Welcome to the Artisans of Barossa blog where we bring you news and events from Artisans of Barossa, Vino Lokal and the Barossa region.
Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Adelaide in the early ‘80’s and inspired by the Young brothers of ACDC fame, Tim Smith dreamed of forming his own band and making it big. Figuring there was room for more than just Phil Collins in the world of drummers leading rock bands, the plan was to call his band “The Tim Smiths”…that was until that bloke Morrissey and his mates from Manchester cut his lunch and launched ‘The Smiths’ onto the world stage. Fearing a phone call from a fancy lawyer, or a knock on the door from a couple of big fellas, plans for rock and roll stardom, a personalised 747 and a world tour were regretfully shelved. But a single encounter with the seductive, heady perfume and rich fruity sweetness of a bottle of early 80s Yarra Yering Dry Red #2 was enough to push Tim down a new path. His wine journey had begun, and he knew somewhere along that road he had to make his own wine.
Regardless of which path you follow in life, it’s inevitably ‘a long way to the top’. (I promise that will be the sole rock’n’roll pun). For several years and for countless hours, Tim’s wine dream was contained to the glamourous world of the cellar hand. Lugging hoses, heaving barrels, wash downs, pump-overs - whatever tasks the senior cellar hand and winemakers could dish out. But the many years of ‘hard labour’ as a grateful employee served only to stiffen his resolve, and over a glass of Condrieu enjoyed on the doorstep of the famous Hermitage Hill Chapel in September 2001, Tim Smith Wines was born. Proof that Viognier can inspire!
The Tim Smith Wines one man band kicked off in 2002, and 15 years later remains a one-man band starring the same one man. (Give the winery a call - the only answer you’ll ever get is ‘Hi, this is Tim Smith from Tim Smith Wines.) Each year, a little more wine is made, and then a little more is sold to fund making a little more the following vintage. But never so much that one hard working bloke can’t continue to point to every single of bottle of wine that has ever appeared with his name on it and say with enormous and justifiable pride – ‘I made that!’
Tim refers to his chosen home as ‘God's Own Barossa’. "I am fortunate to be in a business that, despite its lows and because of its highs, has allowed me to forge not just a career, but provide a lifestyle unsurpassed anywhere else - although Bandol in southern France would give it a run for its money if Port Power could arrange to play a few home games nearby. ‘Passionate’ is a hackneyed word, but this is what I admire about this region and its people. The cumulative passion of seven generations of Barossans for their patch of dirt and what they grow allows me as a relative newcomer to make great wine from some of the planet’s most remarkable vineyards. And alongside my life as a winemaker, I get to spend hours riding my vintage Triumph motorcycle through the Eden Valley high country, explore the Barossa’s bakeries for the best freshly baked breads anywhere, and (if you know the right farmers), feast on sublime local lamb and pork. In addition to all this, I still get to be the drummer in a band! Why would I want to live and make wine anywhere else? (Especially when Port Power’s home games are played nearby.)”
We admire Tim’s take on wine and life. His approach to winemaking is grounded in respect for the gifts the Barossa landscape and the passion of its grape growing families gives him. He works bloody hard as you’d expect for a one-man band, and he is utterly consumed by everything there is to love about Barossa. I reckon he bleeds Shiraz and cries Viognier (as opposed to me…Viognier makes me cry). We’re very happy to have Tim Smith from Tim Smith Wines as our Winemaker in the House this Saturday and Sunday between 12 and 4pm with a fantastic selection of his current release Barossa wines.
I hate to say I told you so but … well, I told you so.
In my first column for this newspaper a year ago I hailed grenache as a grape variety on the rise in Australia. And look what a huge year 2017 turned out to be for this once-maligned red wine.
At the Barossa Wine Show in September, the 2016 Bethany Old Vine Grenache won three trophies, including the gong for best wine of show. And in October the 2016 Turkey Flat Grenache, from a vineyard just up the road from Bethany, won the famous Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy. It's the first time a wine made from grenache has won the Jimmy, and from what I can gather it's also the first time the grape has achieved such prominence in the Barossa show.
It came as no surprise, then, to learn that during the 2017 vintage the Artisans of Barossa group decided to play a little game with some grenache grapes to explore the role of winemaking in the expression of terroir.
