Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc

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A Tour Down Under, Adelaide wine


Adelaide Hills vines

We were fortunate to be staying for a few days with James and Sam in the Adelaide Hills for a few days (5* on Trip Advisor definitely) and they ensured that we were able to travel around the wine areas and meet some of the new wave producers who are making this possibly the most interesting wine region in Australia. What follows is necessarily an impressionistic approach but I hope that my enthusiasm for the area will persuade many to try wines from South Australia and especially from the winemakers I mention.

Let me start with the Barossa Valley, the iconic region for Australian wine for those of my generation who were essentially brought up on Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from producers such as Wyndhams, Seppelt, Wolf Blass and Penfolds. Some of those are based elsewhere but source grapes from the Barossa. It was interesting, therefore, to drive into the region and see it for myself. What a surprise in many ways. I expected it to be dry but with a large central area of vines as might be seen in the Rhone for example. Not at all. It was dry certainly, indeed arid in parts. The vineyards shone out like oases of greenery set amongst the brown, parched landscape. Irrigation is important, indeed vital, to these producers.

We visited Seppeltsfield, home to Seppelt of course. There was a tremendous cellar door experience with tasting rooms, restaurant and lots of craft shops. Visitors are made to feel very welcome, this is how wine tourism should be. The wines are not necessarily my thing but I have to admire the people who established wineries in such uncompromising conditions and went on to make such a success of it.


The Seppelt restaurant

I was aware that there are producers such as Tom Shobbrook, based in Seppeltsfield, who farm biodynamically and embrace natural styles. I have met Tom before and was happy to do so again when we came across him at The Summertown Astrologist. This is a restaurant/wine bar run by some local natural producers in the Hills notably Anton von Klopper of Lucy Margaux wines. Tom’s wines are always interesting, often very good. Given the terroir, my admiration is increased enormously.

I knew there were a number of producers making natural style wines in the Adelaide Hills. We met Tim Webber, who makes Manon wines with partner Monique Milton. Over coffee he explained that they farm other crops, vegetables and animals as well as making wine. All on sound organic principles. Favourite wine of Manon that I tasted was the Pinot Noir Love Lies Bleeding 2017. Interesting to hear that as well as the usual Australian grapes there was Garganega and that Tim and Monique are interested in different varieties. He is unusual in having his own vines, many such as James, buy fruit from growers with input about how they want the vines looked after. It can be difficult to source quality grapes, especially organic. James has to travel up to an hour from his winery to get to some vines.

James Erskine with James and checking progress of some Grenache

James Erskine, of Jauma wines, is somewhat of a mentor to James and he was brilliant to visit. He is an enthusiast, embraces life and was keen to share wines from tank and bottle even in the midst of a harvest afternoon. I have been fortunate to taste Jauma wines before and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to taste in situ, they are very good indeed.

Gareth Belton and some of his barrels

Gareth Belton is the producer behind Gentle Folk wines. I was familiar with his wines before but they really stood out here. Again generous with his time mid harvest Gareth let us taste wines from barrel and bottle. There were many excellent wines, Pinot and Chardonnay stood out but I could list a dozen. The fruit stands out, it is clean, expressive and long lasting on the palate but there is good use of barrel, especially on the whites, adding lovely complexity. One wine I really loved was the Scary White. Named after the vineyard Scary Gulley rather than anything scary about the wine itself, it is a field blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and other white grapes. I do love field blend wines, they do offer a sense of place and this was one of my favourite wines of the trip so far. A gently spoken man, Gareth’s passion for his wines is evident and I heartily recommend them.

Alex Schulkin makes wines under the name The Other Right. I liked his Pet Nat rosé and his Chardonnay in particular, a very good Shiraz called Love Potion was also enjoyed. Alex has the shed where James now makes his wine, they help each other out a lot, indeed Alex’s father was picking for James on the day we left. Alex is also a scientist who works in wine research and I enjoyed chatting to him about closures, yeasts and other topics. I love the strap line for The Other Right, ‘Untamed Wines’.

Interestingly the Chardonnay which Alex, Gareth and James all make comes from the same vineyard and is made in pretty much the same method. Tasting the wines from all three did show a great similarity in profile, a true sense of terroir as well as common shared values in winemaking.

There is a real sense of community in the Hills between this group of winemakers, they help each other, advise each other and work for each other. When visiting Gareth’s lovely place in the beautiful hills three other winemakers arrived to chat, share stories and experiences. I found that truly inspirational, I was very much reminded of the groups of natural producers in the Languedoc.

Australian wines fell off my radar many years ago when the big, blockbuster style began to tire me out. French subtlety and elegance became my preference. It seems that many Australians share that view and some are now producing wines of the style which would please any Francophile whilst still retaining distinctive Australian character. This was a memorable time with some excellent wine producers. Adelaide Hills and the Barossa, I salute you.


