Trainee Oenologue Joe Duncan with a barrel of Riesling during the 2002 harvest at Hugel et Fils cellars in Riquewhir, Alsace, France.

Dr Joe Duncan savouring a glass of tasty Shiraz.

Not to be confused with ‘oncology’, although the similarity would make an ideal game show question, Oenology is the science and study of wine making, oinos being the Ancient Greek for wine.

While obviously linked with viticulture, the term for vine-growing and grape-harvesting, oenology is the end stage of the process (apart from the drinking) and along with a good nose and palate the mastering of it requires tertiary study.

Although Joseph Michael (“Joe”) Duncan says he only “stumbled into wine making” he did complete a BSc (Wine Science) at Charles Sturt University, reflecting during our interview that because he was no good at art, “wine making became my version of painting… there are so many things you can change.”

Yet the biggest change for Joe has been in his career path, but more of that in a moment as we follow the Sydney high school graduate to Mittagong in NSW where, in 1999, he planted 25,000 vines, a mix of Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Merlot, on land owned by the Marist Brothers.

Before they matured to harvest he went to France to top up his skills at ground zero, working in the cellars of Hugel et Fils in Riquewhir, Alsace and the picturesque Domaine Laroche where he held the colourful title of “Assistant Oenologue”.

Later stints with the noted Evans & Tate vignerons in WA and a Berrima vineyard further boosted his knowledge at a time when Australians were increasingly catching the wine bug.

But there was a downside to the occupation many would think ideal, and it began with the simple, although surprising, realisation that, “Vineyards are not very social places.”

Perhaps those who make the stuff don’t dare over-imbibe in their products.

Seeking a more gregarious profession he added teaching to his skills portfolio, helped by a Graduate Diploma in Education from UNE Armidale. As a teacher he would do volunteer stints in Bourke, Cambodia and the Solomon Islands. He regards community service as a high priority in his life.

While comfortable in teaching, the academic challenge of medicine and a desire to work with a broader range of people took him from the classroom and, in time, into the hospital environment.

With two degrees behind him Joe was accepted into The University of Sydney, graduating in 2011 as a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. Last year, after earlier posts as a physician trainee at Lismore Base and Gosford Hospitals, he completed advanced training in respiratory and sleep medicine through the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

His specialisation as a Consultant Respiratory and Sleep Medicine Physician now takes precedence over his ability as a wine maker (and sometime craft beer brewer), but he still savours a glass of good vino when one comes his way.

For the record, it should be noted that Joe Duncan does not recommend drinking more wine to patients experiencing sleep problems. Indeed, one must look closely at his extensive CV to spot “wine science” in the list of his qualifications, experience and awards.

Foremost amongst his career objectives Joe notes a commitment to medical education in regional Australia – “I’ve always wanted to work in the country” – and lectures to undergrad students doing rural placements, supervised by the University Centre for Rural Health North Coast.

Along with his wife Emily, a dietician at LBH’s Integrated Cancer Care Centre, he moved to the Northern Rivers in February this year. He’s looking forward to having a garden, knowing how well things grow here, but doubts that grape vines will be in the mix.

“It’s so lush and everything simply powers, but the sub-tropics isn’t an ideal grape climate or terroir,” Joe says. “It looks like I’ll be buying my wine from now on.”