When did you first know you wanted to become a winemaker?
The house my family and I once lived in was built on the original vineyard site for Wynn’s Wines, now known as Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate. A very old vine had wrapped around the home’s pergola and was covered in far too many grapes to eat, so we decided to go to the library and borrow a book on how to make wine. With virtually no equipment, we resorted to treading on the grapes, fermenting them in a big bucket and filtering the wine through pantyhose. The wine was terrible, however the fire had been lit. The next year we sold the house in suburbia and bought twenty acres in Kersbrook.
How would you describe your career so far?
I’d always dreamed of playing cricket as a profession and after a year at university I was offered a contract to play in England. In 1985, I was enlisted to play in South Australia and have never left.
After buying the twenty acres at Kersbrook, we planted an acre of shiraz that now produces our flagship Don’s Acre. Two years later, we bought the adjoining property and planted ten acres of shiraz and riesling. I have had several winemaking mentors over the years, whose combined experiences have been invaluable, including Peter Schell of Spinifex Wines, Simon Greenleaf of Cloudbreak Wines, and Ben Heide of Patritti Wines. Eventually it was time to build our own facility and take over the winemaking duties myself.
What is your favourite wine, and what food do you pair with it?
I was involved in a food and wine night recently where the chef made a beautiful sauce by reducing a bottle of our shiraz in a saucepan over a low heat until it was like treacle, which he then poured over a ribeye steak. It was simple, but amazing.
Is there a specific process you follow when developing a new wine?
I try to release one new wine every year that’s unusual or considered a little unconventional. A good example might be our Strange Bedfellows wine, which was created after our customers remarked that they were looking for a wine that was interesting, a little on the fruitier side, not too tannic, but still had body.
How does the local climate/soil affect the wine you make?
We have several vineyards around Adelaide and each of them have their own special climate and soil type. However, if we focus on the three vineyards at the Kersbrook property, you will see a major difference between them, as well.
The first planted, the Don’s Acre vineyard breaks all the rules! With vines planted too close together, rows too far apart and being situated next to a water course, this western-facing vineyard shouldn’t work – but it does! The vineyard produces fruit of extremely high quality in small volumes, which suits our flagship shiraz.
Our bigger Stags’ Leap vineyard also faces west, although on a slighter incline. The soil is grey, sandy loam over white clay. The vineyard is 300 metres above sea level, so we experience slightly cooler conditions than those found in Barossa. Due to a later budburst and ripening we avoid picking in the hottest part of the year, leading to a more fruit-driven style in both whites and reds.
The third vineyard on the property is still being established as it has twice been eaten by wild deer and needed to be replanted. The soil is a heavy red clay and was planted to shiraz and tempranillo. I am looking forward to discovering the difference in the wine created by the differing soil types.
Which of your own varieties do you typically indulge in?
My wife Mary and I have a fondness for sparkling wine, so a bottle or two of our Premium Single Vintage Cuvée has been known to make its way home from the cellar door.
Is there any vintage you are particularly proud of creating?
The 2008 vintage was a cracker, as the weather had been fantastic with enough heat and rain to keep the vines happy, while offering a long and slow ripening period.
What do you love most about wine making?
I love taking all the elements that nature throws at us and capturing that year in a bottle. Nearly all our wines are single vineyard/single vintage wines; they are a genuine picture of what happened in the vineyard in any given year.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think your winemaking will evolve in this time?
We have recently implemented a system that enables us to track our customers and record what they like and don’t like. I hope this means I can expand on the model that sees me making wines that are what our customers ask for, rather than forcing them to like what we make. Our motto is ‘Quality, Imagination, Style’, and we want to ensure that is seen in our wines.
From Wineries of South Australia, Issue 04. Edited by Bhria Vellnagel.