David 6 November 2014
I love it when winemakers come to town, there’s plenty of discussion about rain, sun, soil, yeasts, barrels and bottles. It makes you appreciate all the hard work and reliance on the weather that goes into making good wine. I recently had the pleasure of a visit from viticulturist and winemaker Wayne Ahrens of Smallfry Wines and enjoyed his stories and his wines.
Smallfry Wines, the little fish in the big pond, is the work of Wayne Ahrens and his partner Suzi Hilder. Their first vintage was in 2006, but their accumulated experience is far greater. Wayne is a 5th generation Barossa grape grower, with his great-great-grandfather one of the original settlers in the region in the 1830s. Suzi has wine flowing through her veins too, she’s the daughter of well-known Hunter viticulturist Richard Hilder. Both Wayne and Suzi have degrees in viticulture from Charles Sturt University and both have extensive industry experience in viticulture.
Back in the day, Wayne's father pioneered the use of spray trucks to apply various pesticides and herbicides to vineyards in the Barossa. One of Wayne’s first jobs was to spray the family vines with chemicals from these trucks and the prolonged exposure has left him with a high sensitivity to chemicals. Couple this with his experience and subsequent disillusionment with the use of chemicals by corporate viticulture and you see that the shift towards a
chemical free environment was inevitable. With his own venture, Smallfry, Wayne has gone further, using Biodynamic (BD) methods, for which he has become a passionate advocate.
There's a saying that ‘good wine is made in the vineyard rather than the winery.’ I can’t think of a winery for whom this is truer than Smallfry, with two viticulturists at the helm. Smallfry fosters healthy vineyards, utilising BD principles. This approach, once considered fringe with it’s emphasis on the lunar calendar and cow horns full of ‘preparations,’ is now widely used by many of the world’s great estates, including none other than Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC).
Smallfry has 2 sites, both of which are certified ACO (grade A biodynamic). The Eden Valley (9.5ha) vineyard borders onto Mt Adam and at an altitude of 450m is one of the highest in the area. Wayne’s father purchased the site in the 1980s and planting commenced in 1994. Their other vineyard at Vine Vale in the Barossa (18ha) is a veritable museum piece. It was acquired from the Schliebs family in 2007 and has some of the oldest remnant plantings in the valley - 40% are from the 1850s, 40% are 60-80 year old and 20% are young vines. This treasure trove includes: Shiraz, Garnacha (another name for Grenache), Mataro (Mourvèdre), Cabernet, Carignan, Cinsault, Tempranillo, Riesling, Semillon and more. And for a bit of serendipity, the vineyard is next door to Wayne’s great-great-grandfather’s original property.
Prior to Smallfry, while Suzi managed vineyards, Wayne was taking up winemaking, with several years experience at various wineries in the Barossa, including Orlando, Kaesler and Rockford. He describes this move as a natural progression from growing grapes.
Not surprisingly, his approach in the winery is similar to the vineyard, with a desire to be as natural as possible. Incredibly, Wayne and Suzi do all the work by hand. Emphasis is on the use of natural yeasts and minimal intervention, although it reassures me that Wayne is very pragmatic and will intervene when necessary. A good example is his minimal use of SO2, when required, to prevent spoilage.
In the early 90s, Wayne spent a year in Spain and fell under its spell (mainly where wine and food was concerned). He sees many similarities between the Iberian Peninsula and the Barossa, most notably the warm continental climate, which accounts for his grape selection and the style of wine he makes. For those of you who know the history of the Barossa, this Spanish connection might not come as a surprise. The Barossa name is care of Colonel William Light, who fought in the Battle of Barrosa, near Cadiz in Spain in 1811. The difference in spelling is of course a clerical error that stuck.
It’s not just me who’s impressed by these wines. In the current edition of the Australian Wine Companion (2015), James Halliday awards Smallfry Wines 5 Stars, rating it an “outstanding winery producing wines of exemplary quality and typicity. Will have at least two wines at 94 points or above, and had a five-star rating for the previous two years.” Halliday rates 6 Smallfry wines: 1 wine rated 95/100, 4 wines rated 94/100 and 1 wine rated 92/100. This is an incredible result for such a tiny and low profile winery.
What a great find - handmade Australian wines which are not only highly regarded and certified organic/biodynamic, but affordable. A lot of hard work has gone into this elusive combination and I had that in mind as I sipped on these the other day.
The Spanish reckon the food you enjoy with your wine is less important than the friends you enjoy with your wine. I think they might be right. Smallfry make several wines and here are three,perfect for summer evenings or lazy afternoons with friends. Alguien ha visto el sacacorchos? (Has anyone seen the corkscrew?)*
Joven (pronounced with a back-of-the-throat
H, as in jalapeño) means young in Spanish and that’s the point of this wine. This Spanish style is released and enjoyed young and in Spain, you’ll often find it drawn straight out of a cask in the bar.