The Artisans are six wine producers – John Duval Wines (John and his son Tim), Sons of Eden (Corey Ryan and Simon Cowham), Massena (Jaysen Collins), Schwarz Wine Co (Jason Schwarz), Spinifex (Pete Schell), and Hobbs of Barossa Ranges (Greg and Allison Hobbs) – who share a beautiful cellar-door tasting room near Tanunda in the heart of the Barossa.
In late March, they each picked a parcel of grenache grapes from the 46-year-old Quarry Hill vineyard near Angaston and took the fruit back to their respective wineries. A fascinating project: same vineyard, same fruit, harvested at the same ripeness, but six different approaches to winemaking. How would they turn out? Would vineyard character – terroir – triumph? Or would the fermentation techniques stomp all over the flavour of the grapes and produce six wines that reflected maker more than provenance?
It's not the first time something like this has been done. In 2008, 2010 and again in 2015, for example, a group of six grape-treaders (including Pete Schell from Spinifex) ran a similar exercise with shiraz grapes from the Chalk Hill vineyard, with the wines sold in a six-pack under the Alpha Crucis label.
The Grenache Project six-pack was released just before Christmas. The Artisans kindly sent me the wines to taste, which I did, blind, over a number of days. And I can tell you that right now, 10 months after vintage, the winemaking influence is far more obvious than the vineyard-derived characters that all six wines should, theoretically, share (they were made from the same fruit, remember).
This fits with my experience of other wines made from the same site by a number of producers. In their youth, the differences can be stark, thanks to factors such as how much (if any) whole bunch fruit went into the fermenter, how long the wine spent on skins after ferment, what kind of oak it was aged in and so on.
But as wines age, the winemaking influence recedes a little (it never disappears) and the underlying terroir and vintage conditions emerge. In the case of the Grenache Project wines, despite their differences, all of them do have a savoury, sinewy edge – albeit subtle – and I'd expect this to build over time.
The only way to find out, of course, is to buy a couple of six-packs – one to try now (chuck some garlicky lamb on the grill and invite some wine-geek friends over to share the bottles with you) and one to try in five years' time.
Grenache six ways
2017 Grenache Project Schwarz [Barossa Valley]
Jason Schwarz's 100 per cent whole-bunch fermented grenache, bottled early straight from tank, is the lightest and most immediately quaffable of the six wines. With its perfumed red cherry fruit and squishy tannins it tastes almost more pinot-like – no, gamay-like – than grenache-like.
2017 Grenache Project Ryan/Cowham [Barossa Valley]
Corey Ryan and Simon Cowham chose to make their grenache using very different techniques to those they employ for their Sons of Eden wines: 100 per cent whole bunch, fermentation in an egg-shapped vessel, and two months' maceration on skins. This explains the wine's savoury, sappy, slightly minty characters and persistent powdery tannins.
2017 Grenache Project Collins [Barossa Valley]
Another 100 per cent whole-bunch wine, left for a month to ferment in a closed tank, where it underwent carbonic maceration before pressing. At first taste this was the earthiest and funkiest of the six wines (in keeping with the Massena style) but exposure to air revealed some lovely, crunchy, bright purple fruit flavours.
2017 Grenache Project Schell [Barossa Valley]
Pete Schell's use of 50 per cent whole bunch, carbonic maceration and ageing in large old oak all contribute to this exceptionally vibrant expression of grenache – intensely aromatic (sarsaparilla, Campari, rose petals, vermouth herbs), wonderfully lively and juicy in the mouth. My pick of the six right now. Will be fascinating to see how it ages.
2017 Grenache Project Duval [Barossa Valley]
As you'd expect perhaps from ex-Penfolds chief winemaker John Duval, this expression of the Quarry Hill grenache is well balanced, approachable and generous. Just a little whole bunch in the ferment and gentle pressing have resulted in a wine with lovely supple dark fruit and flowing tannins draped across the tongue.
2017 Grenache Project Hobbs [Barossa Valley]
Greg and Allison Hobbs chose to turn the volume up to 11 on their grenache parcel by drying the grapes on racks for five days before crushing and fermenting them. The result is a quite different style of wine to the others: dark, dense, glossy blueberry and black cherry fruit, round, slick dark chocolate tannins.
The 2017 Grenache Project six pack – one of each wine in each pack – is available for $250 plus $10 delivery. artisansofbarossa.com.
