Glaetzer Wines: aiming for the right balance of flavour and texture
Under the Barossa Vintners label Ben Glaetzer produces Glaetzer Wines focusing on four red wines (which we tasted); Glaetzer Amon-Ra Shiraz, Glaetzer Anaperenna (Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon), Glaetzer Bishop (Shiraz) and Glaetzer Wallace (Shiraz and Grenache). Making 15,000 cases of 12, their focus is bright and rich and restrained Shiraz which is Ben’s favourite grape variety and blended Cabernet as it has great tannin and works well in a blend.
Ben is a modest and talented winemaker but you wouldn’t know it speaking to him. For him, making wine is not difficult, selling it is. He doesn’t mention about being awarded Qantas Young Winemaker of the Year, Robert M. Parker Jnr Wine Personality of the Year, New World Winemaker of the Year in Behind the Label (UK) and “Baron of the Barossa”. So I am glad that when I ‘interviewed’ Ben that I also met with two other people that work alongside Ben, Nick Keukenmeester and Trevor Roether who were able to give further insight into how Ben operates and his talents. Trevor is General Manager of Glaetzer Wines and has been working with Ben for twenty years and has completed a total of 43 vintages in the Barossa while Nick is General Manager Heartland Wines, another wine brand that Ben produces.
Nick explains “I think one of the great benefits that Ben is able to bring is his blending palate which is exceptional and when you are working with such a multi-faceted vineyard even just among the various Shiraz parcels, before we start looking at the Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties Ben is working on from other regions, his ability to find something meaningful out of the parts is really quite phenomenal. And I have seen very few winemakers who are as skilled or gifted at that particular aspect of winemaking.” Nick adds, “I think it is something that creates a distinction between the Glaetzer, Heartland or Mitolo wines and some of the other wines you see on the market.”
You could say that winemaking is in Ben’s genes. It was his mother who put together the blend that won one of the original Jimmy Watson trophy before his uncle won three in a row and his brother has also won one. And as Ben says, “When you grow up in vineyards, it becomes second nature.” After leaving school, Ben studied winemaking and travelled through Armenia as well as France and Italy before working in the Hunter and then setting up Glaetzer Wines.
History of Barossa Vintners
Ben and his dad Colin set up the company Barossa Vintners in 1996 where he makes Glaetzer Wines. Ben took it over in 2000 with his father still one of the shareholders. Both have backgrounds as winemakers, in fact Ben can trace his family back to 1888.
They are an efficient team at Barossa Vintners with just sixteen full time plus up to another three at vintage.
Highlighting the flavours from the vineyard
I had a tour of the Barossa Vintners winery where Ben makes wines for a number of different labels including Heartland, Mitolo and of course Glaetzer Wines. Making so many wines for different brands, Ben explains that good organisational skills are key to ensuring all brands are kept separate.
For his wines, Ben is focused on highlighting the flavours from the vineyard. He does this by avoiding manual handling by using gravity fed techniques. This allows the must to flow downward avoiding macerating after fermentation when the skins and seeds are soft. This technique ensures the ferment is treated as gently as possible.
Ben explains, “It is all about freshness for us, I want fresh tannin. You have that natural flavour profile in the fruit so you don’t need to get it hot to get more flavour out which makes the aromatics less pure with more jammy, stewy and imbalanced tannins. So I keep the fermentation cool. No ferments go above 18 degrees Celcius and refrigeration is key.”
Ben explains about Shiraz which is his favourite grape variety, “It works well here, the generosity and the restrain that it has. Here we focus on getting the right balance and the flavour and texture. I am looking for the purity.”
In terms of their footprint, they are focused on solar energy with a huge solar systems in place and the ability to use it to run 8-9 months of the year just on solar.
With regards to the cleaning chemicals, they use the standard products which are citric acid and caustic soda which neutralises each other. The waste water is treated before moving to the dam and put onto the pasture.
The fruit for the four Glaetzer Wines is sourced from six different growers in Ebenezer who use minimal practices in the vineyards. They are focused on minimal intervention for the vineyard, land and handing it to the next generation.
Relationships with growers
As well as the history and association Ben and his family have with the Barossa, I am surprised and interested to learn more about the relationships Barossa Vintners has with its growers. As Nick highlights, “One important distinction is that there is no one we don’t do business here with that we has not been a friend for at least 20 years and the vast majority go back not one but at least two generations.”
Ben explains, the fruit is sourced from fourth to sixth generation land owners. Glaetzer Wines prefers to work with families as opposed to large corporate organisations. All the growers are passionate about what they do which allows Ben and his team to focus on the winemaking. Barossa Valley and its residents seem like a tight knit community with many of being able to trace their families back generations including Trev, Nick and Ben’s families. The name “Barossa Valley” itself was named after the initial Prussian immigrants which means “Valley of the Roses” after the Prussians saw all the roses in the region.
Different soil types in the Barossa
Blending is so important especially when the Bishop 2017 is sourced from 18 different batches (different soil types ranging from sandy soil to clay) from 70 acres in Ebenezer. As Ben explains, “It is not so much about vine age but about the vintage and how the climate works with the soil types we have. We have an idea based on quality of fruit of where the wine will end up.” He adds, “It’s like cooking, you need to have the right ingredients. Quality ingredients will turn into quality product.”
Ben continues, “For Bishop we want flavour and depth and richness but also we want to have restraint at the same time.” The fruit for Bishop comes from vines that range from 35 years old to 150 years old and on average, the age is 85-90 year old vines.
The name Bishop is from Ben’s mother’s maiden name. The story behind the label is the symbol for Venus which is symbolic of feminine strength as his mother was the boss of the family and then he added the devil’s horn. Wallace was his grandmother’s maiden name who was of Scottish descent. Ben drew the label based on a stone memorial he saw outside the birthplace of William Wallace.
Relationships and a competitive industry
With the big brands out there and the competitive industry, I have to ask them what keeps them going and the brand alive. They reply with the dedication they have to the market, plus the relationship (20+ years) that they have with importers, independents and retailers. They must clock up thousands of air miles over the year visiting their export markets.
I am again impressed with their relationships abroad. As Nick says, “We don’t just know our importers and distributors, we know their families, we are lucky to be included in their business and social lives.” It comes back to relationships and openness which is what they have created in the Barossa Valley.
Glaetzer Wines are found in the on premise (60%) and in the off premise in independents (40%). They export 45% to 38 countries which is an achievement considering they only produce 15,000 dozen annually.
Days off for the team
Trev, Nick and Ben all seem too busy to have any days off. I can understand being so passionate about their jobs that there is always something to do from watching a ferment to answering emails, travelling the globe and blending.
However when they do have ‘spare time’ to themselves with their family, you’ll find Trev gardening; getting in touch with Mother Nature and riding his Harley Davidson. Ben will be pruning and Nick will be playing chess with his son enjoy his favourite grape variety, a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Swanny Cellars is a big supporter of Bishop by Ben Glaetzer 2017 Shiraz Barossa Valley. Bishop by Ben Glaetzer 2017 Shiraz Barossa Valley is recommended by the Liquor Barons Panel in the current issue of On the Vine.
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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.