Boutique and Hand Crafted Grenache from the Barossa Valley
Artisans of the Barossa
Last month, I met winemaker and owner of Schwarz Wine Co, Jason at Vino Lokal Barossa Wine Room & Bar in Tanunda centre which offers tastings for the five wineries that make up the Artisans of the Barossa; John Duval Wines, Hobbs of Barossa Ranges, Spinifex Wines, Schwarz Wine Company and Sons of Eden. Before heading out to the vineyards and winery, I tasted through some of the wines in a flight format with tasting notes provided on each of the 4 wines on small business cards. As well as the four wines, I liked the set up both of the tasting flight and the modern bar with some of its vintage décor. It has been awarded “Best Tasting Experience – Barossa Valley” in the Gourmet Traveller WINE’s Best Cellar Door Awards 2019.
Jason explains the story of the Artisans of the Barossa which was set up in 2005. “The criteria included being family owned, making your own wine in small quantities and having some involvement in the winemaking process.” Jason’s production is modest, in 2017 he made the largest volume to date at 90 tonnes which was 6,000 cases (of 12). He would like to aim to make 100 tonnes in the foreseeable future if he finds the right fruit but remain a small family business. Currently it is just him and one office staff three days a week. At vintage, he hires one other person so it’s a pretty tight knit “team.” As his growers pick the grapes, his role at vintage involves “lots of walking in vineyards, checking the weather and tasting grapes” as he explains.
Vineyards and growers
We headed to the Home Block vineyard which was planted about 1968, near his family home and where much of the Grenache for the GSM is sourced. In the car, Jason talks about his past and it is evident that he has developed a good relationship with his Barossa and Eden Valley growers over the past 18 years from where he sources his fruit including his family’s property which his brother manages. With the Barossa being so hot and dry, there are not many issues with disease. His growers only use copper and sulphur in the vines which is classed as organic sprays and they use minimal intervention.
Jason’s family has been living in the Barossa for five generations. His parents were farmers; growing grapes as well as fruit (peach and apricots). His parents planted the vines on the Nitschke Block in 1968 which they bought from a man called Ted Nitschke. During Jason’s childhood his father bought a number of vineyards in the Barossa. While at school, he and his three brothers would help out on the family property; picking apricots over the summer holidays and pruning vineyards in winter.
Near the Home Block is as Jason explains, “One of the most photographed buildings in Bethany” where they used to cut apricots with his brothers when he was younger. I agree with Jason that it would make an exceptional cellar door with its 150 year old history but that could be quite costly considering its age and the amount of renovating required.
With a family history of grape growing it may be surprising to learn that Jason did not decide to move into wine straight away after school. As he explains, “I was a bit of a sporting buff so after year 12, I decided to study sport and recreation and then worked in that industry in the city. After the gym shut down, I came back and worked for dad in the vineyard, then I went to work at St Hallett winery and then at Grant Burge both in the vineyard.” The experience of working outside and for different people encouraged him to pursue a career in the wine trade but more focused on marketing so he studied Wine Marketing at Roseworthy and Waite campuses (University of Adelaide).
Travelling, working and visiting vineyards
Then in 1998, he headed overseas for 11 months travelling and working in France (Auxey-Duresses and Languedoc), Spain, South Africa (Stellenbosch) and the Napa Valley. Working in Stellenbosch and for a large winery in Zell in Mosel in Germany he gained invaluable experience not just in winemaking and operations but in exposure to a wide variety of grape varieties, particularly white in Germany that he had never heard of having grown up in the Barossa.
During our chat, we headed to the winery where there is a lovely view of Tanunda, the hills and as Jason explains, also the sunset. “Beautiful but windy spot,” he says.
Throughout our conversation and from what I read on the website, Jason talks about hand-crafted and boutique wines and I wanted to find out more.
What do you mean by hand-crafted and boutique wines?
“For me hand-crafted means keeping your hands off the wine, to a degree, trying not to influence the wine by avoiding additives or fining. I use filtration to take out some sediment. I want to show what this vineyard gives me and what the vintage does. I use blending if I think something is out of balance especially with GSM.”
Jason continues explaining his style of winemaking, “I whole bunch and pick early to create a lighter style; making soft and approachable and fun and earthy wines. I want to show what the Barossa can give but in a lighter style. I want the wines to reflect the soil. I want to create a very natural and raw product from where they are grown which is mainly Barossa floor and a little Eden Valley.”
