The Next Gen
Good things come in small batch packages. Meet the creative cats forging a new chapter in South Australian wine. These young and creative minds are stepping up to become the next generation of Barossa Valley winemakers.
Winemaker Charlie Black didn’t want to make wine. He rebelled against it. Charlie isn’t from the Barossa (he grew up in Glenelg and lives in Largs Bay) but Barossa-made wine is in his blood. His father, Stephen Black, a former chemical engineer, started Small Gully Wines in 1998. “I worked there for him on and off – basically to earn money to travel with,” Charlie says. “Everyone kept saying, ‘You’re going to be part of the wine family’ but I really stood back from that. I naively thought that winemaking wasn’t creative.” Things changed when he travelled Australia and ran out of money in Margaret River. “I went out and started pruning for a guy called Mick Scott. His passion for what he did in the vineyard and the winery really affected me. Having my feet off the concrete and in the dirt… I found my place in wine.” Charlie went on to work for Xanadu Wines (who paid for him to study viticulture) and Leeuwin Estate. “Being that close to the cycles of earth… it’s lovely. That’s where my passion for winemaking started.”
“I call it the casino strip. It is one of the best pieces of dirt in the Barossa Valley as far as I’m concerned.”
In 2011, Charlie returned to help at his family’s Marananga winery. “I call it the casino strip,” he says. “It is one of the best pieces of dirt in the Barossa Valley as far as I’m concerned. You have Torbreck [Wines], Greenock Creek, and Small Gully Wines which is my father’s winery. I came back with the idea of starting to work with small parcels of fruit, utilising the relationships my father had built with growers over the years in the Barossa.”
When Charlie isn’t helping his brother make Small Gully Wines (32,000 cases of which are exported to China and Canada) he can be found making wine under his label The Mysterious Mr Black. It’s named after his dad. “None of this is possible without my old man. I’m not The Mysterious Mr Black, my father is. It’s an ode to my father.”
Charlie and his father often lock heads. “Dad and I fought like cats and dogs. We’re both a lot more forgiving than we used to be. When I rebelled against winemaking we fought because I didn’t like it. Now we fight because I do like it. That’s family.”
Charlie sometimes pinches himself. Like recently, when a Brisbane restaurant loved his Petrichor 2016 Adelaide Hills pinot noir so much they wanted to buy the lot. All 800 bottles of it. “I kept 200 so the mailing list [The BlackMail Archives] could get some. It’s all good affirmation when people do that.”
Charlie doesn’t have a cellar door but hosts tastings by appointment, under a big gum tree in the middle of the vineyard. “We sit at an old wooden table under the tree, drink wine and eat cheese.”
“It’s a shame that it’s very hard to find chardonnay in the Barossa now. I’d love to work with a bit of Barossa chardonnay.”
The Fool Deck series is made using fruit from the relationships his dad built with growers. The Curious Collection wines are made using wild yeast indigenous to the vineyard and winery. In a nutshell, this means the naturally existing yeast in the air or on vegetation. The collection includes a pinot noir, nebbiolo, sangiovese, shiraz/cabernet/pink fronti, shiraz malbec, and a chardonnay made with grapes sourced from the Adelaide Hills. “I’m a believer in Barossa whites,” Charlie says. “It’s a shame that it’s very hard to find chardonnay in the Barossa now. I’d love to work with a bit of Barossa chardonnay.”
Sixth generation Barossa winemaker Trent Burge also has his eye on the chardy ball. “I’ve got a big plan to try and make a really top chardonnay,” he says. It’s all part of his five-year plan for new label Barossa Boy. The name is apt. Trent is as Barossan as it gets. His great-great-great grandfather John Burge immigrated to South Australia in 1855 and his family has been making wine since. “I didn’t have any interest in making any wines from other regions so that’s what we’re sticking to. It’s very much about showcasing what the generations before us did.”
His 2016 Little Tacker grenache shiraz mataro and 2016 Double Trouble shiraz cabernet are made alongside winemakers at Illaparra Winery. The Lifeblood shiraz and Young Wisdom mataro land in early 2018. Further north, at Whistler Wines, Josh Pfeiffer knows all about generational gaps. Not that his is a new brand. Whistler Wines has been around for 18 years. The Pfeiffer family’s involvement in grape growing spans four generations, starting with Josh’s great-grandfather Albert, grandfather Hubert, father Martin, and uncle Chris. “My dad used to run vineyards for Penfolds. He ended up spending most of his time in the boardrooms and office and wanted to start his own thing.” That was nearly two decades ago. The Whistler Wines cellar door opened during October 1999.
The family grows shiraz, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, semillon, grenache, mataro and riesling on their Heysen Estate vineyard. Today, Josh runs the show and his fiancée Ellen runs cellar door and events. Josh completed a Bachelor of Oenology at Adelaide University, spent two years as assistant winemaker at Two Hands and worked in Henschke Wines’ winemaking team before moving back to Whistler in 2013 and re-branding. “I wanted to change the appeal of the wines to my age group. I eased [Dad] in a little bit by doing one wine to begin with.” He started off with the Get In My Belly grenache. “At that stage, I had no intentions of creating this whole Next Generation Range of wines that we have now. It’s kind of evolved as time went on.” His second experiment was a dry rosé called Dry As A Bone. Their re-vamped cellar door gets 20 and 200 people through a day and Josh has plans to open a casual restaurant on the property. Watch this space (and try his new orange wine while you’re there). “We just keep evolving.”
It’s not a case of big versus small. Josh says the Barossa wine industry is supportive. “If I ring up Torbreck and say I need to borrow a tank, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, no worries’. The big guys love the fact that the little guys get a new wave of people in. There are some great things happening out our way.”
While You’re There
Check out these game-changers.
Tom Shobbrook is a pioneer in the region’s natural wine movement. He makes natural wines by hand from organic and biodynamically grown fruit. Really want to bend your mind? Try his 2016 Reddish made using pears and mourvedre. shobbrookwines.com.au
Yelland & Papps
First-generation winegrowers Susan Yelland and Michael Papps put their bollocks on the line to produce something new. Think vermentino, carignan, roussanne, barbera, and primitivo varieties. yellandandpapps.com
Brian Conway and Craig Isbel’s off-grid, organic winery and cellar door are run using solar energy. Try their aglianico. whole bunch grenache, mataro and shiraz. izway.com.au
Yetti And The Kokonut
David Geyer and Koen Janssens are behind this low-intervention wine label. Their handiwork is hot property. Find it at East End Cellars and Parade Cellars. Crazy, inspired stuff. facebook.com/yettiandthekokonut
Dan Graham earns a crust at RedHeads Studio Wines and does cool things with his own brand Sigurd. The winemaker named his brand after his great-grandfather who moved to Australia from Norway in the early 1900s. His minimal intervention wines utilise natural yeasts. sigurdwines.com
Peter Lehmann’s son David Franz produces unique small batch parcels of Barossa wine and recently opened a cellar door. Try his left of centre wines and one-off freaks. david-franz.com
Damien Tscharke and wife Eva’s unique, sustainable cellar door and underground barrel store have to be seen to be believed. They’re paving the way for sustainable winemaking. The 2017 Estate rosé is a cracker. tscharke.com.au
Fancy a boutique wine-tasting trip to the Barossa? Check out Small Batch Wine Tours – a tour with a difference.