Viticulturist and winemaker at Vinden Wines and vinden Headcase, Hunter Valley
Angus Vinden has his own approach to making wines that celebrate the Hunter Valley’s ancient sites. On one hand, he maintains traditional style and classic grape varieties in the Vinden Wines label founded by his family in 1990. On the other, he dials up the innovation and redefines expressions of the Hunter in the Vinden Headcase label.
How did your family get into winemaking?
Mum wanted to return to the country to start a family and Dad wanted to get away from the hustle of Sydney. They both loved Hunter Valley wine and the Hunter provided the perfect place from where Dad could commute part-time for work. He’d been weaned on the delicious Rothbury Estate Black Label Semillon and Lindeman’s Shiraz, and was keen to make some of his own.
How have you seen Hunter Valley wines evolve recently?
I think the Hunter is going back to its roots. The younger generation like myself are not bringing fruit in from out of the area, as was the norm for so long; we’re championing our terroir.
It must be rewarding to make both traditional Hunter styles and your Headcase wines. Do you enjoy both equally as much?
Yes, I love making both. Each feeds the other! I guess my Headcase wines represent one side of my brain and Vinden the other. Headcase wines push me to keep challenging the status quo, while the other side keeps it in check.
What is your approach in the vineyard and winery?
I am a viticulturist first, not a winemaker. All wine is a product of the vineyard it is grown in and if you work with amazing fruit, winemaking is more of a custodial job. Don’t mess it up by messing with the fruit. Be as minimal intervention as you can. I push away from as many additives or fining agents as I can. I prefer to work harder in the vineyard with my team to produce beautiful clean fruit to work with.
You work with a variety of grapes. Which do you think will do particularly well in the future?
I think light reds work incredibly well up here. Len Evans planted gamay here 30 years ago and it grows amazingly well. I have three clones of gamay in the ground with more going in. I am planting cinsault, pinot meunier and pinot noir, and am keen to plant poulsard and trousseau in the future. Also, I think tempranillo will work extremely well here. We have two clones in the ground already with two more going in as well.
Who else is doing good things? What other regions and which other young winemakers do you particularly admire?
Will Gilbert is doing some amazing things with chardonnay, riesling and pinot coming out of Orange. The wines show great restraint and finesse. James Broinowski from Small Island Wines is making some beautiful pinots and a structured yet smashable gamay, out of Tassie. Nick at LAS Vino in Margaret River is producing some amazingly vibrant and delicious wines.
Who are the new players in the Hunter to watch out for?
James Becker from M&J Becker Wines, Usher Tinkler Wines, Harkham Wines, Comyns & Co, Horner Wines. They all represent a younger generation focusing mostly on Hunter Valley terroir.
What winemaking goals are you still hoping to achieve?
Only one. To make sure I am still enjoying what I am doing in 10, 20 and 30 years’ time!
Lyons Will Estate, Macedon Ranges, Victoria
With five hectares under vine in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges, husband and wife team Renata Morello and Ollie Rapson work in perfect harmony to create wines from their estate-grown fruit. With a focus on sustainability, their vineyards are pruned and harvested by hand and grapes see only the basket press. Their modus operandi is to “divide and conquer” with Rapson concentrating on the chardonnay and the pinot noir, while Morello nurtures and makes the riesling and gamay.
Why did you choose the Macedon Ranges to make wine?
The Macedon Ranges ticked a few boxes: one, it’s a beautiful part of the world that seems to be a route less travelled, which is weird considering its proximity to one of Australia’s large capital cities; and two, the environment and the location presented an opportunity to not only craft great wine but to do it in a very special place. We see it as a bit of a hidden gem in the wine world that has so much potential. Our vineyard is 540m above sea level and nestled at the base of the Cobaw State Forest, overlooking the rest of the Lancefield valleys and plateau. In fact, it’s on top of an old volcanic eruption, hence the rocks on top of the hill where the chardonnay resides.
How do you and Ollie share the winemaking responsibilities?
It’s very much a divide and conquer scenario. I really focus on gamay and riesling. Gamay is a new variety to the region with loads of potential and one that demands [a good] technique. Riesling is a proven performer that is super versatile and will allow us to push stylistically. Ollie has a real passion for the Burgundy classics. Both chardonnay and pinot demand a lot of attention to detail – in the vineyard and winery floor – and it’s an ongoing challenge that he loves. During harvest whatever grape comes into the winery will decide who the captain is for the day.
