The Minimalists don’t need or use winemaking bells and whistles. Australian winemakers who let the wines and the places they come from tell the story.
Australian winemakers who don’t need or use winemaking bells and whistles; no oak chips, no added tartaric acid, no modern machines to extract the life out of grapes. Allowing the wines and the places they come from tell the story. They are a group we at Wine Australia have dubbed the ‘Minimalists’.
The Minimalists – paring back the artifice
When talking about music or the arts, minimalism is a movement that is focused around a deliberate lack of decoration or adornment. Composers like John Cage and painters like Piet Mondrian stripped back the notes, the colours and the complexity. They changed the art world by showing that artistic expression could be about the things you leave out rather than the things you add in. Are there parallels with our Minimalists and how they make their wines? Absolutely. And just as the exponents of minimalism received flak from the traditional art establishment, there are some in the wine world that have attacked the Minimalists. They’ve accused them of being lazy winemakers, of letting the wines just do their own thing and not intervening when they deem it appropriate. But these kind of accusations fail to see grasp the point of this wine philosophy, not to mention overlooking the glories it can produce.
The Maximum-Minimal methodology
The Minimalists should invite those who criticise them to come and give them a hand in the vineyard to see just how damn lazy they are. These are vignerons who practice maximum human intervention in the vineyard. They spend their time, their effort and their energy here so they don’t have use chemicals to deal with viticultural challenges. They do the hard yards caring for the vines, doing all they can to ensure they produce fruit of amazing quality, something that is the basis of all great wines. What are hoped for results of focusing efforts in the vineyard rather than the winery’s lab? Even more hard work. The Minimalists can’t rely on oak chips, bags of acid, tannin powder or enzymes to ‘fix’ a wine made from grapes of less than ideal quality. They can’t push back picking dates because they need the space in the winery or adjust the additions menu to suit the increased sugar levels in the grapes. They pick when the fruit is as close to optimum as possible and then let it take care of itself in the winery. These winemakers are about as far as you can get from the old school view of Australian wine as an industrial, homogenous product. These are wines hand crafted in tiny quantities from the vine to the bottle by some of the wine world’s most passionate people.
It’s nothing new, it’s nothing crazy or inventive, it’s just keeping it simple… it’s just about reflecting the sites in the bottle from year to year, season to season. In the winery it’s also keeping it as simple as possible. That means no oak input. The barrels are for storage only, not for flavour. Getting picking dates right, getting the pressing right and nursing the wine to the bottle.
Minimalists at the Artisans
The Artisans of Australian Wine tasting will draw together some of the most extraordinary winemakers working anywhere in the world today. Amongst them will be Minimalists super-stars including:
Born of the many rural regions of Victoria, Patrick had a nomadic childhood. All grown up and married to the beautiful Megan, they live and make wine on their own farm in the Strzelecki Ranges, Gippsland. And while Patrick has been lazily labelled by some as a member of the ‘natural’ wine movement, it’s a label that undersells him and his wines. ‘Yes, what I do fits the bill of what people say is natural. But really all I want to do is make really good wine…” Amen to that. What the hell is a ‘natural’ wine anyways? Let us know when you find someone bottling spontaneously fermented grape juice from uncultivated vines. Then we can really start the ‘natural’ wine movement.
James is a former sommelier known for his inventive, boundary pushing lists. He’s travelled the world, studying anthropology at UC Davis and completing a degree in Soil Science in Australia. All experiences that have helped to shape James into a thoughtful, considered and engaging winemaker ‘Music activates something in us, such as emotion, and serves as an interaction between us and the outside world,’ James explained to the Wine Idealist, ‘and a wine should do the same thing. It activates a sensuality within us that gets to a deeper connection of the individual experience.’
While studying winemaking Luke Lambert was already thinking about where he would want to work once qualified. Luke thought about the wines that he wanted to make, the wines that he loved to drink and then reverse engineered the location into where he would love to work. He kept coming back to the wines of Mount Mary and Yarra Yering from the Yarra Valley, these wines spoke to Luke of a place he’d love to make wine. ‘You can make medium weight wine here that has fine tannin ripe and holds its acidity. It has the gentleness, the perfume, the lift and all those things that I wanted… That’s the most important thing. It’s easy to avoid ‘sunshine in a bottle’ in this region.’
It’s not often that people can list winemaker and seaweed specialist on the same CV, but Gareth Belton is someone who can. The demand for seaweed taxonomists ain’t what it used to be so when you live in a wine region next door to Taras Ochota, James Erskine and Brendon Keys it’s not too much of a surprise when you get bitten hard by the wine bug. ‘I thought, I’ve been at uni for eight years and it’s not rocket science, making wine,’ Gareth told the Wine Idealist, ‘… I’ve got loads of lovely people around me that answer all my questions, and happily come ’round and look through my ferments, especially if I’ve got beers. James and Taras and Anton are great and really help me out a lot… I really believe that, especially the way we make wine, it’s not really about the science, it’s more about your palate.’
Xavier has come a long way from running a wine bar in London to becoming one of our most exciting young winemakers, shaping raw but refined minimal intervention wines from sites in Victoria. Like many young Australians, Xavier headed to London when he was 18. But unlike many young Australians he was soon running a quirky wine bar, Hamptons. From there Xavier’s wine journey included stops in Adelaide for studies and time spent in wineries like Rex Hill in Oregon before returning home to Victoria.
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