The Artisans of Australian Wine tasting was an undoubted highlight of the 2016 tasting calendar. It showed an entirely fresh face of Australian wine, a face that is innovative, modern, passionate and proudly different. Amongst the throng of extraordinarily talented winemakers were ones who are seeking perfection by chasing the ultimate Australian terroir, by producing green wines and by taking a natural approach to winemaking. It was a revelatory tasting, one that seemed to feed on the heady energy and excitement of having so many disparate innovators in the same room for the first time: innovators who are helping to shape the future of Australian wine.
Amazing as the Artisans tasting was, it was – in one respect at least – a victim of its own success. With so many diversions on show and so many fascinating characters to engage with, there simply wasn’t enough time to devote to each wine as I would have liked. Luckily for me I received another chance to get to know some of the wines and the winemakers when I was invited to Taras Ochota’s new wood oven wine lounge in the former St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Uraidla, Adelaide Hills, Lost In A Forest for an afternoon tasting that was, like the Artisans, not your usual wine event…
Taras Ochota – Ochota Barrels - Host and hero
Taras is something of a hero of mine – any man who names his wines after bands such as the mighty Fugazi deserves respect – and I was looking forward to seeing him in his natural environment. The experience didn’t disappoint. Arriving fashionably late and looking distinguished yet dishevelled, he immediately relocated the tasting from the chapel to the garden where we were invited to water the grass rather than use spittoons.
While Taras busied himself with arranging pizzas and sorting out the all-important music, we were treated to a flight of his wines (see notes below). As we tasted Taras told us more about his philosophy on wine and on life. He openly admits to being less than organised and that elements of his life are somewhat chaotic. That said when it comes to his wine everything has to be just so; every element of his approach to winemaking is driven in the pursuit of perfection and it’s his attention to detail that shines through in his wines.
Ochota Barrels - Gewürztraminer 2015
Apples, spices – cinnamon and herbs on the nose – perfumed in the mouth, lively, great lift, dry, tangy, full, saline on the finish. Just lovely. Yeasty.
Ochota Barrels - Chardonnay 2015
Full, ripe, dry nose, notes of yeast. Savoury, nutty, apple and touches of minerals, dry, almost Fino Sherry character. Tangy on the finish. Could this be any further from sunshine in a bottle Aussie Chardonnay…?
Ochota Barrels - Amber 2015
(Single vineyard, Pinot Noir with cuttings from Ashton Hills)
Dried red fruits nose, pale, deep rose, touch of confection. Sweet attack, red berries, clean, savoury, red cherry. Mouth-filling in a gentle, subtle fashion. Great fun.
Ochota Barrels - Texture Like Sun 2014
(9 varieties – Pinot Noir, Grenache, Gamay, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay – real field blend)
Cherry and bubblegum on the nose, jammy. Massively complex: immediately fruity, then very dry and clean, long finish – boiled sweets and bitter herbs. Seriously contrasting textures and flavours. Like drinking a Tom Waits album!
Ochota Barrels - The Price Of Silence 2016
(Vines started out as Chardonnay which wasn’t doing well enough, so Taras took a chainsaw to them and grafted Gamay on the rootstocks and it’s producing Gamay).
Such a pretty colour, pinky purple. Fresh tasting, lovely crunchy fruit, red berries, touch of confection to the finish, then long and dry with savoury notes.
Ochota Barrels - Fugazi 2015
(Planted in 1947, Blewitt Springs, Grenache. No new oak).
Typically fruity nose, earthy notes on the undertow. Ripe, rounded, spicy, packed with fruit, red and black berries, touches of herbs/slight savouriness, such juice to the finish. Mass of berries on the nose, palate is rounded, bright acidity, lots of white pepper, tangy, earthy notes, iodine – mint, black wine gums with acidity.
Ochota Barrels wines are available from Indigo Wine.
James Erskine – Jauma - Winemaker and charmer
James was the perfect person to introduce a natural wines sceptic such as myself to this winemaking approach. When I first heard of natural wines the cynic in me instantly thought of it as a marketing ploy, something that would look good on the back label and give wine writers a story to tell. After speaking to James, and tasting his immensely drinkable wines, it became apparent that I was wrong.
For winemakers such as James, natural wines are just that: natural. To him it’s the natural way to make wine. Farming organically and biodynamically, eschewing additives in the winery, doing no filtering or fining and relying on his senses rather than technology, James looks to create wines that have energy; wines which bring together a combination of ingredients and which have a distinct taste of place. His passion is evident, even if his espousal of it is languid and charming, and his Jauma wines are simply astonishing.
Jauma - Like Raindrops 2015
Mid-red, sweet red berry notes, very full, extremely tannic, massive acidity, hot, spicy, very concentrated. Very pure, tangy. Reminiscent of Château Rayas.
Jauma - Blewitt Springs Grenache 2015
Berries and touches of pepper, lighter, very tannic, greenness to the tannins, undercurrent of red and black berries. Fresh and clean, quite tangy and with plenty of juice to the finish. Again needs time, but great potential.