What is your approach in the vineyard and to winemaking?
Our vineyard is very tightly monitored and manicured because our home is in between the blocks. For that reason alone we tend to it with a keen eye for detail. Being part of something so beautiful means we always have a lens on environment and
sustainability as part of our viticultural philosophy. A great benefit of this hands-on approach means we get a lot control in the winery. In turn this makes our winemaking technique simple; ferments are cool and mostly wild, there is no need to modify for sugar or acid and we tend to process the morning of picking, which reduces reliance on any preservatives.
How important is sustainability to you?
It’s huge. We have two kids and we love where we live. For us, the idea is to try and restore what has been taken without leaving a mark. So we tend to look at organic fertilisers, under-vine cultivation for weed suppression, sheep in the mid row to keep grasses down. We even have a gang of guinea fowl to eat vine moth and other nasty insects. It is a lifestyle for us, that’s for sure.
What has surprised you about being a winemaker?
The camaraderie amongst superb humans. We are extremely lucky to be part of such a gifted and kind winemaking and grape-growing community. We are relatively new on the block (in wine terms), approaching our eighth year at Lyons Will, and we have had nothing but support all along the way. We’ve learnt something from almost everyone in our region. The vignerons are all very collaborative and supportive, and I don’t think we would have come this far without the support of so many others.
Judging by the wine styles you favour, you must both be fans of Burgundy. Who are the younger winemakers from there that you admire?
Yes, we love our Burgs but we also love our Beaujolais, too. Brother and sister Romain and Virginie, from Domaine Taupenot-Merme in the Côte de Nuits, produce a stellar pinot, one we strive for. We were lucky enough to spend time with them last year. Florence Cholet-Pelletier recently took over her father’s domaine in Burgundy [Domaine Christian Cholet-Pelletier] and in fact has a really close connection to Australia having done vintages around the corner at Curly Flat and in the Mornington with Eldridge Estate.
Laurent Jambon, from Domaine de Thulon, is another. We spent some time with the Jambon family when we last visited Beaujolais on a recommendation of a friend, and we were impressed with their knowledge and experience in both the vineyard and the winery, creating multiple versions of delicious gamay that expresses site. We also admire Richard Rottiers [from Domaine Richard Rottiers], as again his approach to winemaking is about getting the best out of the vines and then ensuring the wines he makes are true to site.
We are seeing the popularity of gamay on the rise. Which other regions do you think are doing well with the grape?
Good gamay tends to lean well to locations with a vast diurnal temperature variance – hot days, cold nights. It’s in this flux that great acidity and structure is created and retained by the fruit. Therefore, Tassie, the Bellarine Peninsula, Canberra or even Henty have great potential. Ultimately, we love gamay as a variety. It is great fun to play with.
Do you think Australia will ever realise what great value our rieslings are?
I would say we probably do. The proof is in its consumption. What people probably underestimate is how much riesling expresses the environment and site in which it is grown. There are some great rieslings coming out of the Macedon Ranges but still very much on the small scale. We are super lucky here. Due to our cool climate, wine retains its natural acidity.
What do you think the challenges will be for your generation of winemakers? Is there anything you would like to see change?
The cost of making good wine in Australia is on the rise. Add to this a substantial tax and, sadly, for the end consumer, it will become more and more cost-prohibitive. Yes, there are cheaper options, but for small, boutique, family-run domaines like ours, these pressures will push consumers away from locally grown to mass-produced.
Winemaker at Balnaves of Coonawarra, SA
There were big shoes to fill when Pete Bissell retired from his role as senior winemaker at the small family business Balnaves of Coonawarra. But, having been well-schooled on the region’s vineyards from an early age, and after working with Bissell as assistant winemaker since 2018, taking over the key position was a natural transition for Jacinta Jenkins.
Growing up with a father who’s a skilled viticulturist (Allen Jenkins, Wynns Coonawarra Estate), was there always a hope that you or your siblings would follow him into wine?
I think my dad did hope that one of us would embrace the world of wine, but he never pushed it on any of us. After school, I followed my interest in science, however, during my honours project, I realised I didn’t enjoy being cooped up in a laboratory, so I worked a vintage in Coonawarra while I decided what to do. This launched my interest in wine and led to a vintage at Chateau Ste Michelle [Washington State’s oldest winery], where the winemaker mentored me and encouraged my inexperienced palate.