Article by Max Allen
Appeared in the Australian Financial Review, 12 January 2018
The Barossa story has been 175+ years in the making, constructed from literally thousands of individual perspectives, narratives, experiences, vineyards and wines spread across eight generations of grape growing and wine making. Perhaps the most enthralling aspect of the Barossa story is its willingness to embrace renewal as each generation produces a new ‘batch’ of winemakers with what appears to be a shared and simple mission to ‘make wines they like to drink’. Some bear familiar names, extending their family’s association with winemaking, or taking the leap from growing grapes to producing wine. And each vintage, new folk are drawn to Barossa with a desire to achieve nothing more than ‘make some wine’.
If an individual winemaker’s story was a book, then consider this the foreword for Andy Cummins and Emma Welling and Rasa Wines. I’d imagine almost every wine drinker can tell a tale of winemakers, now established and well known across the land, that they discovered as they were just starting out. And this is where Andy and Emma find themselves - in January 2018 about to face up to just the 3rd vintage for Rasa Wines. Because this wine story is in its nascent years, it makes sense to start with the pre-Barossa years. Emma kicks off the story.
“We’re both from Bowral in the New South Wales southern highlands. Andy was a landscaper by trade, and I worked in hotels. We shared a love of wine, which led Andy on a couch surfing tour of European wine regions, and ultimately to a decision to pack up our lives and move to Barossa. Our plan was a winner from the start as everything seemed to fall easily into place. Andy secured a vintage job at Rockford in 2013, and I started working in restaurants and hotels around the region, before settling at The Louise where I’m now Director of Guest Services. We’ve been here less than 5 years, and we find ourselves surrounded by sensational food and wine, and a community of terrific food and wine people. Paradise found.”
And for Andy, all it took was a chance meeting and a bucket load of persistence to land a vintage job at Rockford. “I love the idea of making wine – an opportunity to be hands on, to be fully immersed and in control of the destiny of the produce I am crafting. For a bloke who’d never worked in a winery before, my time at Rockford was priceless. Here I was shown the ‘Rockford way’ of doing things, a brilliant induction that set me up well for my current job in the cellar at Henschke.”
Andy commenced his formal winemaking studies the first year he produced wine under the Rasa label. (Rasa is a Sanskrit term literally means juice, essence or taste, the agreeable quality of something, especially the emotional or aesthetic impression of a work of art.) The first vintage release wines were typically sold to family and friends, which in turn helped support a modest increase in production for their second vintage in 2017. Vintage number 3 is just around the corner, and again with the support of family and friends and a growing list of restaurant customers in Sydney and Melbourne, they’ll produce a few more cases – but production remains tiny in its scale. Importantly, from each vintage experience and from time spent in the company of other Barossa winemakers they continue to learn and evolve how their wines express the Barossa vineyard landscape, the conditions each vintage presents and their own wine beliefs.
Andy is a willing listener when it comes to insights shared by established winemakers, given he’s still to complete his winemaking degree. “We’re so grateful for the guidance of other Barossa winemakers, as we’re still learning and evolving. We’re out to make wines that reflect who we are as people, wines that reflect what we like to drink. We want them to express a deep and obvious connection to the place they were made and when they were made…of vineyard, variety and vintage. We make our wines with the absolute bare minimum of human intervention, only to whatever extent is required to ensure they’re technically sound. Because we don’t filter or fine our wines before bottling, they can be a bit cloudy, but don’t let that put you off. Utmost in our minds is to make wines that are delicious and enjoyable, that create thought and bring about positive mood changes when people drink them.”
That’s the foreword to what I think is a brilliant wine story in the making. Andy and Emma are exceptionally grounded, and share a wonderfully simple and refreshing approach to making wine. They respect the landscape and aspire only to produce wine that reflects when and where it was made, and wine that they and others will derive pleasure from. This approach to wine making and wine enjoying is one we share and celebrate at Artisans of Barossa, and we welcome them into the house to present a selection of their wines.
At Artisans, we’re obsessed with promoting consideration for where each wine comes from, and encouraging your appreciation for how it’s made and who made it. All with the singular aim of helping you make sense of Barossa wine, helping you drink better wine, and assisting you to be more adventurous along your wine journey.
There is no wine experience more engaging and rewarding than meeting the people and shaking the hands that have produced what is swirling around in your glass. Our aim is to personally introduce the very best of them to you through our 'Winemaker in the House' program.
