainable future.

Image by Dearna Bond supplied courtesy of the Southern Open Vineyards Weekend that takes place annually in Southern Tasmania.

2020 was a tough year for everyone around the globe after the pandemic hit. How did this affect your business and how are your powering through these rough changes?

For the domestic market, when COVID hit in 2020, we were lucky that we lost only about 6 months until things were getting back pretty much to normal. It happened during vintage time in 2020, and that actually gave me more time to focus on wine making, doing some small batches and trying some experimental wine making. 

As for the international market, it has been much more challenging. Prior to COVID, I was able to travel between Australia and Asia often. Now unable to travel, business in Asia is moving at a much slower pace. I have a wonderful team there to help me with day to day operations but I am looking forward to being able to travel to Asia again.

How do you believe you have changed winemaking for the better?

I believe in growing not manufacturing wine. Great wine comes from great quality fruit, so we follow regenerative and natural farming principles to extract the best natural characteristics of the terroir into the grapes. I also embrace the idea of seasonal and terroir variation. A bottle of wine for me is a bottle of history. When drinking a great bottle of wine, you should be able to taste the sun, the wind, the rain, the seasonal change of climate of that year. Great wine connects people. So I hope to use wine to communicate and demonstrate a sustainable farming technique.

In 2019, you had the honour of winning the Tasmanian AgriFutures Rural Women’ s Award. How has winning this award, along with the Westpac bursary, helped support your work?

Winning the prestigious AgriFuture Rural Women Award has been such an honour. The Westpac bursary really helped to take the project off the ground, funding us to build our prototypes and our system. 

The chance to connect with other like-minded people in the network has been the biggest benefit of all. It is also a platform for us to raise our voice and awareness about the critical contributions of women in rural and agribusinesses.

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