Connected to the land at Salomon Estate
Simon has been winemaker of Salomon Estate in the Southern Fleurieu region, South Australia for the past four years. He is and feels connected with the land enjoying his job where all the wines are sourced from the single vineyard. All vines are hand pruned and hand-picked from the same team of four (including Simon) every year.
This family run and family focused winery thrives on making wine reflecting its climate, soil and region.
How Simon White became involved in wine
I was interested to learn how Simon has become so connected and is so passionate about what he does. He explains that he started his role in the wine trade as a teenager.
As he explains, “if you ask my grandmother she would have told you that I started working in wine as her father was a Hamilton’s Ewell, one of the first wine families in South Australia. Her uncle is a Hamilton that runs the Richard Hamilton winery in McLaren Vale and Coonawarra. “ Simon continues, “I enjoyed cooking and my mum would bake and after I had tried work experience at an accounting firm and realised I didn’t want to be in an office, a friend of the family was supplying corks to the wine industry and suggested winery work experience. That’s where it started and at 15 years old I would catch three buses to get to the wineries over the holidays where he loved the creativity.” During the holidays while studying winemaking at Roseworthy he would return to the wineries to work and be able to use his creativity and technical knowledge to experiment with a few barrels.
After completing his degree at Roseworthy in 1990, over the next 14 years Simon worked in family wineries that grew extensively during the boom which included Leasingham, Hardys and Chateau Reynella. When he left the Tintara winery in McLaren Vale in 2004 he was the Senior Winemaker and Manager at Tintara. Then followed time at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale and a number of vintages at Salomon Estate in Austria before working at Coriole in McLaren Vale for 7 years leaving in 2013.
Joining Salomon Estate
Dr. Bert Salomon and his wife Gertrud established Salomon Estate in South Australia almost 20 years ago. They now focus on both the Austrian vineyard and Australian vineyard dividing their time in the northern and southern hemisphere. Simon initially met Bert at a wine tasting in Edinburgh Cellars in Eastern Suburbs of Adelaide during the 1990s when Bert was working for the Wine Marketing Board of Austria while his brother was managing the Salomon Estate in Austria. The two developed a good friendship which saw Simon work at Salomon Estate in Austria for a number of vintages after leaving Hardy’s Tintara.
Connection to nature: Salomon Estate in Fleurieu Peninsula
Standing in the vineyard, Simon reels off the number of Cabernet vines, Shiraz, the row spacing distance with such detail, familiarity and astuteness that leaves no doubt how much Simon lives and breathes winemaking and the connection to nature. They are also trialling different varieties with 8 new rows or 640 vines of Touriga as an experiment.
From the 12.1 hectares in this single vineyard, they can produce up to 110,000 bottles a year. Simon goes on to discuss the difference in ages of soils in Australian and Europe. It is surprising for me to learn that Australian soils are much older than European as millions of years ago Australia was under and as the soils are much older they have had many of the nutrients weathered out of them and so have much lower levels of fertility compared to European soils.
Keeping us company in the vineyard where we chatted were the 180 sheep. Not only do they provide wool and meat but they are an integral part of the connection to nature. Simon explains, “We don’t slash or herbicide. We use sheep which are here from the day we finish harvest until September, in the vineyard. The sheep eat the grass so we don’t need to mow the grass here. The sheep also clean up under the vine so 6 out of 7 years we don’t need to add anything to stop under vine weed growth and they leave manure. As budburst is starting to come and the grass is getting a bit short, the sheep will start to lift their heads. So we will move the sheep out of there in a few days.”
Simon is so connected to the land but technology also plays an important role. As he says, “The best thing in a vineyard is a pair of boots but the water soil sensors are pretty cool.” It takes a recording every 3 minutes at 5 levels (the different soil types and depths to 1 metre)and uploads it every 2 hours (the soil moisture levels). It also measures the soil temperature down to 20 centimetres down. Simon adds, “That’s the technology side of it but you still need to walk in the vineyards. You need to see how happy the vines are by the way the leaf hangs and grass in the mid-row. You have to get out.”
As a winemaker ”the lifestyle choice is spectacular.” Simon goes on to explain that he and his sons go shearing together and walking the vines together. His sons take an interest in the sheep that roam the vineyards and also help him collect the grape samples. He has taught his sons to be connected to the land and to understand how to be independent. One of his sons also grows his own vegetables which is pretty impressive considering he is 9 years old.
The team at Salomon Estate
It is a very small team at Salomon with Simon making all the wines. He and Bert will annually taste the grapes before picking and taste the wines in barrel before releasing the wines. In Australia, it is just Simon and three other team members. These are the same four people that prune the vineyard annually and they work on the same rows each year. The small team is very focused on control and based on how the growing season has been will have a deciding factor on the pruning and winemaking.
With two huge bodies of water nearby, Lake Alexandrina and the Southern Ocean, it creates a wonderful cooling effect in the vineyard a sea breeze similar to the Fremantle Doctor lower the temperature on a hot summer day. The team only sprays and irrigates when absolutely necessary. They also use a compost program. In addition to this, they do soil pits where they use an excavator to dig as far as they can to analyse the soil, look at the root distribution and structure. From that they pursue practices to alleviate any issues and maximise what will be beneficial for the soil. There is also a mulching program. The team is focused on keeping the soil as balanced as possible.
The team at Salomon know the vines, their characteristics, the soil structure and even the sheep that graze the land. The team wants the oak to be part of the wine and only release their wines when they think it is ready to drink not when it is commercial, they want the wine to be true to itself.
The future of Salomon Estate & availability
Bert and Simon always talk about what they want to change in the vineyard to improve every year. Bert, Simon and the team are looking at the long term. Bert’s son and daughter who have spent years studying winemaking are now stepping into the family business as the 2nd generation producing premium wines from this vineyard and the 7th generation producing Salomon Wines from the family vineyards in Austria. His son, also called Bert has done a viticulture degree, a winemaking degree and a business management degree and is just completing his PhD in Business Management. Young Bert has been out here every year for the last 4 years to see how the vineyard operates, how the suppliers make their compost, looking at soil analysis alongside Simon. Simon praises young Bert with his “collaborative approach to come up with a better way of doing what we do. Young Bert having travelled the world gaining winemaking and viticulture experience he thinks differently and between us we come up with some really interesting ideas to try. Things I never think about.” Bert’s daughter, Fay has studied winemaking, marketing and she is also finishing business school.
The wine is mainly found in the on-trade in restaurants with a few independent wine stores.
Range of Salomon Estate Wines
The full range of wines are:
Single Vineyard Wines:
- FINISS RIVER Cabernet Sauvignon
- FINNISS RIVER Shiraz Sea Egal Vineyard
- ALTTUS Shiraz
Old World Cuveés:
- AESTATIS Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre
- WILDFLOWER Syrah-Viognier
- DARK PEARL Cabernet
- SFM TAWNY 30 years
Classic Australian Blends:
- NORWOOD Shiraz-Cabernet
- GOVERNOR Shiraz-Cabernet Magnum
Swanny Cellars is a big supporter of Salomon Estate. The Salomon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 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