I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the Australian wine industry is going through a small revolution. Over the past 10 years there are many examples of winemakers who have had enough of playing the corporate wine game and have left to do their own thing. And when I say corporate I don’t necessarily mean one of the giants that crush 10000 tonnes a year. I just mean established wineries that are bound by their logistics and size that they have to play by a set of rules. The guys that have to produce 100000 cases of Shiraz with high(ish) alcohols, a proper dollop of American oak, and a cheap RRP. This is of course what has dug us a rather large hole of mediocrity and formula that we have struggled to get out of (in the eyes of the international wine community anyway). When I first moved to McLaren Vale 6 years ago it seemed to me to be a pretty conservative place in regards to winemaking. There were a few brave souls out on their own but even those who were weren’t to adventurous. However a lot has changed in those 6 years, and now I would dare to say that some of Australia’s more interesting wines are being made right here in the Vale. And what’s cool to me about this whole shift is the people behind these interesting wines. There are lots of these winemakers who have shunned the conventional and have said fuck off to the rules are are marching to the beat of their own drum. Now to be clear I’m not speaking here of those who are trying to be different just for the sake of being different. Those who make faulty wines and call them interesting. I’m speaking of the winemakers who have decided through investigation and experience that the formulas and rules they used and followed for so many years in corporate winemaking can be bent, and even broken in the right context, in pursuit of interesting wines. To me these are the real revolutionaries, as there is method to their madness.
It reminds me of the story of the rise of the I.G.T. in Tuscany in the 70’s. Originally the Indicazione Geographica Tipica designation was given to wines that were basically table wines that lacked character and were of mediocre quality at best. Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) and Antinori (Tignanello) were a couple of producers who were growing non-traditional varieties (Bordeaux varieties) in Bolgheri, in the west of Tuscany. They were bound by Tuscany’s DOC/DOCG rules and therefore had to label the wines they made under the much less prestigious IGT designation. What is great about this story is that both producers knew they had good wines and didn’t succumb to the easy road and follow the rules. They told the governing bodies to fuck off and did it their own way. And in ’78 when Sassicaia beat every other Bordeaux based blend in the world in a Decanter Magazine tasting they proved that they were right to do what they did. The parallels between this story and what is going on in Australia right now is obvious. Those with passion and drive are bucking the trends and going out on their own, turning their back on a model that has been successful in the past, in order to struggle and grind it out, all for the idea that we can make better wine here. That we can make more interesting wine. Wine that speaks of the place or places the grapes were grown. Wine that makes you think, and foremost, wine that is delicious. These winemakers are the new Australia. These are the ones to look out for – they’re the ones that are going to change the game.