Every Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 4pm, the people who revel and excel in making the Barossa wines we most love to drink will be dropping into the Artisans house. A mix of established names alongside some new and exciting talent. They’ll be there to talk about their wines - where they come from and how they’re made, and (with great pride) how supremely special each one is. They’ll have a selection of their current best on tasting, and perhaps the odd rare gem of an older wine or special release direct from the their cellars. A great opportunity to immerse yourself in their winemaking world and be consumed by their expression of Barossa wine.
Our first Winemakers in the House are Phil & Sarah Lehmann from Max & Me.
Max has a lot to answer for. A chance meeting of Sarah with Phil’s dog Max marked the start of their journey together. Sarah, a professional ballet dancer, and passionate dog lover, was performing at the Barossa Music Festival. She met Max at rehearsal whilst waiting for the rest of her production crew. Meeting Max led to meeting Phil. Max was always with either, or both of them; he was included in everything. Whether working in the vineyard or winery with Phil, or work or University with Sarah. He went to the wedding, and tagged along to Tasmania on their honeymoon. So what to call their wines made from their beautiful Eden Valley vineyard? ‘Max & Me’ of course!
Phil & Sarah’s home, Boongarrie Estate, is a 120 hectare property in Eden Valley, in the Barossa Ranges. The soils are thin and underlain with rose quartz and siltstone; the landscape is undulating, studded with ancient redgums and rocky outcrops. The elevation tempers the summer heat, and provides cool air flow during the nights, ideal for nuanced and mineral flavours in the wines. Their philosophy for managing the land is to look after the soils and use minimal chemical inputs; biodiversity in mid-row grass and weed populations is encouraged and pest and disease pressures are minimal. Sheep and cattle graze the vineyard grasses during winter, and European species of dung-beetles have been introduced to recycle the animal manure as fertiliser, improving the fertility, water retention and structure of the vineyard soils. The vineyard is planted half to Shiraz and half to Cabernet. The Eden Valley Riesling grapes are purchased from a grower they’ve had long association with, and for who they have great respect for his fruit quality and careful stewardship of his vines.
Phil’s ‘day jobs’ over the years making wine for Yalumba, Peter Lehmann Wines, Teusner and now for St John’s Road, Parker Estate, Vickery and Hesketh have kitted him out handsomely in the winemaker skills stakes to enable him to make the utmost of these outstanding vineyards.
Meet Phil & Sarah this Saturday and Sunday 6 & 7 January from 12 to 4pm.
Contact Artisans of Barossa on (08) 8563 3935, or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or to book a time to talk and taste wine with the people that made it.
Along with Shiraz and Mataro, Grenache has been a stand out feature on the Barossa’s red wine landscape since vines were first planted here over 170 years ago. Barossa today lays claim to be home to the oldest continually produsing Grenache vineyards in the world, and produces a diverse range of compelling expressions of a variety that is rapidly emerging a favourite amongst the region’s artisan winemaker community.
In the last few months, the faith of the Barossa wine community in its old Grenache vineyards has been rewarded spectacularly. Bethany Wines’ 2016 Grenache was awarded Best Red and Best Wine at the Barossa Wine Show, and Turkey Flat’s 2016 Barossa Grenache won Australia’s most famous wine award, the Jimmy Watson Trophy (a first for a Grenache wine). Barossa Grenache’s light has never shone more brightly.
The Grenache Project is an exciting new initiative from Artisans of Barossa, representing six wines made by our six winemakers from a single Barossa vineyard. Each winemaker was allocated two rows of vines, and left entirely to their own devices. Responding to a simple brief…’Make a Grenache you'd like to drink’, the Project has produced a set of wines that are testament to the outstanding vintage and an emphatic statement of the supreme qualities and deliciousness of Barossa Grenache. And whilst the character of the vineyard is evident throughout, each wine stands apart from the others, bearing the distinct imprint of the maker through style, character and flavour. For adventurous discovers of small batch Barossa winemaking, The Grenache Project is not to be missed.
“What we’re doing with The Grenache Project is really bloody important. It’s symbolic of the commitment of artisan winemakers and growers to exhibit the best of their craft and showcase the best expressions of the region’s ancient soils with a variety so deeply rooted in our viticultural heritage and so clearly suited to this place. The growing profile of Barossa Grenache is to me a sign of the maturing of a new generation of winemakers and wine drinkers. They respect the landscape and what it’s best able to produce, rather than imposing the will of the market upon it to yield the latest fashionable variety. By doing our best to make delicious wine, we hope to nurture new audiences for these brilliant heritage varieties.” Pete Schell
To purchase your 2017 Grenache Project please visit our online wine store.
