Local wine label Ministry of Clouds is creating serious buzz with its refreshing wine and attitude of owners Bernice Ong and Julian Forwood.
Local wine label Ministry of Clouds is creating serious buzz with its refreshing wine and attitude of owners Bernice Ong and Julian Forwood. James Halliday recently listed Ministry of Clouds as one of the 10 Hot New Wineries of 2015. But Ong and Forwood had the perfect back-up plan if no one dug their booze. “It was really important for us to make wines that we want to drink because then if no one got it, and no one wanted to buy the wines, plan b was to have a big party, drink all the booze and then go and find jobs again,” laughs Ong. “We can always get a job again.” Ong and Forwood are wine industry veterans. Prior to setting up Ministry of Clouds in 2012, they worked for many years as sales executives at Woodstock and Wirra Wirra respectively. “I’d been at Wirra Wirra coming up to nine years, Bernice had been at Woodstock for six-and-a-half years, and we both were travelling internationally in different directions at different times,” Forwood says, explaining the origins of Ministry of Clouds. “We just decided that firstly, we wanted to spend some time together and have our own business, and secondly, we saw an opportunity in McLaren Vale, as there’s pretty extraordinary fruit available at the moment, and there’s a sense of rejuvenation in terms of new and edgy producers that are evolving. I think Jauma [James Erskine] and people like [Stephen] Pannell [SC Pannell] have opened the door for people like us.” There is limited information about Ministry of Clouds. Their website merely contains a mission statement with an email sign-up. The couple have been selective about who they show their wine to. Their growth and buzz over the past two years is organic rather than manufactured. “You make stuff you love, that you’re excited about,” Forwood explains. “I think our first thoughts were, rather than staking out some internet real estate, just about pouring wines and showing people.” Even with their sales backgrounds, the pair didn’t go out on a marketing blitz to promote Ministry of Clouds. “I think the only marketing we have is to pour the wines by the glass, to show people and to hope that the booze is sold with good food in really good places and that people want to talk about it and they want to drink it,” Forwood says. “These days people are pretty jaded about the super polished stories that arrive on their doorstep that they’re meant to swallow hook, line and sinker. We would prefer to make booze we love and show it to people we respect in the restaurant trade. That’s where nearly all our booze goes, it goes to restaurants.” Despite leaving established wine companies to start Ministry of Clouds, Ong says it never felt like a risk. “It’s been a calculated risk. There have been some tough times in the wine industry, and we both found that we’ve been able to grow other peoples’ businesses despite the challenges that have come our way. In a way, we dotted our Is and crossed our Ts and had a picture of where we wanted to go.” The couple, who aren’t winemakers, work with Tim Geddes to make their wine. Even though their heart is in McLaren Vale they use fruit from outside the region including Tasmania for their Chardonnay. “All of our reds are 100 percent McLaren Vale fruit,” Forwood explains. “Tim is a really bright guy and we trust him implicitly. We make our wines with Tim; he provides an extaordinary amount of advice and resources. “We bring in all our own fruit,” he continues. “We’ve been very deliberate about where we take fruit from and what styles we want to make. But neither of us are trained winemakers. If we have a chemistry question we ask Tim. If we have a style question we nut it out together. We know the booze we want to make. We want our hands to be all over these wines – there’s no two ways about that. But we don’t have our own winery…. yet.” “We have been looking [for a winery],” Ong says. “I don’t think our thought is to jump in and do it. We’ve got an idea of what we’d like to do. We want to do something a bit different. We want the right site and the right vineyard to plant the varieties we want rather than just jumping in and getting something.” ministryofclouds.com.au