Welcome to the Artisans of Barossa blog where we bring you news and events from Artisans of Barossa, Vino Lokal and the Barossa region.
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.
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.
I'm talking to Tim Duval about growing up in the Barossa Valley in a wine family, about life as a lawyer and about working with Dad in the family business - John Duval Wines.
You can't be anything but green with envy when Tim Duval starts talking about his introduction to wine at the Duval dinner table at a time when Dad was chief winemaker at Penfolds. (That's him in the picture above, front right next to Max Schubert.) Whilst he's quick to state Grange was not served every night ("Koonunga Hill was probably my true wine training wheels"), there's no doubt Tim Duval was developing a commanding appreciation and deep understanding of Australia's most famous wine at an age most of us were drinking Tang and Cottee's Cordial with our Wednesday night bangers and mash. But Tim's early memories of wine extend far beyond the regular privilege of enjoying Penfold's best.
"Growing up in the Barossa with dad working as a winemaker, wine was on the table every night of the week. There was a really healthy attitude to wine, it was part of a meal and central to the dinner table conversation. Wine was part of our everyday life and inevitably the network of Barossa mates I developed through my childhood each too had their own close connection to wine through a parent's involvement with a winery or a vineyard. It was only when I moved to Adelaide to study that it became apparent that not all family lives revolved around Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro, vintage, ferments, yields and vineyards.
My first hands on experience with wine came around the age of 17 working in vineyards along the western ridge training young vines to the trellis wire. A full day out in 40 degree heat gave me new found respect for the hard work that is grape growing, and equally the importance of a good piece of dirt...it also helped fund my early years studying law in Adelaide. All through my uni days, I stayed closely connected to wine working in some of Adelaide's best independent retailers. That experience opened my eyes to a much bigger wine world, and on weekends I'd head home to the Barossa with a few new discoveries to share and talk about with dad. With a year to go in my law degree, I took a break and headed to the Yarra Valley to work under Tom Carson at Yering Station. At that point, I knew working in the wine business was my ultimate destiny."
Tim and I get to the question what it's like working with your dad, and how John Duval, 26 years winemaker at Penfolds, welcomes Tim Duval, 7 years a practicing lawyer, into the family wine business.
"With 32 years age between us, there was never any doubt I'd bring a different perspective on wine to the business. I have enormous respect for what Dad has achieved in wine and in business....not only during his time at Penfolds, but for what he's done to get John Duval Wines to where it is today. I enjoy working with him, which is obviously important in a small business when it just him and I and Sally our Finance Manager in the office! He's very supportive, and his incredible knowledge of winemaking and relationships with the owners of great Barossa vineyards are the pillars upon which our family business is built. That won't change...and ultimately it will become dad's eternal legacy to John Duval Wines. Working alongside him in the business now affords me the opportunity to learn as much as I can from him....and I'm fairly sure he respects the value of having an ex lawyer around the place!
Shiraz and our family name's connection with Grange is a big part of our identity wherever we travel in the world - that's undeniable. But with each discovery of a great Barossa vineyard site comes an opportunity to write a new page in the story of John Duval Wines. Watch out for the first vintage releases of a single vineyard Mataro and Cabernet Sauvignon which will be released later this year. Of our current releases, our Annexus Grenache is the wine that excites me most. Barossa Grenache should be celebrated and promoted to the world - it's an incredible resource we have and when you discover the right site with the right clone, you can make wonderful, savoury wines with incredible depth of flavour. The 2015 vintage is almost sold out and 2016 is in bottle ready for release in December...a brilliant vintage for Barossa Valley Grenache."
Whilst John's winemaking career and Tim's childhood have been influenced by their respective experiences with Australia's most famous winery, it's clear this father/ son team is charting a future for their family business based not on the past, but on their faith in the Barossa as one of the world's great wine regions. To them, where their wine comes from and how it's made remains paramount to ensuring the standing of John Duval Wines as one of this region's most respected family winemakers.
It's rare a day goes by that Tim and/ or John is not sighted somewhere around our Artisans home in Vine Vale....so there's a very good chance you'll bump into them this week at Artisans.