Regionality and fruit expression at Zonte’s Footstep
Zonte’s Footstep is refreshingly different in many ways. The team refer to themselves as a family. Shareholders Brad Rey and Anna Fisher make up the family of 11. They spend a lot of time together, more than their own families but as they are passionate about the work they do and their company ethos, it makes for an enjoyable place of work.
Another point of difference is the lack of vintage on the front label (it is found on the back mandatory section). The reason for this is that Brad wants to take out the variability and focus on ensuring consistency and quality in the wine. If it is a poor vintage, they will not pick inferior fruit, and therefore not bottle that wine from that year.
Zonte’s Footstep also does not focus on highlighting the grape varieties on each label. Instead, they see all their wines have different personalities which is why they are all been given names. There are names like “Shades of Gris”, “Lake Doctor”, “Baron Von Nemesis” and “Hills Are Alive.” As well as the artistic black and white labels, another point of difference is that there are three highlighted tasting words in each and every back label. The simplicity of bolding tasting descriptive words like “Pink Lady Apples”, “Honeydew Melon” and “Almond & Vanilla” for their Dusk Til Dawn (Chardonnay) makes sense and helps highlight these characteristics to busy customers.
I was interested to learn how Brad came to discover wine, study wine and move over to Australia from Canada and build a wine business. Only established in 2003, the wines have been featured twice in Wine Spectator Top 100 wines and 10,000 glasses of wine are enjoyed by Zonte’s Footstep customers every day across 18 countries; quite an achievement.
So how did it all start for Brad?
The only exposure to wine Brad had before working at a private wine shop was with his enthusiastic winemaking stepdad who would use a 12-gallon basket press to make wine in their garage during subzero winters during his teenage years.
As a young adult, Brad found his calling in wine when he was working in one of the first private-owned wine shops in his hometown of Calgary after one of his friends was awarded the license. Brad joined her team working from 1986 to 1991. Over the years Brad met, tasted and did vintages with some of the wineries they used to import into the store.
In 1991, there was a change in the licencing laws and Brad decided to pursue his winemaking passion full time and so started Distance Education with Charles Stuart University, set up by Brian Croser. There followed time working vintages and blending at a range of wineries across Tuscany in Italy (Isole E Olena), Alsace in France (Hugel) as well as across different wine regions in the US; Williamette Valley in Oregon, Sonoma and Napa Valleys in California.
Brad moved to Australia in 1995 and started working at Wirra Wirra where he looked after sales and marketing. Then he moved to Coriole, where he was instrumental in helping evolve their food business and put together new branding and wines.
The beginning & winemaking style at Zonte’s Footstep
Then came an opportunity to join what was to become Zonte’s Footstep with a total of 9 like-minded owners who bought a vineyard and started to plant Viognier, Shiraz and Sangiovese among other interesting varieties. I find the name intriguing; “Zonte” is a tribute to the grape “Zante” table grape which was planted in 1890’s for the growing Adelaide population. While the new owners were replanting the vineyard, they found large boulders with fossils on them that turned out to be footprints belonging to the largest known marsupial, the Diprotodon. So the name “Footstep” was aptly used.
With this opportunity to invest in his own wine business, Brad adds, ”That’s when I realised I didn’t know much as I thought I did. Now I learn something new every day.” As he says, he is just a glorified farmer, dependent on Mother Nature and wants to highlight the regionality and Sense of Place in their wines. They started with producing a Shiraz Viognier co-ferment and a straight Viognier… when there was only one or two others in Australia; then a dry rosé, an Italian blend of reds and now the family at Zonte’s is focused on educating the market about alternative styles.
As owners, Brad and Anna head up the family at Zonte’s. Brad oversees the winemaking and communicates with grape growers and customers while Anna is responsible for finance, general management and the growing Chinese market. They source grapes from 250 – 300 hectares from 16 growers across 5 regions; McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Adelaide Hills and the Barossa and Fleurieu; specifically, from Finnis River.
Regionality at Zonte’s Footstep
At Zonte’s Footstep, they focus on regionality. Brad is focused on fresh, primary fruit flavours and expressing that sense of place. He explains, “I am paying attention to what Mother Nature has imparted, focusing on that piece of dirt and the grape variety from the soil.
“For me, it is fruit expression. It is about making wines that are drinkable that express the fruit that they have and the complexity of winemaking is there to help build on it. Plain and simple.” Their sustainable vineyard practices have a large part to play in this too using cover crops, compost, careful monitoring of pests and achieving vine balance.
Brad continues, “Most of our wines have minimal oak in them until you get up into our limited releases and they see longer maturation because of the style of winemaking. And I am making them at different price points and different stylization but all the other wines spend around 8 months in oak puncheons. A lot of our wine is made in stainless steel as it preserves the natural fruit integrity”
It is because they are focusing on regionality that they do not add the grape variety to the front label in bold. Instead they want to build alternative varieties and give each of their wines names as they all have different personalities. Brad explains, “We say we are drinking Lake Doctor (which is made from Shiraz), we do not say we are drinking a ‘Shiraz’.”
Brad explains the story behind another wine, Shades of Gris. “This is playing off Shades of Grey to a degree; it is not Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris, it is shades of Gris. We do not use either of those winemaking techniques. What I am just doing is picking it flavour ripe, fermenting the grapes in stainless steel, keep it balanced with minimal skin contact, so that the pure varietal definition of fruit is what is on offer. It is about drinkability. For me, it is getting rid of the complexity of what goes on in the winemaking process and let the fruit evolve on its own merits. What Anna and I have done with the back labels is focus on three words to describe the flavour profile.” I love the simplicity with this.
What does Anna and Brad do in their free time?
When I met with Brad, Anna was off to go skiing in Falls Creek the following week with her family and Brad had just come back from one week of visiting his in-laws, helping do some gardening and trimming trees. For Brad, he loves being outdoors, travelling, the diversity of his work and the people that he meets as a winemaker. As both Brad and Anna spend a lot of time at work, on their days off, family time at their respective homes is precious and much cherished.
Stockists and plans for the future
You can taste the full range of Zonte’s Footstep wines at their wine bar/pub located just next to the original General Store on Main Road in McLaren Flat. Nibbles and other small food dishes are available here as well as guided tours and tastings.
The wine bar is a beautifully constructed building that has character and rusticity. The bricks are all upcycled, all from the original telephone exchange that had been built next to the General Store and some from the homes that were knocked down on Main South Road to make way for the North Road extension. Bricks from both surprisingly came from the same factory, which is quite incredible. The beams are all from the old wool stores out at Port Adelaide and the wood for the bar tops is from the members’ stand at the original Adelaide Oval. They think the wood is actually from the original ballast wood out of the original boats that settled in Adelaide.
The wines can be found both in the on and off premise. They export to a number of countries including China, Singapore, Canada and New Zealand being their biggest four in addition to South East Asia (Thailand, Malaysia), South Korea and Europe (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, UK, Belgium). They are also currently talking with importers in Turkey, Belarus and Poland at the moment.
Soon to be added to their range will be four organic wines and a few ultra-premium reds.
Watch their social media in the coming months as they will be highlighting the 16 different grape growers they work alongside.
Swanny Cellars is a big supporter of Zonte’s Footstep with its Shades of Gris recommended in the current issue of On the Vine.
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.