Each pack contains a single bottle of each plus an exclusive storybook detailing the story behind the Project and each wine.
Price is $250 per pack plus $10 delivery.
This week at Artisans...
I'm having a chat with Corey Ryan (the bloke on the left) from Sons of Eden about his time judging at last week's Barossa Wine Show. This time around, it's a chat with benefits as Corey stumps up for lunch from the Harvest Kitchen team. Hutton Vale lamb, heirloom roast carrots and crispy deep fried chicken. We decline the offer of freshly baked sour dough bread, but say yes to local olives to kick things off with a glass of Spinifex Rosé. The sun is shining...life can be good in the Barossa!
Lunch is a fast affair, so I jump straight in to the lamb...and quickly get to the point of this week's chat. How do winemakers benefit from entering their wines in wine shows? And what do wine drinkers get out of the whole process of a bunch of folk spending 3 days in a shed wearing white coats and swilling, tasting and spitting 100's of wines, clipboard and pen in hand? Corey's well set to answer (after he's had a few goes at the fried chicken) given he debuted at the Barossa Wine Show as an associate judge back in 1996! (His mum must have sent him off with a packed lunch and his bus fare...I didn't think the bloke was that old!)
"For a Barossa winemaker, the local show gives you the chance to benchmark your wine against others from within the region, to see different expressions of the same variety from the same region, without the distractions of seeing the labels or knowing who made what wine. It's also an opportunity to discover and appreciate style evolution...and maybe gain a few insights to take back to your own winery. And from a personal perspective being involved as a judge enables me to improve my tasting skills. Spending a day tasting wine might sound like a lot of fun, but for a judge it demands plenty of focus....it's hard work!"
I've often thought that too many winemakers can spoil the broth when it comes to judging wines at wine shows. A tendency for the merits of a wine to be assessed purely on its technical qualities, rather than what we wine drinkers want which is flavour and drinkability. But as Corey explains, the judging panels these days are a mixed bunch.
"No doubt we've got plenty of experienced winemakers involved on the judging panels, but we've also got wine journalists, winery managers and sales people involved as well. So there's a balance within each panel of 3 judges and 3 associate judges ensuring the wines winning the awards are both technically sound and also quality expressions of what wine drinkers should expect from the region and the variety. A great example of that is Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon from the Saltram guys...it won the trophy for best Cabernet at the show, and you can pick it up a bottle at Dan Murphy's for less than $20. So there's real value for the wine drinkers in these shows and they can buy with confidence any of the wines that receive awards. And that's not just the trophy winners. Be it bronze, silver or gold, a medal winning wine will be a great reflection of wine quality and wine style from the region, variety and vintage."
Whether Corey is too focused on the heirloom carrots, or just a humble bloke...but throughout lunch he politely neglects to mention Sons of Eden went all right at this year's Barossa Show, picking up the trophy for Most Successful Medium Sized Producer...the third time in the last six years, pitching the 'Sons' as the Hawks of the Barossa medium winemaker league. "Simon and I are just happy making wines that we like to drink, but it's great when your peers also reckon you're making good wine."
Neither Simon or Corey were available to don the penguin suits and be on hand to accept the trophy at Thursday night's dinner....leaving me to make my debut appearance in the role of trophy collector. I'm very happy to report that despite enthusiastic celebrations that stretched well into the next morning, I neither lost nor broke the trophy and it now has pride of place at the Sons of Eden winery. If you'd like to know what all the fuss is about, then I suggest grabbing a special six pack of the wines that each won medals at last week's Show. You can either drop into Artisans anytime, or go shopping on line by clicking here. $230 for a six pack of medal winning Barossa wines - great value drinking.
The lamb's all gone, only carrot tops remain and we're each insisting the other has the last piece of the fried chicken (I graciously accept)...so lunch is officially a wrap and it's time to get back to work this week at Artisans.
Cheers from Howard at Artisans.
This week at Artisans...
Today is International Grenache Day. Truth be known, I've always considered the idea of an international day dedicated to a grape variety a bit frivolous, especially in light of other "International Days of..." that aim to raise awareness of issues of greater substance than 'what wine should I drink today.' But I suppose everyone and everything (and inevitably every grape variety) is entitled to their moment in the sun.
