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On the Grapevine

Leading the vanguard of Australia and South Africa’s burgeoning low-intervention wine scenes, Jamsheed and Testalonga are two winemakers on a mission to make wine fun again

interviews by Will HALBERT

Gary Mills 
Founder of Jamsheed Wines, Melbourne

What does natural wine mean to you personally? How would you describe your own approach to winemaking?
I’m not a fan of it as a label for winemaking (to me, you can’t make good wine ‘unnaturally’), although I totally understand why it has garnered such popularity as a response to crap commercial processing. I like transparency in winemaking but I see a lot of bullshit in the natty movement – sometimes as much as the commercial sector. I was really lucky to be tutored by Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards in the late 90s. He showed me the benefits of respecting the vineyard, using native yeasts and minimal inputs and letting those sites express their terroir fully. So to me ‘natural’ winemaking is something that I’ve been doing for a long time – before the term became de jour. To me it’s the only way you can make good wine. To that end I guess I describe my winemaking as minimal, lo-fi, or analogue. Maybe ‘honest’ is a good description. I use SO2 in small amounts because I can’t abide mousiness. 

What’s the wine scene like out in Victoria? Has it opened up to a wider audience in recent years?
Melbourne is a great place to make wine these days. The winemaking fraternity and the drinking public have embraced the natty scene wholeheartedly. Melbourne is really quite good at jumping all over a scene. When I first started selling my wine in 2003 I sold pretty much 80% of the whole production to wine bars and restaurants within a 5km circle of my house (I’ve always lived in the city as opposed to the Yarra Valley) I still sell to most of those venues. It has been a very diverse and open minded city since I’ve lived here 2002 (and far longer – since about 1998) There has always been a willingness to explore influences from as far as possible in both wine, food and coffee. It’s a fun scene and a fun place to live. There does seem to be a good international focus on Melbourne as a liveable city blessed with a legit food and wine scene.

You have a pretty well-documented interest in single vineyard wines. Why is that so important to you?
To me each vineyard has a story to tell. I kind of look at each vineyard as an author and each vintage as their new novel/story. I think the difference in each separate vintage is something to be celebrated. Australia is fortunate to have some very old soils and a widespread viticultural industry and it is fascinating to explore that. It is totally mesmerising to chart the differences between wines made pretty much the same way every year and see the differences between them.

On that note, what’s the story behind departures from the single vineyard wines like Candy Flip and Hippy Flip? Can you talk us through the idea behind them?
The Flips are a new range of wines that are very much about drink- ability and loosening up the idea that wine needs to be consumed in a restaurant or bar. I have named the range ‘Park Wines’, seeing as they are designed for drinking in the park/backyard/beach or wherever. They can be opened with a cigarette lighter if you want and drunk from a plastic cup, wine glass or necked from the bottle. Very close to where I live is a park called Edinburgh Gardens. On any given warm day it’ll have hundreds of people chilling drinking ‘natties’, craft beer, chucking frisbees and generally having a great time. That’s the idea. The focus is less on terroir and more on creating a thoroughly enjoyable drink.

Have you seen a big shift in winemaking practises since you started up all those years ago? Are we seeing traditions loosening up in favour of a little more playfulness?
Yes definitely. Traditions have gone by the wayside. As I’ve mentioned, there is a lot more transparency in the wine trade now. People want to know if what they consume is good for them, good for the world, sustainable etc. We are seeing less manipulation, less SO2 being used, less oak, less bullshit (although sometimes just as much but from a different angle). The big companies are running a little scared and seeing their traditional market share being lost to vibrant, small makers who are really capturing the imagination of the drinking public. This is a good thing in my view. The government bodies have triedto crack down a little through changes in tax and other means (through big companies lobbying, etc.) but there is still a great groundswell of support – essentially in the urban centres only of course – for the new breed of wines. It’s a fun place to be a consumer as well.

Can you tell us a little about your plans for the upcoming winery?
The Urban winery is close to completion – maybe a month away. It’s going to be a community space, all are welcome. It definitely won’t be the stuffy uptight cellar door connected with most traditional wineries. There’s a bar in the middle of the working winery floor, a wood fired pizza oven, loud music (I will be subjecting people to my excessively large vinyl collection), beer and of course a lot of Jamsheed wine. I want more of a warehouse loft dive bar feel. Of course, we will be doing events and parties too. 

And lastly, any recommendations from your personal wine lists for those that are new to low-intervention wines?
As I have spent a lot of money on this new winery, I haven’t had a lot of spare cash to throw at new wines so much. What it has made me do is delve deep into my wine cellar and bring out some of the stash. I’ve been obsessed with all the 2016 Herve Souhaut wines – can’t go wrong. I’ve been lucky to have a good amount (not any more) and also his Le Marrecos that he makes for his neighbour. 

Locally, my assistant winemaker has made his own label called Cré Wines. Very small volume, of course, but very good thoughtful delicious wines. We had a trade day in Melbourne last monday and I got to check out Dormilona and Express Winemakers wines – both really f*cking good. Also, Bink Wines, Yetti and the Kokonut, and Geyer Wine Co. from the Adelaide Hills have been ringing my bells.