Jaysen Collins isn’t your typical Barossa Australian wine producer. Whilst he was born in the Barossa it wasn’t into a winemaking family and his award-winning winery, Massena, has been something he has had to build from the ground up. So, with a flash of typical Aussie pluck, in 2000 he and a friend, Dan Standish, began a self-funded wine apprenticeship by buying some fruit and trying their hand at making wine.
Jaysen Collins - from accountant to winemaker
While he grew up amongst the vines in the Barossa, with loads of mates whose parents owned vineyards and wineries, it took a while for Jaysen to get a passion for wine. After finishing High School he studied for a business degree at the University of Adelaide. After becoming a fully qualified accountant, Jaysen returned home to the Barossa and took up a role working in the business side of wine. While he was a great General Manager at Barossa icons like St Hallett and Turkey Flat, it was perhaps inevitable that his experiences at these places would fuel a desire to create wines of his own.
'I realised that I would rather make wine than crunch the numbers on it. And the best way to learn about something is to do it yourself... You can read about something but it's when you do it yourself that the real learning comes in it... I call it a self funded apprenticeship!'
It was in 2000 that Jaysen decided to take the plunge. It was time for him to put some real skin in the wine game, encouraged and inspired by Turkey Flat winemaker Pete Schell. Pete has gone on to much success and acclaim with his Spinifex wines label, crafting balanced wines of character and depth. But that is a story for another day. In a highly non-accounting like move, Jaysen maxed out his credit cards and borrowed enough money to purchase some Grenache and Shiraz with his mate Dan Standish. It was never meant to be more than a hobby and their initial production was intended for personal consumption only. Fate, however, had other ideas. With the U.S. market taking as much Australian wine as it could get its collective hands on, an American importer happened by and tried the wine that Jaysen and Dan had created. He liked it and offered to buy the lot. Reasoning that if they could sell that vintage then why couldn’t they sell next year’s too, they decided to have another run at it the following year and the rest, as they say, is history…
Is Massena ‘the Australian Chave?’
By 2007, Dan was focused on his own wines under the Standish Wine Company label while Jaysen was in the position to quit the day job and become a full-time winemaker. Drawing on the influence of Barossa friends and colleagues including the legendary Jim Schulz of Turkey Flat and Fraser McKinley of Sam-Odi, Jaysen began to make quite a name for his wines. American wine writer James Suckling said of his ‘Eleventh Hour’, ‘Very pure. The Australian Chave?’ For any winemaker working with Rhône varietals such as Shiraz and Mataro (Mourvèdre), that is quite some praise. In many ways Jaysen’s approach to winemaker is pretty radical. In the winery nature is left to run its course as much as possible and interventions such as the addition of cultured yeasts, tannins or acidifying agents are not used. Instead the wines are left to be reflective of their sites and the conditions that the vintage has bought. In one important respect he is typical in that he is naturally inquisitive. An inquiring mind, the desire to know why and to see what happens if, is common in this clutch of winemakers and Jaysen is no exception.
'You're always evolving over time... That's what any passion is about... Every year there are new vineyards, new fermentation techniques, different blends. '
Jaysen Collins: an innovator in the Barossa
Saperavi, Petite Syrah and Tannat in the Barossa? You'd have to think that the accountant in Jaysen was crying a little inside when he decided to pursue innovative varietal plantings of these varieties. 'Barossa Shiraz, Jaysen, why don't you just give the people what they know and love?!' But happily Jaysen ignored his inner accountant and he has become one of the winemakers who is helping to define the 'New Barossa' with exciting expressions of these new arrivals to a classic region. And while the people and the landscapes of the Barossa inspired him to make wine in the first place, Jaysen is now getting inspiration from places much further afield. Jaysen has spent the 2015 and 2016 vintages working at a small winery in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a few hours from the Napa Valley. In this beautiful rural setting Jaysen got to meet winemakers from across California, sharing stories and exchanging ideas over a beer or a glass of wine. He also got to experience a completely different landscape; one of limestone soils, very steep vineyard sites and a very different climate to the Barossa Valley. All of these experiences have been added to the library of encounters that have allowed Jaysen to grow and develop as a winemaker over the last 15 or so years. As a result he is making wines that are fresher, more complex and more interesting than ever.
In a world of wine where many are analysing what they drink rather than deriving pleasure from it and one where many wines are marketed with a philosophy rather than a story, Massena’s ‘lifestyle wines’ have their focus on enjoyment. And it’s easy to enjoy these wines, with Jaysen's philosophy shining through in the glass. Is this philosophy a little surprising given his past life as an accountant, a profession known for being all about analysing the numbers? Yes, that is undeniable. But it's a philosophy that all of us wine obsessives could take a little something from...
'I don't begrudge anyone being technical and saying a wine has these flavours or those flavours... I was like that before I started making wine! But you know you're not truly enjoying the wine if you are over-analysing it, so now I don't see the point in it... For me, the process of making wine has to be enjoyable, and it's drinking wine with good people that is the main driver for me.'
The transition from account to winemaker is complete, and the Barossa is all the better for it.
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