What enticed you away from Coonawarra up to the Clare Valley and what were the most important lessons you learnt there?
After completing a few vintages in Australia and overseas, and a Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Adelaide, I was keen to secure a full-time position. I’ve always appreciated Clare Valley riesling and I was very fortunate to gain a position at Pikes Wines as an assistant winemaker. Working at Pikes consolidated my practical winemaking knowledge and skills. One inspiring thing about the winemaking team was their evident passion for riesling, and their subsequent expectations of precision and care. I also came to fully appreciate the impact on wine character from subtle vineyard differences.
Returning to Coonawarra to follow in Pete Bissell’s footsteps as winemaker at Balnaves of Coonawarra is a wonderful achievement. What are your plans for the wines in the near future?
I was very fortunate to learn from Pete Bissell for two years in the lead-up to his retirement in June this year. Pete and the Balnaves family have established a fantastic legacy, and I am very honoured to be appointed as winemaker. Initially my aim will be to respect continuity of style, while making vibrant wines that reflect the unique Balnaves vineyards. I am excited to work collaboratively on future trials to make an array of beautiful and expressive Coonawarra wines. I aim to incorporate more of my own style as we respond to an ever-changing and challenging climate.
Pikes and Balnaves of Coonawarra are both smaller, family-run wineries. What do you enjoy about these kinds of businesses?
I really admire that both the Pikes and Balnaves families are committed to establishing a family wine business that will stand the test of time, and that can be proudly passed on to future generations. This is reflected in the long-term thinking when developing the vineyards and the business, and Kirsty Balnaves has been instrumental in this approach. Pikes and Balnaves are similarly community minded and very involved with local sporting clubs and charities. Family businesses also have the opportunity to diversify and take a holistic approach, for example, Balnaves’ livestock allows the winery to recycle some by-products, such as grape marc for cattle feed and water for irrigating pasture.
What’s your stand on sustainability in the vineyards and winery?
I think it’s vital to adopt environmentally sustainable practices as well as ensure they are practical and economically viable. At Balnaves, the winery energy requirements are mainly covered by a large array of solar panels, and the vineyard team have designed innovative de-stemmer trailers, so that petioles, stems and leaves are recycled back into the vineyard as the fruit is picked. That saves extra processing and disposal at the winery.
What grape varieties are you tipping for the future?
I think cabernet is still very important to the future of the region. Most of the Balnaves cabernet sauvignon vines are Reynella selection, but we have been exploring other clones and differing rootstocks. Balnaves has also increased plantings of petit verdot, a later ripening variety that can heighten perfume and black fruit character in cabernet sauvignon, especially in warmer vintages.
What have you learnt from other young winemakers?
I have really enjoyed getting to know the community of young winemakers. It’s been really valuable to have a group of friends in similar roles with whom to share a bottle of something interesting and exchange ideas. It’s important to build close networks of mentors and peers within the wine community.
What’s the best advice your father gave about wine or vineyards?
As a kid, going for a walk around the vineyards would invariably result in Dad veering off the road into the vines to teach us about their development and the season they were in. At the time, my sister and I would roll our eyes, but now I definitely pay more attention to these in-field lessons. I think that the main thing I have learnt is to continually reassess and think laterally about how things are done or could be improved.
What do you think are the most important issues for the younger generation of winemakers?
The most important issue is climate change and the ensuing environmental challenges this brings. Climate change is already throwing up challenges such as increased Eutypa, berry shrivel and vintage compression. There needs to be a continual focus on environmental sustainability. Another issue is economic stability and sustainability as we navigate through the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important to maintain a long-term outlook even while the future is unsure.
Winemaker at Marco Lubiana, Tasmania
The Lubiana family has been making wines for hundreds of years, first in Italy and then in Tasmania, where biodynamic vigneron Stefano (Steve) Lubiana has produced his acclaimed wines since the 1990s. After growing up among the vineyards and with plenty of paternal wisdom to draw on, it is no surprise Marco Lubiana’s pinot noir and chardonnay, recently launched under his eponymous label, are causing quite a stir.
Your family has been making wine for six generations. Was it a given that you would follow their path into winemaking?
