Tasmanian producers embrace minimal intervention wines

Labelling bottles at Swinging Gate Winery

Sediment, bold hues, and sometimes with a spritz, "natural" or "low-fi" wines challenge the perception of what wine can be.

There has been a move towards embracing more natural processes in Northern Tasmania's wine scene, and several new producers are choosing the Tamar Valley to return to ancient winemaking practices.

Although without an official definition, natural wine is generally accepted as being wine in its most natural state, with no additions of yeasts, acids, tannin, fining agents, enzymes, or sulphur.

With minimal intervention wines, as the name suggests, winemakers will refrain from adulterating the wine, but will use additives as necessary.

A "love of good food and love of drinking good wine" was the inspiration behind Swinging Gate Winery at Sidmouth.

After being owned by numerous wine labels and kept under lock and key, Doug Cox and his wife Corrie purchased the winery in 2014 and set about creating a holistic cellar door experience.

Hannah Cox of Peco Wines is a second generation winemaker, after her parents started Swinging Gate in 2014. Picture: Craig George

Hannah Cox of Peco Wines is a second generation winemaker, after her parents started Swinging Gate in 2014. Picture: Craig George

"The name is in reference to the gates swinging open for the first time in 20 years," Mr Cox said.

With a 30-year career in horticulture under his belt, Mr Cox decided to purchase a vineyard and taught himself the winemaking process through a combination of "books, YouTube videos and a lot of trial and error".

Mr Cox said his winemaking style was minimal intervention and believes it helps to preserve the true taste of the grapes.

"It just seems to have more soul," he said.

"It seems to be more expressive."

Doug Cox with a bottle of his 'Friars Fizz' Pet Nat Rosé. Picture: Craig George

Doug Cox with a bottle of his 'Friars Fizz' Pet Nat Rosé. Picture: Craig George

Swinging Gate's foray into more natural practices came after a chance encounter with a group of Austrian winemakers.

"They walked into my cellar door and tried a few of our wines and liked that we did things a bit differently," Mr Cox said.

"They asked, 'why don't you make pet nats?'"

"So we did, we made them, and we loved them."

Pet nat - or pétillant naturel - is French for natural sparkling, and Mr Cox said the varietals had proved to be incredibly popular with customers and had introduced their winery to a new demographic of wine drinkers.

From an initial run of 600 bottles in 2018, the latest vintage of 5000 bottles sold out in record time.

He said the "fun" pet nat style had especially proved popular with younger consumers.

"We want our wine to be fun, but not take away the importance of a good wine," Mr Cox said.

"Pet nats aren't too serious and especially the younger generation, they don't take wine as seriously as we used to."

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The Swinging Gate "Friars Fizz" range of pet nats pays homage to the history of the style - having been created by monks in the 1500s.

"They pre-date champagne by about 100 years, by monks in the Loire Valley in France," he said.

Mr Cox said he believed the natural wine movement would only continue to grow, with a global shift towards more conscious and sustainable consumerism.

"People are becoming more conscious about what they're putting in their bodies and what's happening to the earth," he said.

Additionally, he said the style of wines lent themselves to an Australian lifestyle.

"It's the type of wine you can drink when most people are drinking beer, have around the barbecue, wearing your thongs, living that alfresco lifestyle," he said.

"Even though they were made by French monks in the 1500s, they fit in well with the Aussies."

Ben Pearson of Peco Wines is maturing pinot noir in a Georgian Kvevri. Picture: Craig George

Ben Pearson of Peco Wines is maturing pinot noir in a Georgian Kvevri. Picture: Craig George

Daughter Hannah Cox didn't envisage a career in winemaking until she first saw her parent's experimental vintage of pet nats, but soon "fell down the natural wine rabbit hole and never got out".

Alongside her partner Ben Pearson, Ms Cox has launched Peco Wines and has taken the 'natural style' of Swinging Gate's pet nats one step further, by investing in a Georgian kvevri.

Hailing from Georgia -one of the oldest winemaking regions in the world- a kvevri is a large, egg-shaped terracotta clay pot that is used in the fermentation and maturation of wine.

Hannah said the investment allowed them to experiment and explore the natural winemaking process, and they believed they were the only producers in Tasmania to own one.

"We love the freedom to experiment and we love quirky wines with a lot of skin contact," she said.

"We just like the really unique flavours that come from additional skin contact and wild ferment, we really notice that you do get different characteristics," she said.

Hannah said consumers were beginning to focus on small, local producers and she believed the market for natural wines would only continue to grow as more people were exposed to the style of wine.

The small community of young winemakers in the Tamar Valley region was another drawcard for Hannah and Mr Pearson, who said the community often collaborated and shared knowledge.

Launceston's Sam Rush worked in the winemaking industry for seven years before taking the leap and launching his own label, Rush Wines.

He echoed the sentiments of Peco Wines and said the community spirit in the Tasmanian wine industry was unparalleled.

Mr Rush said the winemaking community in Northern Tasmania was filled with young people "giving it a crack" and tended to lean more towards sustainable winemaking practices.

Sam Rush of Rush Wines is releasing his first wine in the coming weeks. Picture: Phillip Biggs

Sam Rush of Rush Wines is releasing his first wine in the coming weeks. Picture: Phillip Biggs

"There's a real sense of community and there are a lot younger people in the industry," he said.

"It's nice to bounce ideas off each other and being a younger wine region, there's a lot of people down here trying their luck.

"I've made a lot of friends in the industry and I hope they'll become lifelong friends both in the industry and personally."

Mr Rush said the impact of climate change was a big consideration when choosing to launch his winemaking career in the Tamar Valley.

With the warming climate becoming noticeable in other winemaking regions across Australia, Mr Rush said Tasmania's naturally cooler climate was ideal.

"It's something that's affecting the world and grapes require very specific climatic conditions and Tasmania has that cooler climate and it was a big drawcard," he said.

Launching his first wine in the next few weeks, Mr Rush said the decision to create minimal intervention wines was spurred by a desire to preserve the true expression of the wine.

"I like the idea of the winemaker being simply there to guide the fruit through the winemaking process and not to try to change it too much," he said.

"By letting the fruit express itself, every vintage is going to be different.

"I'm not trying to make a product that's going to be the same year from year.

"Because from an agricultural sense, you're never going to get the same growing season every year."

This story Ancient winemaking practices are coming back as consumers embrace the 'natural' first appeared on The Examiner.