Barossa Valley wines are in Abel Gibson's blood. He grew up in the Valley and his father worked as group viticulturist at Penfolds for many years. Since then, in between travelling the wine world in search of knowledge, he too worked for some of the Barossa's biggest and brightest names, including Rockford, Charlie Melton and Spinifex, before finally setting up his own estate, Ruggabellus.

Ruggabellus – Barossa's rugged beauty

It was inevitable perhaps that a winemaker as talented as Abel, and with as much passion for the Barossa, would start his own winery.  And a year or two ago Abel and his wife Emma bought a beautiful property in the Flaxman Valley, on the eastern slopes of the Barossa Ranges. There they are carefully reviving a vineyard and hand-producing small batches of beautifully crafted wines from innovative blends of Syrah, Mataro, Cinsault and Grenache.  These wines are already gaining some serious admirers such as Mike Bennie and Bruce Schoenfeld and won Abel the prestigious 'Young Gun Award' in 2012. We caught up with Abel during this year's vintage, and in between pressing off a batch of Muscat and taking delivery of some Cinsault from Wayne Ahren's biodynamic vineyard, he shared his thoughts on his journey, the Barossa, its wines, his inspirations, and of course the 'rugged beauty' that is Ruggabellus. 

Abel Gibson: Barossa Valley boy

On coming home to the Barossa...

'After quite a few years travelling the world I didn't have a sense of home any more. I realised that I missed the things that I had grown up with here. The colour tones, the eucalyptus, the colour of the grass, the rocks in the summer... It's something that is unique to here, quite mystical and enduring... With the wines I try to put that feeling into the bottle.'

On what inspires his wines...

'I was really interested in the shape and the feeling of the land in the Barossa. It's just so rugged and weathered and it has endured for so many seasons... It's definitely the main source of inspiration for our wines. I've also been lucky to drink some old reds from the Barossa from the mid 1960s and early 1970s, before the age of ripeness. These wines were hugely inspiring to me.'

On learning about the Barossa's land...

'Each year I learn more... The first few years it really was a leap of faith, having a go at picking things earlier. Everyone was waiting until the seeds were brown and waiting until the skins were ripe. 'You're crazy Abel, what are you doing? It's still green!" But I really wanted wines that were succulent. I also believe that it generates some strength in the wines, some age-ability.''

On the Barossa Valley's climate...

'It's hot and then it's wet... It's cold and then it's hot. It's very uneven and diverse. We hope to produce the same complexity in our wines.'

On the art of blending wines...

'We make (wine with) a lot of individual components. This gives me many options for blending which is really useful... I try to keep the individual characteristics and flavours from the places we are sourcing fruit from in the wines. I'm quite happy for those flavours to pop their heads up in the final blend. It's like a tapestry of different places. There might be three, four, five or maybe up to seven places in one of our wines. I really like the way that these places kick in at different times on the palate.'

On the use of new oak in his wines...

'There's definitely no sign of French or American landscapes, oak, in our wines! We deliberately try and use old barrels, stainless steel tanks or concrete to explore the fruit from here.'

On his wines...

'I've been told off for calling the wines rustic before.  But I like that there are a few edges and a bit of shape and a bit of motion to the wines. To me it's just reflecting the journey that is living in the Barossa and in Australia... it's never smooth sailing here.'

On the varieties they use...

'When we set out we deliberately tried to use varieties that were existing here for a long period of time... We make Semillon, Riesling, Muscat, Grenache, Mataro, Shiraz and Cinsault. There are old vine plantings of all of these in the Barossa and working with these existing resources was really important.'

On Barossan Valley's  Mataro/Mourvedre...

'Mataro in particular I love. It's quite earthy, it's a little untamed and a little wild. It works incredibly well with food. It's got these herby elements, it's got these meaty elements. It's more bass line than the immediate seductiveness of Shiraz. The tannins kick in late which cleans up the palate, making you want to go back for more food,'

On Barossa Grenache...

'Grenache is the wine that Emma and I find ourselves coming back to regularly. It's incredibly seductive. Easy to drink after a hard day of work and it works beautifully with so many different foods as well. It has such lovely aromatics... It also leaves so much space so you can fit so many foods around it... I think there is a huge future for Grenache from this region. As many around here say, it's Pinot made in the Barossa... somewhere between Pinot Noir and Gamay.'

On food and wine in the Barossa Valley ...

'It's so warm here, so it seemed natural to pick the grapes a little bit earlier and make wines that are succulent and freshen you up. These lighter, more aromatic wines work really well at the dinner table. I think that's where wine should be drunk. With friends, with food, in Australia and all over the world.'

Barossa's new breed

Abel is one of a flight of new and exciting winemakers who are helping to change the face of Australian wine.  His innovative choice of grape varieties, his strict use of oak and his passionate belief in allowing a taste of place to come through in his wines are all indicative of the new breed who are taking Australian wines to new, even more dizzying heights.



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