I don’t think it was a given, but I think it was a high possibility. When I was young, during vintage, I would return home from school and everyone would be busy – there would be music, food and lots going on and I found that a pretty exciting time. It was a fond memory when growing up, which might have contributed to becoming a winemaker. When I was in my teens, I was thinking down the chef/baker line as I wasn’t drinking that much wine and I liked cooking a lot. I made the decision after high school that being a baker or chef looked like a tough job and the hours were very late, so I thought, ‘let’s just try winemaking’. My parents never asked me to become a winemaker.
What was it like growing up around such an acclaimed winemaker and what is the most important thing he taught you?
Yeah, it was cool. I would always be surprised when I bumped into a teacher, dentist or parent and they’d mention ‘your parents make some good wine you know, I love the pinot’. I think I recognised it more when I moved to Adelaide and I started to meet a lot of people that knew my father in the wine industry. That was interesting and made me feel very lucky. My father always taught me great wine can only be made from good vineyards, and good vineyards take hard work and great attention to detail.
Is your approach in the vineyard and winemaking similar to Steve’s or are there things you do differently?
Definitely the same in the vineyard as my father is a true expert and I am still learning a lot from him in that area; I agree with all his suggestions. In the cellar, there are little differences. I pick when I want, so that varies slightly. We ferment very much the same, we both basket-press. I do malo [malolactic fermentation] in spring while my father does his after primary fermentation, both for red and white. I don’t filter and my father does most of the time. We both like some whole-bunch depending on the phenolic ripeness of the year or vineyard. We both like the same coopers and forests.
Will you stick to making chardonnay and pinot noir or are there other varieties or styles you’d like to experiment with?
Yes, I think I will stick with pinot noir and chardonnay. I have a true love for these two varieties. They are so complex and when they are made to their full potential, they almost become something else. To achieve this level, I need to focus my time and knowledge into this area without distractions from other varieties or styles. I want to make pinot noir and chardonnay that will shock consumers and last the test of time. My plan is to make pinot noir and chardonnay that will compete on the world stage and stack up against the greats.
What other wine styles and varieties do you see taking off in Australia?
In the hotter areas of Australia, I can see grenache, nero d’Avola, montepulciano and fiano. In the cooler areas, pinot gris, gamay, nebbiolo and malbec. I love them all and they will grow well for sure. In a broad sense, I see consumers moving away from riper style wines to lower alcohol, fresher examples with thoughtful viticulture and winemaking.
Do you prefer cork to screwcap as a seal?
I like cork and my wines are [under] cork. Cork trees take carbon dioxide from the air so that’s good for the planet; growing them employs local people. They’re biodegradable or compostable. They sound fun and I like the look, to be honest.
What do you think the challenges will be for your generation of winemakers? Is there anything you would like to see change?
Obviously global warming is a big challenge. It’s already happening and will continue to be a challenge, not only for earlier picking dates but also for bushfires and drought. I would like – and hope – to see more vineyards move to certified organic methods and to stop relying on man-made agrochemicals, which are destroying the soils and ecosystems of Australia.
What wines do you enjoy drinking other than your own?
I usually drink organic or biodynamic wine as I philosophically support this type of wine and usually find them higher in quality in general. Producer-wise, I like Sorrenberg, Yangarra and Cullen from Australia. Felton Road and Ata Rangi are great Kiwi wines. I like Burlotto, Bartolo Mascarello and Bruno Giacosa from Barolo, even though I rarely drink them, and the odd Brunello di Montalcino with some age. Etna reds and whites are lovely. I like Kistler, Ceritas and Littorai from the US. French-wise, Marcel Deiss from Alsace. From Burgundy, Domaine Trapet, Domaine de Montille, Arnaud Ente, Domaine Roulot, Olivier Leflaive, Domaine Ponsot and Vincent Dancer. I like more white producers from Burgundy as sourcing an outstanding pinot is not easy.
Which of your contemporaries do you think are worth watching?
Well, Gareth Belton [Gentle Folk] is whipping out some good gear from the Adelaide Hills. Nic Peterkin [LAS Vino] – haven’t met him, but his wines are good and he must be working with some top-notch vineyards. Joshua Cooper [Joshua Cooper Wines] is doing great stuff for Macedon Ranges, and Matthias Utzinger [Utzinger Wines] from northern Tasmania is a true vigneron making soulful wines.
If you could make wine anywhere in the world, other than Tasmania, where would that be?
Hmm, somewhere cold that has never been planted with vines. South-eastern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, on some interesting terroir with good rainfall and not frost-prone.