Australian wine has, for many years, railed against a reputation for cheap and cheerful wines, ‘sunshine in a bottle’ if you will. Wines produced from huge, characterless vineyards that stretch for miles and miles in wineries where tank sizes are measured in millions of litres. While this reputation is undeserved and downright false when you think of the diversity of Australian wine being made today, sometimes reputations stick despite evidence to the contrary. The best way to counter the reputation is to show Australian wines that are as far removed from the industrial as possible. To do this you could do a heck of a lot worse than showing the wines of Anton van Klopper from the Basket Range of the Adelaide Hills. Anton is one of the leaders of Australia's natural wine movement, inspiring winemakers across Australia with his focus on natural farming and minimal intervention winemaking. His wines can be challenging; from their cloudy appearance to unusual and unexpected flavours and textures. But they bristle with an energy and intensity that has seen them garner fans around Australia and across the world.
‘The best analogy I can think of is that I make my wines like brewing a tea. A very gentle, slow infusion with as little done to the grapes as possible…’
The journey from hospitality to the vineyard
The journey from working in hospitality to winemaker is a well-worn one in the Australian wine community. Winemakers like Steve Flamsteed at Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley have spent time working the pots and pans before making the move to working with grapes and wine. Anton spent ten years’ working in hospitality developing skills in the kitchen that have stayed with him to this day. It was during this time that Anton developed a love for wine. Working in hospitality is hard, sometimes thankless work, but one of the perks is exposure to the great wines of the world. Anton was intrigued. Why did he love some of the wines that he tasted and not others? What was it about the growing and the making of these wines that gave them more life and more energy? Was it the place the grapes were grown, was it the people that made the wines or the way in which they made the wines that made them so special? Was it a combination of these or none of these factors? Anton needed to learn more. So, he headed off to the University of Adelaide to complete a degree in oenology.
Taking to wine like a duck to water
The University of Adelaide’s Viticulture and oenology degree is renowned around the world. Many of Australia’s legendary winemakers learnt their trade through their teachings at the university, going on to influence winemakers and delight drinkers around the world. Anton van Klopper revelled in his studies, but it wasn’t long before Anton began to stand out from many of his fellow classmates. Even at this early stage in his winemaking life he loved to challenge the status quo. He loved to ask why things were done the way they were. Why were certain chemicals applied in the vineyard? Why was acid added to a ferment rather than picking the grapes earlier? It will come as no surprise that he wanted to get his hands dirty and travel the world. Anton jumped on a plane to get experience at wineries in far flung places.
See the world, then settle down
For a few years after completing his degree, Anton travelled the world working on vintages in Germany, New Zealand and the USA. Working with people that he respected, Anton started to slowly form his own wine philosophy, rejecting the conventional winemaking rule book he’d learnt so well at university. His focus soon turned from making wine in a winery to creating the wine in the vineyard. The wines that he loved expressed the place where they were grown with minimal interference or winemaking artifice. The more work that was done in the winery - be it heavy extraction via pump overs or lashings of new oak - the less the wine spoke of where it was from. Before long Anton knew that he needed to find a place of his own. A place where he could make wines that he wanted, wines that spoke of somewhere special.
So, in 2002, Anton found a cherry orchard in the Basket Range area of the Adelaide Hills and set about making it a home. At the time the Adelaide Hills was renowned as one of Australia’s premier cool climate region, with a growing reputation for Chardonnay, Shiraz and sparkling wines. But it was a long way off becoming known as a hub for organic and biodynamic viticulture with the clear majority of the vineyards in the region were grown conventionally. When Anton started to plant vines on his new ‘estate’ he wanted to do things differently and work without the chemicals that were the norm for the region and for many in the Australian wine community. All well and good, but chemicals are used in vineyards for a reason; to fix the myriad of issues that can arise.
When he encountered issues in the vineyard or winery Anton turned to the teachings of biodynamics guru Rudolf Steiner. His teachings became the source of solutions to the problems he was seeing in the vineyard. As his home vineyard was small, Anton started to seek out other sources of grapes for his wines. Given his desire to work with organic or biodynamically grown grapes Anton had a problem. There were few grape growers in the region farming in this way so he had to convince people to convert their vineyards. Telling people who’ve been doing something for a long time that you think they could be doing things better is not an easy task! While it took some time, lowly Anton’s philosophy began to resonate with others in the region, especially in and around the Basket Range. From little things, big things grow….
Everything old is new again
When he was first growing grapes and making wines in the Adelaide Hills, Anton was something of a renegade. No one else in the region was growing grapes and making wines like him. But thanks to his hard work and dedication to a wine philosophy he truly believes in, today Anton is respected as a trailblazer. A key inspiration to an ever-growing group of minimalist vignerons around Australia. No longer are his practises derided or ridiculed as those of a lunatic fringe. Today Anton’s wines are admired and appreciated as an important part of the diverse and exciting Australian wine story.
Despite the amount of hard work and energy he’s put in to get to this point, Anton is not ready to rest on his laurels just yet. In 2016 he joined with Jasper Button from Commune of Buttons to open a wine bar in the nearby hamlet of Summertown. The Summertown Aristologist gives Anton the freedom to show off his wines, and some of his culinary skills, in a way he might only have dreamed of a decade ago. Sharing the fruits of his labour with the community he has helped to grow and nurture. A little something of what the world needs now…
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