There’s no question that when it comes to sports, Australia and New Zealand are fierce rivals. Be it cricket, netball, football or rugby, the contest is always intense and the bragging rights highly prized and you will never see a player or supporter switching allegiances or claiming an opposition member as one of their own.
Not so though when it comes to musicians, actors or winemakers from New Zealand. Australians have a long history of claiming the best and brightest from ‘across the ditch’ as their own. The Finn brothers from Split Enz and Crowded House, Keith Urban, and Russell Crowe, all are proud Kiwis now claimed by Australia. In recent years wine lovers in Australia have added Brendon Keys to this illustrious list.
Brendon Keys is a man of many passions. Whether he’s skateboarding, DJing, cooking or making wine you can be sure that he’s giving it his all. In terms of his winemaking he has a laser-like focus on producing fine wines made with a lo-fi, punk attitude. Seriously good wines that don’t take themselves too seriously. A breath of fresh air from the land of the long white cloud for the Australian wine community.
‘I want to make wines that people share with their friends and talk about - talk about the style, about where it comes from’
The journey from chef to truck driver to winemaker
The road to settling in the Adelaide Hills has been a long and winding one for Brendon. He didn’t head to university to study oenology or viticulture straight out of high school. He heard the call of the kitchen before he heard the call of the vine. But he soon discovered that the life of a chef wasn’t going to be a permanent one for him but it did spark an interest in wine. From there on Brendon collected vinous experiences faster than an American kid collects baseball cards.
After getting a start and completing Viticulture and Winemaking studies in Gisborne in his native New Zealand, Brendon spent the next few years travelling the world. If you were designing the perfect way to immerse yourself in the wine world, to learn the intricacies and the quirks you could do a lot worse than to follow the path Brendon took. You’d start by making sure you spent time in the vineyard to learn the trials and tribulations of growing an agricultural product. You’d learn how to turn the grapes into wine by rolling up your sleeves at harvest. Finally, you’d get an understanding of how wine goes from the producer to the consumer by working in the wine trade. Brendon did just that.
Brendon learnt about growing grapes by working in vineyards and wineries in New Zealand, California and Argentina. He learnt about the wine trade whilst selling wine in London - arguably the world’s most diverse, vibrant and challenging wine hub. Brendon absorbed much during these years, cooking up the perfect recipe for becoming a well-rounded vigneron. He acquired marketing insight here and a lot of winemaking know-how there, then added a squeeze of viticultural expertise and a hint of understanding of distribution models to perfect his blend of skills.
While Brendon and wife Kirstyn had a brilliant time working around the world, eventually thoughts turned to settling down. It was while working in the McLaren Vale that Brendon started to fall for the fruit from the Adelaide Hills region next door. Before long he’d made his first two barrels of Pinot Noir… And BK Wines was born.
Hunting for the Adelaide Hills’ best terroir
If you leave Adelaide, capital city of South Australia, and head east, within 20 minutes you are in the heart of one of Australia's most beautiful wine regions - the Adelaide Hills. Twisting and turning, rising and falling, the roads in the Adelaide Hills offer a range of diverse vistas with bewildering frequency. This landscape is the key to the wide range of wine styles the region produces.
Adelaide Hills - The centre of Australian wine’s cool climate (r)evolution
From spicy, medium-bodied Shiraz to complex, elegant Chardonnay to fresh, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc to classic, powerful Pinot Noir to emerging alternative varieties like Nero d’Avola and Grüner Veltliner, the region seems to have a climat that is suited to any variety that is thrown at it.
The cooler climate of the Adelaide Hills also defines the region, offering a distinct point of difference to many other regions in South Australia. Rainfall can vary across the region, making careful site selection critical.
All of these factors have combined to produce a wonderful patchwork of vineyards. When sourcing grapes, Brendon focuses on finding exceptional small sites tended to by people who are as passionate about their craft as he is. This shared passion and the friendships that have resulted has led to Brendon and Kirstyn to naming several of their wines after growers, such as the Swaby Chardonnay and Gower Pinot Noir.
Grapes? Sorted. Now how should we make this wine?
When it comes to his winemaking, Brendon takes a minimalist approach: Intervening where necessary but doing as little as possible to ensure that the wine speaks of the vineyard site it has come from as clearly as possible. Each batch of fruit is treated on its merits, treated as an individual rather than forced to be something that it isn’t. Techniques like extended maceration, whole bunch fermentation, battonage, and carbonic maceration are all part of Brendon’s winemaking arsenal. Deployed with a deft hand to translate a sense of place or style from the vineyard or winery to the bottle.
Each year Brendon learns more about the vineyards that he works with. Each year he learns a little more in the winery to get the best out of the grapes. And while a decade is a relatively short time in the wine game, in that time BK Wines have carved out a niche for themselves with a philosophy that resonates with wine lovers. Brendon and Kirstyn understand that fine wine is good but fine wine with good food, good tunes and good people is so much better. So, grab a glass, put on one of your favourite albums, pour everyone a glass and enjoy spending time with people who ‘make you smile and think.’
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