Barossa Shiraz did well surviving the madness of the Government's vine pull scheme back in the 1980's. And just 10 years on from growers being paid a 'bounty' to pull old Shiraz vines out of the ground, the region's flagship variety had gone from the chopping block to prized fighter status earning big dollars for growers and winemakers alike. Grenache took a pounding in the 1980's...and then came back for more of the same over the next 10 years or so as it failed to find favour with winemakers or wine drinkers. But as the Barossa grower community had shown true grit and true faith in the old Shiraz vineyards during the dark days of the vine pull, they again protected and preserved the very best of the region's Grenache vineyards in the following two decades. Resisting temptation to follow fashion and make a quick buck by eradicating old vine Grenache in favour of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, the Barossa's grape growers showed they know best when it comes to what grows in their vine 'gardens'.
Grenache is a consistent theme that runs through the past, present and future stories of each of our six Artisan winemakers, and in 2017 we'll launch the Grenache Project...six Grenache wines, made by six winemakers from the same old Grenache vineyard at Penrice in the Angaston foothills. This spot is good Barossa dirt for Grenache. Brown loamy sands over sub soil quartz help regulate the temperature of the root structure, and gully breezes at night cool the canopy. The sloping free draining site helps keep yields low, producing berries packed with flavour. Our winemakers were let off the leash and given free reign - when to pick it and how to make it in a back to the basics exercise. Each winemaker unshackled from their current journey and existing identity and given a simple brief....'make a Grenache you'd like to drink.' The Grenache Project is our first effort at making wine together, and the pure, bright and athletic vibrancy of the variety is the perfect canvas upon which our Artisans can individually express themselves.
The six wines will be bottled next month and released exclusively as a pack of six different wines from six different winemakers later this year. From the same source, transformed by six winemakers into varied expressions of Grenache, and then reunited in one case of six different wines. If you love your Grenache, or feel the need to take a Grenache discovery tour, then reply to this email and I'll get Simon our Club Manager to put one aside for you. For $250, we'll ship a six pack anywhere in Australia before Christmas. Get in quick!
It took Shiraz around 150 - 160 years to emerge as the hero of the Barossa. Grenache was a little slower, but it now sits comfortably alongside as another example of the extraordinary capability of this region to produce outstanding quality wine from so many different grape varieties. Sometimes good things take time....a lot of time. Case in point is the Schrapel family of Bethany Wines whose 80 year old Grenache vineyards created a wine awarded three trophies including Best Wine in Show at the Barossa wine show this week. Patience and perseverance personified, and rightfully rewarded. We'll raise a glass of Grenache in honour of Jeff and Rob Schrapel and winemaker Alex McLelland this week at Artisans.
Howard at Artisans
This week at Artisans...
I'm talking to Simon Pickett our Friends of Artisans Club Manager. He's the bloke on the left in the picture above with the Cheshire Cat grin . Simon's family and mine share a bit in common, both having turned the Barossa into a new home after 3 year posts as 'expats' in South East Asia - Simon and family in Vietnam, mine in Singapore. Simon, wife Ange and two young boys arrived in the Barossa fresh off the plane from Hanoi in July 2014.
"Our first Barossa home was a single room in the Vineyards Motel near Angaston. A planned 7 night stay quickly became a 3 night stay as we jumped at the chance to rent a 3 bedroom house in Langmeil Estate. So four days after our last bowl of steaming pho on the streets of Hanoi, Ange and I have the boys settled in a local school and a shipping container is parked in our driveway. After a few weeks unpacking and setting up a lifetime of collectables into our new place, it's pretty obvious that 'Casa del Pickett', with rooms crammed with Asian art and furnishings, was a distinctive one in the context of your average Tanunda suburban home!
Ange and I landed here with two contacts...I had the name and number of some bloke known only as 'Mattschy' who ran the cellar door at PL's. And Ange had connected with someone called Annemaree via instagram who'd arrived from Singapore a few years before! That was the sum total of our Barossa network. But the Barossa is a generous place. The wines are generous. The people are very generous...especially with how much they tip in your glass! The food is very generous...the Barossa 'diet' and I are willing partners! And the community was incredibly generous with their warm welcome when we first arrived. Schools, work, sporting clubs - these are the hubs of a remarkable community that welcomed us as one of their own.
I came here to immerse myself in wine having worked for years in wines sales in Sydney and Canberra. Because wine is fun, and people who work in wine are fun. And people working in wine and living in wine regions know how to have a lot of fun. Spending a Tuesday night in summer at the Nuri bowling club rolling bowls, drinking Riesling and celebrating a win with a butcher of the house port - that's the sort of stuff that reminds you why it's good to live here. And now Ange also works in wine...so our decision to make the move to South Australia and to live in the Barossa was a great one."