He then talks more about the different soil types and his passion about Grenache is evident. “Each site for Grenache is different. Grenache shows variety of soils and micro climates, that is why GSM is important for me.” He loves Mataro and Shiraz too but his favourite grape variety is Grenache.
With “boutique” as Jason explains, he is still small, even if he does 100 tonnes. He employs one office staff for three days a week and one person at vintage. Everything else he does on his own.
Grenache: Favourite grape variety
Jason’s favourite grape variety is Grenache. He explains, “Because it is so universal, you can make it to light, soft and subtle. It goes great with a blend with Mataro and Shiraz. The old vines are beautiful, sitting quite erect when grown and are tolerant to the hot dry climate here in the Barossa.”
“Grenache produces wines that are unique and interesting. They really show the soil and the winemakers’ hand. You can have some influence over what they give. You don’t need new oak in them. They are beautiful, drinkable and food friendly (Grenache based wines) and you can chill Grenache slightly; great lunchtime wines.” Some of his Grenache based wines are 13.5% (abv). Jason makes two Grenaches; Thiele Road Grenache and the Meta Grenache. His GSM is made up of about 50% Grenache.
He loves Grenache so much that he will soon be making Grenache Blanc so keep a look out for this.
What do you love about your job?
Speaking to Jason I can understand why he likes his job as a winemaker. Being self-employed can have its drawbacks with never switching off but when he explains his joy of “taking a raw product and making it into a product that is enjoyable” it sounds rather envious. And it isn’t just about the wine, it is about making a product which brings people and friends together over a barbeque. Then there’s the ability to create and show your style to consumers.
As Jason continues, “I like lighter styles, especially having kids you don’t go out and eat extravagant food. Instead you have spaghetti bolognaise and think, what am I going to have with it? A bottle of GSM, that goes with everything and you make it light and juicy and drinkable. I love Grenache and GSM.”
With the big brands out there and the competitive industry, what keeps you going and your brand alive?
Jason agrees, “It is super competitive with everyone having their own database and banks with wine clubs. You have to continue to make interesting wines for your region, keep the labels updated and modern. Being so competitive, that is where Artisans is good for me as consumers can come to the cellar door and try them in a different city/region and buy them.”
Plans for the future
The future includes building a new cellar door just out of Tanunda in the next couple of months for the artisans. As Jason explains, “It will be more traditional cellar door and restaurant with kitchen. The view will be spectacular with a front lawn and vineyards.” I can’t wait to see it.
What do you like to do on your days off?
Working for himself, Jason doesn’t have much spare time but when he does, he enjoys being his family, going away on weekends with his children, supporting the local football team and watching his children play sport. If he didn’t have to be somewhere, he would fish, sit down and read a book; quiet and peaceful. It sounds ideal.
The range of Schwarz Wines:
When Jason set up the business in 2001 he made just the one wine, Nitschke Block Shiraz. The wines were much bigger then but today he picks the fruit much earlier making lower alcohol and softer wines. Today, the range includes:
2016 Loveday Shiraz
- The Schiller Shiraz 2017
- 2018 Schwarz Chenin Blanc
- 2018 Schwarz Rosé
- 2017 Schwarz GSM
- 2018 Schwarz Shiraz
- 2018 Meta Grenache
- 2018 Meta Mataro
- 2017 Thiele Road Grenache
- 2017 Nitschke Block Shiraz
- 2017 The Schiller Shiraz
Availability of wines from Schwarz Wine Co
The wines are available in wine bars and restaurants. For Jason, it is also important to be listed in some retail outlets for the consumers to buy.
Swanny Cellars is a big supporter of Jason’s wines. The Schwarz Wine Co. 2017 GSM Barossa Valley is recommended by the Liquor Barons Panel in the current issue of On the Vine.
Drop in and speak to us about these wines.
Text written by Ruth Turnbull, Swanny Cellar’s Roaming Reporter.
About the Roaming Reporter:
Ruth Turnbull is the Roaming Reporter for Swanbourne Cellars. Having studied the WSET Advanced Certificate and WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits, Ruth has worked in the wine trade in both London and Perth for over 15 years. While living in WA, Ruth was a regular Panel member on the Liquor Barons Panel and managed the digital marketing for Swanbourne Cellars. Now based in Adelaide, Ruth focuses on meeting the winemakers and the people behind the brand in order to highlight and share their story on the Swanbourne Cellars blog and social media channels