It’s all “New” something at the moment, isn’t it. We had Jon Bonné’s New California, we have been hearing a lot about the New South Africa this summer, and we have our very own New Beaujolais (three dinners in London this year). But what about The New Australia?
Back in 2010 one of the best books written on Australian wine was published. It didn’t get much press here, but Max Allen’s “The Future Makers” (Hardie Grant Books) was the first time I’d read about a movement which sounds very familiar now – young, iconoclastic winemakers, biodynamics, natural wine, and in the case of Australia, perhaps a sprinkling of marginal grape varieties.
Allen tells the story of dozens of winemakers who, far from fitting the stereotype of hippies seeking an alternative lifestyle, are often skilled and trained winemakers, many whom have worked for large corporations, making commercial wines in large quantity. A good example appeared in The Wine Idealist blog recently – Daniel Graham used to make Jacob’s Creek but now makes natural wines for his fledgling Sigurd label. Daniel’s moment of enlightenment came after a trip to Barolo, where he saw at first hand non-interventionist winemaking, and its results.
One of the reasons winemaking has taken a different turn in Australia is the elephant in the room – climate change. With temperatures increasing (a two degree average increase by the time I’m Seventy and a horrifying prediction of six degrees by 2050), the water shortage faced right now by Australian agriculture will be as nothing. Last time I was in Melbourne I saw a demo against the city’s draining of the agricultural watershed, and drought, particularly where water-thirsty industrial viticulture is based, is a reality.
The suggestion that industrial scale viticulture is unsustainable in the long term flies in the face of comments coming out of the Australian wine industry recently – that in order for Australia to succeed the powerhouse of the industry must be strong. The idea of the future being dictated by the old companies making commercial wines in large volumes (albeit alongside a few excellent top cuvées), using large quantities of pesticides and water, is the opposite of what Max Allen is advocating and describing in The Future Makers.
So, who are these Future Makers, and why don’t we know about them? Well, it is true that the New Australians took a while to get over to Europe. In a market dominated by the big firms, and a market where sales of sunshine in a bottle fruity, alcoholic, dense, wines has been shrinking, it hasn’t been easy for them. It’s the rise of the small independent merchant and their associated small distributors which has finally allowed these wines to surface around the UK. The wines, and their producers, fit easily into an ethos which promotes an iconoclastic view of wine in general, and they have customers willing to pay between £20 and £40 for a bottle if the wine is good enough, rather than the £5.99 psychological standard for Aussie wine in the supermarkets, or the £10 stretch of the multiples.
The first three words of Max Allen’s Introduction say it all to anyone who has become familiar with the new stars of Australian viticulture – Anton…van…Klopper. This Adelaide Hills vigneron made just 130 bottles of wine in 2007. He’s now near the head of a list of iconic names who are setting parts of London alight with their wines. The producers I list below are as far from making up a significant percentage of the sales of Aussie wines as they are from the mainstream within their own country. Indeed, these people are viewed with the same sort of suspicion and annoyance in some quarters as biodynamic and natural winemakers are viewed all over the world, not least by the leaders in their own industry, and their company accountants.
A bit of a Klopper
Yet these guys (and ladies) are surely the future for Australia. Their mantra is sustainability. If anyone will be able to mitigate the effects of climate change, and therefore to help the industry as a whole survive, it’s these mavericks working at the fringes. Not only are these men and women bringing terroir to the centre of the debate in Australia, but as Max Allen says, “these are the people building a new sense of pride in Australian wine”, something lost by the big industrials producing cheap blended beverage wines for mass consumption at prices which are only just, if at all, profitable.
There are several wine merchants and distributors/agents bringing exciting New Australians into the UK. Many work in a similar way to the Parisians who have filled their city with exciting Beaujolais, Loire and Jura in the past few years. They seek out the small, under-the-radar producers who are just breaking out to wider acclaim, and secure allocations through loyalty and friendship.
A good place to try New Australians is Winemakers Club, on London’s Farringdon Road, under Holborn Viaduct (where the old Oddbins Fine Wine store brought so much pleasure to so many). The decor is Dickensian, but they have enomatic machines and you can drink in or take away (the venue often has live music gigs and tastings and is a lively place on a Friday night, full of local workers and wine geeks alike). Look here, in particular, for Barossan star, Tom Shobbrook (who learnt his trade with Sean O’Callaghan at Riecine in Tuscany), and Anton van Klopper in his various guises (Domaine Lucci, Lucy Margaux etc). There’s a great friendship between Shobbrook and Winemakers’ founder John, from their respective times at Riecine in Tuscany (they are a great source for Riecine’s wines too), and Winemakers Club sells some exclusive Shobbrook cuvées as a result.
A few of Winemakers Club’s Aussies
Other places to try some of these wines on site are the new bars like Sager & Wilde, and Noble Rot’s new place on Lamb’s Conduit Street, near Holborn.
The large importer of biodynamic and natural wines, Les Caves de Pyrene, who have a retail warehouse near the Park&Ride at Artington, south of Guildford, have a good selection of these wines. Names to try include Luke Lambert, Timo Mayer, Sorrenberg, Castagna, van Klopper, and Jauma (James Erskine). They are adding New Australians all the time (check out their list to read about the far out winemaking at Natural Selection Theory!).
I’ve bought Sorrenberg’s fantastic Beechworth Gamay from Vintrepid (see also their Vinteloper, Jamsheed and other corporate defectors, Ministry of Clouds), and both Jauma and Castagna from my old favourite, Solent Cellar. Among their exciting Aussies you will also find Peter Logan’s cool climate wines from Orange.
Julian Castagna at a tasting at Solent Cellar
Red Squirrel, Nik Darlington’s excellent new kid on the block agency, import Vinteloper, David Bowley’s wonderful Adelaide Hills label, and I tried nine of his wines at their recent Soho tasting. Some very fine Pinot Noirs top the range. I’m hoping they may have some at their four week residency/pop-up bar “Nutkin & Co”, at the Curio Cabal coffee shop near Haggerston Station in East London (20 November to 19 December).
I could go on listing dozens of producers which fit the bill, and I’m sure to have missed some obvious names, like Si Vintners, who split their time between Margaret River (near Rosa Glen) and Calatayud in Spain (as Paco & Co). Their labels are something special. Or perhaps Damien Tscharke, making gloriously offbeat wines in Marananga (including Touriga Nacional and Savagnin). But equally, we shouldn’t forget those who were probably catalysts for this movement – Cullen, Jasper Hill, Giaconda, and some of the smaller Barossa stars, even where their wines don’t always match perfectly with the philosophy of the new growers. And I’m doing a disservice to many a small wine merchant too. Pop into places like Theatre of Wine or The Sampler and you will find exciting Australian wines and good advice. But whatever you do, try them. They are every bit as good as all those other “New”s, like California and South Africa.
The few Sydneysiders who read this are almost certain to be heading to Carriageworks on 28/29 November for Rootstock Sydney, the city’s natural, organic and biodynamic wine festival. There are always plenty of growers from around the world, but it is the place to find New Australia’s superstars under one roof. Anyone heading over from the UK with their air fare paid is very lucky indeed.
Above all, try to grab a copy of The Future Makers. If anyone tells you no one has yet written about the New Australia, they are wrong. Max Allen did, way back in 2010. It’s still very relevant today.