Welcome to the Barossa....the Pickett's first (temporary) Barossa home
Simon has just ticked over 3 years calling the Barossa home....but the way he talks about the place, you'd think he was 7th generation material. You'd struggle to find a more passionate advocate for the place, the community, its local produce and of course its wines. Which makes him an incredible asset at Artisans...and also the perfect candidate to head up the launch of the Barossa Wine School at Artisans later this year. This guy knows his Barossa, and in the wine school room he's a first rate teacher.
"The Wine School was launched by Barossa Grape and Wine in Hong Kong about 4 years back...and we're the first cellar door in the Barossa to offer it. It's a great way for anyone - visitors and locals - to gain an appreciation of the history of Barossa wine, the vineyard landscape and the incredible breadth of expression of winemaking that comes from a relatively small patch of dirt. That we've got 6 different winemakers sharing a home up here at Artisans means we're well placed to show off Barossa wine in its entirety through the School. I'm in the final stages of training at the moment, and we should be ready to start welcoming our first 'students' to a class room like no other....90 minutes including a 'test', with 6 wines to taste and a complimentary gift bag all for around $60...towards the end of October. You'll leave with a freshly minted Certificate and knowledge that allows you to make sense of the Barossa, to drink better wine and to be more adventurous in your wine drinking. Stay tuned for more details."
And with that, Simon jumps in his car and heads 'up the river' for a weekend of big skies, warming fires and plenty of delicious and generous Barossa wine. Which leaves me to jump behind the tasting bar for the first time this week at Artisans.
This week at Artisans...
Greg and Allison Hobbs are here and we're continuing a chat started in the kitchen of their home in Flaxman's Valley a few months back. I confess...I can't get enough of hearing their Barossa wine story, because it's just so bloody good. Whilst many of us have dreamed of a vine change, Alli and Greg have made theirs reality...and with very good form to boot. And if their story was to become a book, the synopsis of the story so far would probably read something like this;
Non wine drinking copper meets wine drinking nurse. They fall in love (aaaw), the non wine drinking copper becomes a wine drinking copper and together with his wine drinking nurse girlfriend they begin their wine journey with weekends spent exploring South Australia's wine regions tasting, buying and accumulating an impressive cellar. (Good start!)
Moving on...now married with 3 kids, life in the big smoke begins to lose its allure for our wine drinking dynamic duo. A desire to find a new life in the country combined with the urge to take a really big step in their wine journey leads them to buy a home in the Eden Valley which is...by pure chance (wink-wink) surrounded by a century old, but 'seen better days', vineyard.
Time to meet the neighbour...who quite fortuitously happens to be Chris Ringland who knows a thing or two about old Barossa vineyards and making wine. Exchanges of information about grape growing and wine making, swaps of vineyard equipment and the occasional passing over the figurative back fence of the odd decent scone (produced by Alli, with the assistance of the Angaston baker) are the rights of passage that build neighborhoods in these parts. Fi and Col Shepherd of Flaxman Wines will move into the 'hood soon after.
Business Plan 'A' is formulated - fix vineyard, grow grapes, sell grapes. This is replaced at some stage later by Business Plan 'B' - realise grapes are too bloody good to sell, so grow grapes, make wine! Business Plan 'C' is a pragmatic response to Business Plan B - 'make wine, drink some wine, and sell wine after allowance for 'ullages' caused by now adult kids coming up to see mum and dad on the weekends. There's also an exciting forray into Artisans of Barossa with 6 good winemaking mates.
And as you turn to the last page of the book it would read 'To be continued...' - because this is a book that is still being written.
There are two things that are plainly obvious when you talk to Greg and Alli about their vineyard and their wine. First and foremost, they love what they do...and believe me, their's is not the romantacised version of winery ownership. These people work exceptionally hard, but they do so because everything they do on behalf of their wine brings them enormous joy. You can see that in their smiles and in their eyes. They also love being an Artisan and the camaraderie they feel through the group of 6 winemakers who share a common approach to wine...they do it because they love it, and for no other purpose. The other thing you sense from the Hobbs' is the pride they take in their wine. An outsider observing how they work in their vineyard, how they make their wine, how they package their wine would jump quickly to the conclusion that "there has to be a easier way". But that's not how Greg and Alli see their world. They never look for an easier way to do anything, they only look for a better way. And in the quest to make these wines that they can be justifiably proud of, that 'better way' inevitably implies 'the hard way'!
