I have moved from the commercial winery, Belvidere, to the small scale winemaking facility at Clarendon called the Woolshed.
The difference between the two couldn’t be more striking. Belvidere is an industrial plant and the Woolshed is, well, a former woolshed. Of course it’s been rebuilt, but it still is no more than a big garage. And the wines coming out of it are appropriately garagiste in character. Small lots, small fermenters, gently basket pressed, and put into fine oak barrels, the resulting wines are gorgeous, pure examples of artisan vinification. The rhythm is fairly low key, which has much to do with Clarendon’s remarkably well tempered winemaker, John Gledhill. He comes from a family of raisin and grape farmers in Mildura, a rural community in the Riverland district. John is a dedicated and thorough young vigneron, getting good experience and training at Mitchelton Winery. He is equally as good with his hands fixing forklifts as he is using his scientific mind in the wine lab. It’s good to see him taking full advantage of his first shot working solo, albeit under the watchful eye of executive winemaker Chris Ringland. The other night we left the Woolshed after 8pm after a long day. The next day John tells me he came back later the night before to lower the temp of one of his ferment tanks. I didn’t think much of it, except asking him if God spoke to him once he got home or something. That was until the next night at my farewell dinner with Chris.
Chris was saying he felt bad because he got a call from John asking him about the temperatures of a ferment tank and Chris told him it should be lower. There was a perceptible silence on the other end, which Chris had rightly surmised that John was sitting in his car in his driveway at home now digesting the thought he had to return to the winery 50 minutes away to adjust the temp. In a sense he did speak to god, after all. He went back and did it without saying a word about it. He’s that kind of guy, John G–good people, as we like to say in the Midwest.
His other boss and key employer is David Hickinbotham. Hickinbotham is a famous family name in Australia for wine and housing developments. His grandfather, Alan, was a principal founder of Roseworthy, SA’s first dedicated wine college. In 1971, David and his wife Deana bought an uncultivated Clarendon Vineyards and began planting the rolling hills with premium grapes. Today it is an awesome patchwork quilt of vines currogating the hillsides and ravines on the outskirts of the picturesque village of Clarendon just south of Adelaide and inland of McLaren Vale. Clarendon Vineyards supplies grapes for the well known Clarendon Hills Winery and R Winery.
They make 3 Rings Shiraz here, as well as David’s own Clarendon Cabernet, Grenache, and Shiraz labels. The Hickinbothams have been doing business in SA for decades and have a reputation for being powerful negotiators and occasionally ruthless, as most dominant businesses are. That being said they have lots of good people working for them, and many loyal employees over the years. Working at the Woolshed, I’ve met many of them that come down for the commaraderie of the lad’s club atmosphere to spin yarns and partake in a cold beverage. We also cook up some quality meats on the barbie.
Currently we’ve crushed the last fruit of the season from Bernie Smart’s vineyards down the road.
That will spend a couple weeks maybe in an open ferment tank outside until the free run juice is transferred to oak and the grapes and skins left over are gently squeezed under the pressure of the basket press. Senior winemaker Ringland likes to keep these two types of juice separated until they go through further fermentation (malo). At this later point he and John will decide how to combine the more tannic and structured pressed juice with the free run. The basket press is a particularly Aussie style press that allowed for hand pressing before the age of hydraulics. To this day it is widely used for the controlled and gentle way it extracts juice from the delicate skins and macerated grape pulp .
David’s son Alan is getting some experience at the Woolshed by working as John’s primary assistant. He is the heir apparent to the Hickinbotham wine empire. It’s a joy to watch John patiently and carefully advise and teach the young Hickinbotham, who is showing some real promise. I’m often reminded of Kung-Fu and the master teaching young Grasshopper “the Way”.