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A Tour Down Under, Adelaide

Time to see the world from a different angle. Two months on a trip to Australia and New Zealand, a lifetime ambition becoming reality. A holiday but also the opportunity to survey the wine scene Down Under. As ever with such visits I am aware that I am scratching the surface, giving an impression rather than a fully informed picture. However, I hope to share my thoughts on what I find, taste and see and that they will offer some insight.


First stop on the tour was Adelaide, South Australia. A city of 1.2 million people but with a compact centre and excellent free tram and bus service to help get around. Wine is important to the region, the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley are close. We were going to stay in the Hills with our friend James who worked harvest with Jeff Coutelou in 2016, his partner Sam and year old daughter Flo. First though was a few days in the city itself.

Things started a little disappointingly with the National Wine Centre. There were some interesting exhibits, one on grape varieties was extensive and another contained a 150 year old Shiraz vine which had been taken up, showing the extent of the root system  and wood above ground. Otherwise though, there was little about the story of Australian wine or examples of the wines. The tasting on offer was via enomatic machines which can work out expensive.

However, better was shortly to come. Having left behind 70cm of snow and freezing conditions in the UK the 35°C of Adelaide meant that a drink was soon needed. By chance, we were close to a bar I had seen on a list of recommended places, La Buvette. Only one table was left so we took our beer to sit down and I surveyed the line of wine bottles arranged on the shelf. What a coincidence to find one of Jeff’s Sauvé De La Citerne!

I went to talk to the barman and owner, Dominique Lentz, who turned out to be from Strasbourg and knows some of my favourite producers such as Patrick Meyer and Julien Albertus. When I asked about local wines he offered by the glass none other than Little Things Shiraz, made by… James! The wine world can be a small one. Good wines, beers and food were available and I would recommend a visit to La Buvette if you are in the city.

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James’ Little Things Syrah 2017

We also visited another wine bar, The Apothecary 1878. More traditional in its choice of wines with celebrated producers from France and Australia there were still one or two natural wines. It was very pleasant and worth a visit too. One final recommendation is Luigi’s Delicatessen where we ate excellent crab pasta and there was plenty of good food to take out or eat in.

I was very taken by the cosmopolitan nature of Adelaide, very much a multicultural city which seemed to be working well. The transport system allowed us to get around easily and see the Oval with its very good statue of Sir Don Bradman, the Cathedral, Botanic Gardens and many other attractions. I was taken by the mix of old and new, especially the intricate ironwork on the older houses. It was a great way to start the tour and I was looking forward to meeting up with James and getting out into the vineyard areas.


Wine tasting, tell the story

Having written about my concerns with wine tasting notes, medals and competitions it is time to offer my more positive thoughts. Wine tasting is fun, the chance to try wines from known or new producers, to learn more about wine, to find the familiar and the unexpected. Professional tasters are doing things differently I accept but the fun element is sadly missing far too often. Most wine drinkers are not interested in technical details and in-depth descriptions, indeed they deter most people from thinking of wine as anything but elitist, poncey as we might say in Britain.

Jeff Coutelou always tells me that wine is for sharing (see above) and he is right as usual. Wine tasting is by nature a solitary exercise in that wine tastes differently to different people because of physiology, mood and preference. However, my favourite tastings have been where I can then share my thoughts with others to garner those different views. That fun element again, and I make no apology for referring to the f word again. If those of us fascinated by the subject really want to educate others to appreciate wine then my first lesson would be, let them speak. Encourage people to say what they think about the wine, not just in terms of fruit and flower comparisons but just whatever comes to mind. If they like it because it tastes good then that is an effective wine note to my mind. If they can explain further then all the better but let’s not get hung up on it all. I was interested in the comment on the previous post from my friend Graham Tigg that he runs a tasting class for elderly people and sees it as a social gathering rather than a teaching process. Is there a better reason to hold a wine tasting?

One of my favourite tastings, La Remise gives the chance to talk with producers

My favourite wines have often emerged from tastings. Almost every time they have been tastings with the producers themselves. Why? The story. What marks a wine as special to me is that I know something about it, its origin and the people behind it who have worked so hard to bring me that wine. Yes I can taste wines and appreciate them without knowing the story but the special ones are the wines which have an attachment. Years of travelling in France meant that when I went to Alsace I would visit Martin Schaetzel in Ammerschwihr because of a first visit there where he patiently shared the story of his wines. In Beaujolais we came to get to know and love Louis Champagnon, who was always so kind and generous with his time.


With the wonderful Louis Champagnon

In the Languedoc I have been lucky to get to know so many wonderful people and therefore, their wines mean more to me. Most importantly, of course, was getting to know and become firm friends with Jeff whose wines would always be first choice for me.

Not every wine drinker wants to travel in France or other wine countries, many would be deterred from visiting producers because of language barriers. The task is to share the story, make the wine personal to the consumer. It will mean more. Achieving that is no easy matter, back labels are often a missed opportunity for example. Blogs, media columns, youtube videos all demand more interest, piquing that interest is the challenge. I am convinced that is the crucial point. Stories sell wine.