On September 20 2016 a trade tasting is taking place that may change the way the UK wine trade views modern Australian wine. The Artisans of Australia Tasting will draw together 25 of the most exciting, innovative and down-right talented winemakers in the world today. Through their experimentation with new varietals, adoption of minimalist winemaking or their dedication to site selection and expression, these winemakers are crafting wines that are a new iteration of Australian wine brilliance. Having such a range of talents together in one room makes this event an opportunity that no serious wine professional can afford to miss.
Winemaking innovation: an Australian tradition
Australian wine has a long and cherished reputation for dynamism and innovation. From its earliest days in the late 19th century when pioneers innovated out of necessity, to the founders of the modern industry who innovated in the pursuit of excellence; change has always been part of Australian winemaking's DNA. As the industry has matured and grown into a leading global player, so one might have expected the pace of innovation to slow or even cease. After all, many of the world's other great wine producing nations - one thinks immediately of France and in particular Bordeaux and Burgundy - had created wines that found acclaim they tended to stick to that winning formula with innovation being confined to the technical rather than the stylistic. This is definitely not the case for Australian wines. Australian winemakers' zeal for the new, the tradition-reinventing and above all, the excellent, is alive and well as will be showcased at the Artisans of Australian Wine tasting.
Artisans of Australian Wine: different by design
Since the turn of the millennium, winemaking worldwide has become an increasingly applied and scientific process. Wineries often have their own labs, winery equipment that looks like something out of sci-fi movie and techniques that can mould nature's offering into wines of a particular style. Such technologies have delivered huge benefits in terms of quality and stability, but some winemakers argue that such high levels of intervention can rob wines of some their individuality, diversity and regionality. This is certainly a common feeling within the Artisan community.
Artisans of Australian Wine: driven by desire
To try and collectively define what makes such a diverse group of winemakers different would be folly: each is driven by their vision of what Australian wine excellence looks like and that in turn is the sum of a plethora of influences; regional, stylistic, aesthetic and artistic. There are, however, some areas of common outlook between some of the winemakers attending the Artisans event and these collective traits can be loosely grouped into:
The Alternative - from Con-Greg Grigoriou of Delinquente who grew up in the Riverland and is now making exciting small batch wines from emerging varietals in the largest wine-growing region in Australia to Jennie Gardner and Col McBride of Adelina who are producing fascinating Nebbiolo and Arneis in Adelaide Hills, this pick of the Artisans bunch are showing a truly alternative face of Australian wine. Joining them will be Tom Keelan from the Pawn Wine Co who has rebelled against the prevailing trends, realising the potential of alternative wine styles in the Adelaide Hills and Rebecca Willson from Bremerton in Langhorne Creek who focuses on individualistic wines from emerging varieties like Fiano, Vermentino and Graciano. While Dan Standish and Jaysen Collins of Massena are two high school mates with a passion for exploring non-traditional varieties in one of our most traditional regions. Primitivo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Tannat, Saperavi... Barossa? Damn straight.
The Cool - Australia's cool climate wines have been taking the world by storm in recent years. At the tasting you'll be able to meet Mac Forbes who has sought out, sometimes unfavoured, sites in the Yarra Valley and through persistence and understanding turned them into prized cool climate locations. From the self-confessed 'farmer', Timo Mayer, whose focus is on allowing his wines to express the nature of his single vineyard sites with minimal intervention in the winery to Adelaide Hills' skateboarding winemaker Brendon Keys, whose motto of 'Quality and Creativity Not Conformity' is reflected in his brilliantly stripped back wines which again reflect the essence of the vineyard. Ian and June Marks were part of the pioneering 'second wave' of Yarra Valley vignerons in the 1980s. Today their son Andrew Marks is focused on non-irrigated, hand pruned and harvested, low yielding vines producing thrilling cool climate wines. Also in the group is Aaron Drummond from Circe. Aaron and Dan Buckle are two mates with a passion for cool climate Australian wine styles exploring exceptional vineyards in Victoria.
The Minimalists - a diverse grouping. Here we have the likes of Luke Lambert, who combines minimal winery intervention with old-style techniques such as the use of wild yeasts and little oak, and sommelier-turned-winemaker, James Erskine of Jauma whose grapes are sourced from select plots in the McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills and whose wines are made by hand with as little intervention as possible. They are joined by Patrick Sullivan, who lives and make wine on his farm in the Gippsland making wines are inspired by a moment in time and a sense of place, and Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk whose love of wine, food and growing things led him away from a vastly different background involving scuba gear and seaweed to growing and making of wines in the Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills. The Naturals - Sarah Morris and husband Iwo Jakimowicz of Si Vintners typify this group. They use natural methods and minimal intervention in the traditionally conservative Margaret River and believe in, 'Pure wine made from grapes from our land'. Ray Nadeson from Lethbridge Wines believes that organic and biodynamic practices allow them to best express their terroir. his philosophy is shared by Suzi and Wayne of Smallfry, viticulturists bitten by the winemaking bug who are the custodians two biodynamically farmed vineyards, one in the Eden Valley, and the other in Vine Vale. After becoming bored with filmmaking Julian Castagna turned to wine for his creative outlet, using biodynamics as a tool to best express the unique terroir of Beechworth in his wines, while Xavier Goodridge of Xavier is a young winemaker shaping raw but refined minimal intervention wines from sites in Victoria. The results for all of these Artisans are simply stunning.
The Terroir Hunters - It's all about place for these guys. Take Gary Mills of Jamsheed. Gary has gone from an English teacher to Japanese tour guide by way of Margaret River to become one of Victoria's best winemakers whose Syrahs and aromatic Rieslings and Rousannes convey a real taste of place. After traveling some of the world’s most amazing wine and surf regions, Taras and Amber of Ochota Barrels conceived the idea to make beautiful, holistic wines from exceptional sites in South Australia. From her home base in Coonawarra Sue Bell of Bellwether explores great sites around Australia, from Nero d'Avola in the Riverland to Chardonnay in Tasmania and Cabernet from her home base in Coonawarra while David Bowley of Vinteloper truly embraces the spirit of the interloper by questioning how things are 'meant' to be done, making a range of small batch wines from special sites across South Australia.
Ground-breaking wines. Ground-breaking winemakers
It's hard to overestimate the significance of the Artisans of Australia Tasting. In years to come it may well be a badge of honour to say you were there; that you tasted the future of Australian wines and met the people who went on to help re-shape, not just the face of Australian wine, but of wine itself.
While the final list of Artisans is yet to be confirmed, the current line-up of reads like a 'Who's-Who' of the new Australian wine scene... Steve Pannell, The Other Wine Co, Bill Downie, Eperosa, L.A.S Vino, Eden Road, Gembrook Hill, Xavier, Massena, Lot 462, Smallfry, Deviation Road, Sami-Odi, Vinteloper, Bellwether, Ochota Barrels, Ruggabellus, Jamsheed, Castagna, Yangarra, Lethbridge Wines, Si Vintners, Gentle Folk, Patrick Sullivan, Strenua, Ministry of Clouds, David Franz, La Violetta, CRFT, Byrne Wines, Luke Lambert, Jauma, Teusner, Circe, BK Wines, Timo Mayer, Mac Forbes, Bremerton, Pawn Wine Co, Bindi, Adelina and Delinquente.
The Artisans Tasting: meet the makers, share the passion
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