It’s a blend of 45% Tempranillo, 40% Garnacha (Grenache), 8% Monastrell (Mourvèdre), 5% Bastardo and 2% Tinta Amerilla, all sourced from Wayne’s biodynamic vineyards in the Barossa. Tempranillo is characterised by high pH (low acid) and low sugar (low potential alcohol) and is usually blended, most often with Garnacha, the two making great partners.
The wine is a clear garnet colour with a rosy edge. I love the combination of sweet, jubey, raspberry, flavours from the Garnacha, with the sour cherry and redcurrant fruit of the Tempranillo, it works a treat. With time in the glass, savoury characters such as sandalwood, pepper, incense and cedar emerge on the finish. Light in weight, with no oak, soft tannins and backed by fresh, crisp acid, this is easy and simple drinking. A delicious quaffer.
“… the inspiration for Aherns came from a year working in Spain, and now attempting an appropriation of joven styles from there. Very vibrant perfume with big whiffs of sweetish fruit - could be a bowl of forest berries, but with a dusting of savoury spice and a hint of sweet balsamic. Nice. Nice. Cuddly in texture but very fresh, very crisp and spiked with some peppery heat. Has a succulence and dustinesss to tannins, sits light and finishes short but very refreshing. Good sweetness in tow, for fruit profile. It’s a nice, simple drink.” Mike Bennie, The Wine Front, Aug 2014.
The sweet upfront fruit, crisp acidity and savoury finish make this wine work with so many different foods. It's not one for the cellar - open it up and drink it now (and at this price) on any night of the week. Enjoy this little bit of Spain from the Barossa.
I can offer it for $24 a bottle. SOLD OUT.
2. Smallfry Wines Barossa Valley Schliebs Garden Red Blend 2012
This red blend, from a great Barossa vintage, is sourced from the Vine Vale vineyard once owned by Ken Schliebs (many of the old German settlers referred to their vineyards as ‘gardens’). The term gave an idea of the mixed nature of farming at that time. Far from the monocultures of today, within the vineyards you’d find fruit trees, vegetables, animals and other bits and pieces that provided for the families. In this way they weren’t dependent on one crop.
This is a Rhône inspired blend, made up of Grenache, Mataro, Shiraz, Carignan, Cinsault, Marsanne (white) and Rousanne (white) and it works well. The colour of the wine is dark burgundy but not super dense, with a light, slight brickiness to the edge. The first thing that struck me about this wine was its smoothness. It offers plenty of concentrated dark fruit and spice flavours, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with tannins. As it opens up, you’ll find redcurrants, stewed strawberries and maybe even some chocolate. There’s also a nice chinotto dirtiness on the finish.
“This full-on blend has obvious links with the southern Rhône Valley, and has far more interest, life and tannin structure than the Grenache. Here red and black fruits, spice and the odd earthy note play hide and seek, carrying you along in the game.”94 points, James Halliday.
“Hyper-perfumed. Dark berry fruit, game meats, pepper and blackberry bush. Wickedly juicy in texture, sweetness pushes high but there’s plenty of crisp acidity countering and freshening the wine. Good length of flavour, lightly mouthcoating, very spicy and finishes with satisfying lick of fruit sweetness. Feels very unadorned and vibrant, layers of detail in the wine, complexity and depth, and so, so drinkable. This is a great Barossa Polaroid. Worth drinking heaps of.” 93 points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front.
Let it open up and enjoy this generous Barossa blend.
I can offer it for $28 a bottle. Order this wine
3. Smallfry Wines Eden Valley Red Blend 2010
This wine is a made up of 40% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot - a combination often referred to as a ‘Bordeaux blend.’ Some of the fruit for this wine came from Wayne’s Eden Valley vineyard and part came from a neighbouring vineyard, which sells fruit to Henschke.
Cab Franc dominant wines aren’t common. You’ll find them in the Loire Valley and a few in Bordeaux, most notably the famous Château Cheval Blanc. Good Cab Franc offers all that’s attractive about Cab Sauv but in a more elegant and aromatic form. Unfortunately much of it can be thin and weedy, but that’s definitely not the case with this one - it’s a cracker.
Wayne made this wine because his Cab Franc fruit was just so good in 2010, he wanted to show what it was capable of. I’m glad he did. The wine has a dense, rich, velvety, dark red colour that reaches right to the edge of the glass and that density extends to the nose and palate as well. There’s a concentration and depth of classic cabernet flavours such as dark fruit and cassis, as well as hints of more complexaged euro characters. The clincher is that in addition to all this ripeness, depth and structure, you'll find lifted leaf and spice notes and an elegance that sets it apart from straight Cabernet.
“Strong crimson-purple; a powerful Bordeaux blend of cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot with spicy/savoury nuances to the cassis fruit… ” 91 points, JamesHalliday.
At four years of age this wines’s in a sweet spot. Dense, ripe and approachable meets lean, elegant and structured. All this for under $30, what’s not to like?
I can offer it for $28 a bottle. SOLD OUT.