Clare Valley is the appellation of 1000 terroirs
Meeting up with Warrick Duthy, the Managing Director of Kilikanoon Wines not only gave me a further understanding of the winery’s history, the founder Kevin Mitchell but also an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the different soil types in the Clare Valley. We chatted at the beautifully restored Kilikanoon cellar door in a room just off the tasting counter set out with high bar tables and seats. Pictures detailing the different soil types as well as those of founder Kevin Mitchell with dad Mort decorated the walls.
Kevin Mitchell set up Kilikanoon in 1997 initially producing 25,000 bottles from the first vintage. Today they make 100,000 dozen total across the full range. Their outstanding achievements in just the 22 years include being rated the best winery in Australia 6 times in the past 9 years from 3 different sources (James Halliday, IWSC in UK, MUNDUS VINI at ProWein). Their achievements also stretch to those behind the brand; in 2014 Kevin was inducted into the inaugural Clare Valley Hall of Fame as Winemaker of the Year.
As I understand it, Kilikanoon would not be where it was if it wasn’t for Kevin’s ability to “compose”; sourcing and creating wines from a selection of vineyards. Perhaps that is down to his childhood spent among the vines. His family have been involved in the wine trade for generations with both sets of grandparents owning wineries and his parents as grape growers. After studying an Agricultural Science Degree from Roseworthy Agricultural College and a Graduate Diploma of Wine Technology Kevin worked in the Barossa before setting up Kilikanoon. Kevin had an ambition, aiming to build a brand for him and his father, who at 80 years old still does some pruning.
Kilikanoon owns and sources fruit and wine from many vineyards in the Clare Valley and due to this, they compose to a consistency of style and quality for each of those single vineyards. There are now four winemakers here including Kevin. Warrick adds, “The team has a clear definition of what each of the wines should look like annually for every label e.g. Killerman’s Run GSM and Oracle Shiraz.”
Warrick adds, “Kevin is an absolutely brilliant composer. His real strength is the ability to look at different components on a table and visualise how they can come together and that is his gift. I think it is to a great extent that gift that was the seed that created Kilikanoon. He is very much a winemaker that grows great wines. During vintage you are more likely to find him in the vineyard tasting fruit, making picking decisions than in the winery.”
Soil types in Clare Valley
We go on to discuss the soil mixture in the Clare Valley. I agree with Warrick when he highlighted that most appellations in world are in fact called ‘appellations’ due to their homogeneity which is defined by soil, climate and rainfall. However in direct contrast Clare Valley is the exact opposite. The altitude, ranges, valleys and the aspects of the vineyards (north, east, south, west) all differ across the valley. And if you head to the Kilikanoon cellar door (or “interpretive centre” as Warrick calls it) the pictures of the soil will really highlight the difference that exists below the surface. The diversity of the rocks and the top soils is incredible.
Warrick explains how this diversity affects the taste of the Rieslings grown here. “Polish Hill is all sitting on slate which is why you get the minerality in the wine. While Watervale is the only part of Clare where you have terra rossa over limestone which is why the Riesling here has a pronounced lemon/lime character. You have it (lemon/lime) elsewhere but it is not as pronounced and that is because the soil structure is completely different.”
The only consistent factor across all the vineyards in the Clare Valley are the cooler nights that develop the necessary high natural acidity and the warm days which helps to ripen the fruit; both key components for good quality Rieslings.
Warrick adds, “In terms of diversity of soils in one spot, I do not think there is anywhere in the world that compares with this because of the nature of seismic activity. Clare is the appellation of 1000 terroirs.”
Sustainable vineyard practices used
As I have learnt many winemakers are focused on sustainable vineyard practices and Kilikanoon is no different. Their focus is managing disease and soil health. They also work with their growers to help them grow for quality. Again, for them it comes down to producing high quality wines from high quality vineyards.
The Future of Kilikanoon
Warrick explains that they have a very clear quality and style parameters for each label. So if they do not have the quality of fruit, then they will not make that specific wine. Their focus is consistency of quality and style whatever differences there may be in the vintage. They are committed to excellence and consistency and to organically grow their current customers based on trust.
The team will only look at expanding the current production if the quality is there with the right growers and contractors. Warrick talks again about Kilikanoon’s uncompromised standards for every single label. It is about growing the supply of the quality and style they want.
They also have a strong culture at the winery. Warrick is adamant about not compromising on cultural standards (consultation, collaboration, respect, trust). He has a lot of pride in the Kilikanoon culture and explains, “I am a leader and not a manager. I want everyone to be a leader and have personal power.”
Favourite grape variety and why
Having so much experience in the beverage industry, it must be hard to pick a specific grape variety.
As Warrick explains, “It depends on what you are eating and occasion. I think up here what I really love is the Grenache; it is such a beautiful, soft, supple, velvety kind of variety, grows pretty well in Clare. We crush about 40% of all Grenache grown in Clare and Kevin has a real affinity with it, especially in Kilikanoon portfolio.”
Working as Managing Director and what Warrick loves about his job
Warrick has extensive experience in the wine and beer industry having started at SA Brewing in 1982 and moving to Seppeltsfield, United Brewers and Allied Domecq over the following 24 years. He has been Managing Director and shareholder at Kilikanoon since 2011.
Asking Warrick what he loves about his job, he explains, “I am a strategist and planner taking pride in trying to achieve economic sustainability without compromising on the values and the vision of the business. With regards to Kilikanoon it is really about quality and style; uncompromised commitment to consistency, quality and style.”
Connection to Clare Valley
When Warrick is not working at Kilikanoon, you will find him waiting tables at the Watervale Hotel down the road which he owns with his wife Nicola who was head chef and restaurant manager at her family’s winery, Skillogalee for ten years. As I learn, it is a seasonal restaurant with a chefs in residence program working both in the kitchen and on the half acre farm where they grow all the food for the restaurant. Warrick and Nicola are focused on creating a positive and ethical legacy as a destination of the highest quality food in the Clare Valley.
You wouldn’t expect the owner to be waiting tables but by doing this, he is able to constantly speak to locals and tourists alike about their vision for the hotel. On their wine list, they feature a wine from every single winery in Clare including all the different grape varieties in order to demonstrate the diversity of the region.
Outside of this, Warrick is Chairperson at The Clare Valley Alliance (the Peak body of winemakers and growers in the Clare Valley) as well as the Vice Chair of the Winemakers and Growers Association. He is also a father to two grown up children with his son in law working in the vineyards at Kilikanoon, and his Son passionate about permaculture farming.
Warrick has a busy life but makes time for yoga and meditation every morning which helps him feel good and connected. This sounds like a healthy outlook on life.
The full Kilikanoon collection includes:
-Classic Clare Collection
-Killerman’s Run Collection
-Sparkling (soured and made in Vouvray France to their standards)
There is also a new brand called Mr Hyde which focuses on alternative grape varieties as well as alternative viticultural methods. Sounds very interesting and one to watch!
The wines are currently found in both the on and off premise. They also sell a lot through cellar door and their wine club structure. You will also find the wines across Emirate Airlines, in Canada (through Liquor Control Board in Ontario) as well as China.
Swanny Cellars is a big supporter of Kilikanoon. Kilikanoon 2017 Killerman’s Run
Grenache Shiraz Mataro (Clare 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