The connection the Hobbs’ have to their vineyard is like few others. They look over it every morning when they wake up, they pass through it every morning taking the dog for a walk, they work in their vineyard every day…and each evening they enjoy a glass of wine from the fruit they’ve grown from the vines that surround them. Beautiful place, beautiful people…magnificent, richly flavoured wines that reflect the hard work and love that goes into making them.
The 'Hobbsies' have just released the first vintage of their Tin Lids Shiraz Cabernet and its available for tasting at Artisans now. An Eden Valley expression of the classic Australian red blend, bringing together Shiraz from their vineyard at Flaxman Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon from Phil and Sarah Lehmann’s Boongarie Estate on the Keyneton to Eden Valley Road. It's big on flavour and oozing class. We've also just released the first vintage of the Tin Lids Aria Secca Shiraz. ‘Aria Secca’ is an Italian term, meaning ‘air dried', and refers to the 7-10 days the harvested grapes lie on drying racks at the winery to further concentrate the flavours of Shiraz from a 100+ year old vineyard.
As good a reason as any to stick your head in the door this week at Artisans.
PS: Apologies to Kirsty Mackirdy for spelling her name 3 different ways last week
I'm talking to Kirsty Mackirdy, an artisan of a different kind - jeweller/ silversmith and a very welcome (and always smiling) face behind tasting bar at Artisans of Barossa.
Unlike kiwi Pete Schell who I talked to the other week, Kirsty is South Australian through and through and can trace her ancestry back to the Clark family who arrived as pioneers back in the 1840's, settling in Hazelwood Park. An early generation of the family would be soon involved in establishing the historic Stonyfell vineyard in 1860. Grapes and wine are deeply embedded in the Mackirdy DNA.
Twenty or so years ago, Kirsty and (now) husband Beau both decided on a vine change. Kirsty from life in Adelaide where she grew up, and Beau from Sydney seeking a quieter place to write. It was Beau who discovered the old Schoenborn Lutheran Church in the parish of what is now known as Gomersal to the south west of Tanunda. The Church was built in 1855 and served as the hub of the community for many years before the congregation moved to a new site in 1927. The 'new' Church sits alongside the Gomersal Road and is well known by Barossans for the cryptic messages of faith that appear weekly on the sign board out front. The old church became a Lutheran school, and then a state school before being vacated in 1952. Between that time and 44 years later when Kirsty and Beau purchased their 'renovator's dream', the only residents had been rats - both the four legged and winged variety. The south side wall had disappeared entirely, as had the floor of what is now their bedroom. And cracks through which you stick your arm through snaked their way across most of the interior walls. But 18 months later, with the modern comforts of hot and cold water and a flushing loo, Beau and Kirsty moved into their new home. A kitchen would come later!
Kirsty Mackirdy, jeweller/ silversmith - an artisan of a different kind
It's from this point in Kirsty's telling of her Barossa story that the pace quickens....so much for the quiet country life. There's talk of sons Angus and Alex, of times working the cellar door at Krondorf, then Saltram and Artisans, the occasional switch hit to discuss hockey, of kick starting her jewellery design business, and then something to do with herding sheep in high heels after a long lunch at 1918. And then this during a pause....'oh yeah, I also ran my own catering company for 13 years!'. It's the kind of life story that makes you tired just listening to.
Kirsty's initial connection with Artisans came about through her work as a jeweller, holding 3 pop up exhibitions before constant demand from our customers required her work to be permanently on show. "People get really excited when they meet one of our winemakers in the building, and it's the same with me when they realise I'm the one making the jewellery. I think people have a real love for things that are hand made...and 'meeting the maker' establishes a more meaningful link with what we make - whether it's wine or ear-rings." As we started to finish up talking, I had meant to ask Kirsty to name a few of her favourite wines, but we ended up talking in closing more about what she loves about this place. Kirsty freely admits she begged for a job at Artisans - so enamored was she with the beautiful light filled space and the small family winery feel that runs through the business. "It's a very sociable job, constantly involving human interaction - a nice contrast to working solo in the studio at home. But most of all, our winemakers make bloody good wines - that's what I really love about Artisans."
I can't disagree with Kirsty 'Mac' on that last point....and yes, we have plenty of bloody good wines on tasting this week at Artisans.