Jauma - Alfred Grenache 2015 – McLaren Vale
Chocolate and berries on the nose – great mouth-feel, velvety, succulent. Lively, lots of tannins, juicy, red berries and black berries. Savoury finish – red and black cherries. Minty and herb touches. Complex. Good future.
Jauma - Ralph’s Grenache 2015 – McLaren Vale
Warmer nose, again red and black berries – great mouthfeel, tannic, dry tannins, loads of fruit – red and black berries – tangy finish, touches of chocolate and mint on the end. Very different style.
Jauma – Gramp Ant Grenache – McLaren Vale
Floral nose with highlights of roses, mid-red, loaded with fruit – fruit gums, red berries, touches of plum. Terrific structure, grippy, long, very energetic and with real undercurrent of power.
Jauma wines are available from Les Caves de Pyrene.
Brendon Keys – BK Wines – Winemaker and hat wearer extraordinaire
I had a good chat with Brendon’s wife and partner in wine at BK Wines, Kirstyn, at the Artisans tasting so I knew (and loved) the wines before I arrived. I didn’t get to speak to Brendon first time around alas, so I was looking forward to hearing what he had to say. His philosophy fits him perfectly; unpretentious, coherent, simple yet compelling: make great, characterful wines that people will love and want to share with the people they love. What more could you ask?
Softly spoken and with an air of seriousness, Brendon’s belief in what he is doing is complete and infectious – particularly when taken with a glass or two of his delightful wines. His winemaking recipe is to take the best fruit you can get, guide it carefully through the winery with as little interference as possible and bottle the brilliance.
BK Wines 2015 Pinot Grigio – (picked three weeks before the Pinot Gris). Lively, melon and green apple scented, good mouthfeel, ripe, good acidity, tangy, good concentration, some oiliness and red apple to the finish. Lemons/citrus. Good character. Some subtle spice to the finish.
BK Wines Pinot Gris 2015
Spicy, heady, yeasty and full of character. Ripe, almost sweet attack, then spices, honey, just enough acidity, peaches and dried white plums with a flash of minerals to the finish.
BK Wines One Ball Chardonnay 2015
Lovely crushed nuts and white fruit nose, very clean, fresh and bright. Yeasty edge, touch of oak. Refined but complex. Lingering finish of green and red apple with touch of melon and limes.
BK Wines Swaby 2015
Very spicy, loads of fruit and freshness to the nose. Nutty, sweetly tinted apple and pear fruit giving way to something fuller – Mirabelle plums? – and a clean, brisk finish.
BK Wines Savagnin – Skin and Bones
Wonderfully complex nose, grapes, white fruits, stone fruit, minerals – spicy, bold, loads of white fruits, honey, spices, mint, yeast. Great mouthful. Glorious acidity holding everything together without being obtrusive. More please!
BK Wines Skin and Bones Pinot Noir 2015
Smoked blackberry nose, raspberries, strawberries, savoury almost nutty palate, dry, dried red berries, touches of dried herbs, almonds and black cherries to the finish – loads of juice.
BK Wines Gower Pinot Noir 2015
Riper, smokier nose. Plenty of berries, touches of undergrowth, well integrated tannins. Silken. Minerals and bitter herbs toward the end, traces of red cherry. Complex and long with plenty of energy.
BK Wines Sparks Grenache 2015
Dark, stewed fruits with a touch of perfume. Dried fruits, black berries and plums. Savoury, dried black berries, loads of tannin, rounded and dry. Juicy finish. Long. Big and impressive. Needs time.
BK Wines Red Blend 2015 (Mourvedre, Grenache)
Strawberries and pepper, raspberries, savoury, plump and very dry, loaded with tannin but with great extract. Tones of chocolate, savoury, long, smoky and taught, great energy.
BK Wines Springs Hill Syrah 2015
Smoky nose, smoked black fruits, undercurrent of raspberries and ripe red berries. Sweet attack, blockbuster tannins, dry mid palate, freshness to the end of the fruit, pepper, spices, some citrus. Complete and well-balanced.
BK Wines are available from Swig.
At home with the Artisans Of Australian wine? Hell, yes!
This was a tasting like no other – and I’m not just referring to the endless supply of delicious homemade pizzas. Getting the chance to talk to these winemakers, to hear their philosophies, to see them interact on their home turf and, of course, taste their wines was as revelatory an experience as the Artisans was.
The sense of a collective effort rang out clearly; these guys are, to varying degrees, the outsiders, the cool kids that are working by their own set of rules and as such are detached from the mainstream of Australian wine, a position they clearly revel in. Another striking thing was their obvious intelligence; these are clever people, people who have learned the rules and know that some have to be broken and broken with good reason. But the thing that really struck me was their complete belief in what they are doing. Their artisan passion was admirable and you got the impression that, come what may, this is how they will continue to make their wines. I for one am so pleased for that. The Australian wine scene is a much more interesting one for having the artisans in it.
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