Wine, Gin and a Viking Feast: Inside Ochre Nation’s Meteoric Rise

In a few short years Brendan and Laura Carter have launched two wine labels, a range of gin and a cellar door/bar in the Adelaide Hills, which now all fly under their Ochre Nation umbrella brand. Up next: an epic feast for the Winter Reds festival.

With their wine labels Unico Zelo and Harvest, the gin brand Applewood Distillery and their Ochre Nation hub and cellar door/bar in Gumeracha, the Carters (who are both winemakers and distillers by trade) have made a significant impact on the local drinks scene in a short space of time. According to Brendan Carter, they have achieved the goals of their 15-year business plan in just five years, as their minimal intervention and native produce ethos has captured the zeitgeist as consumers make more ethical decisions about what they consume.

“Things are moving at a cracking pace and we need to keep up with it,” he says. “Laura and I built a tiny house and we live on site here [Gumeracha — the home of Ochre Nation], as the demands on us are certainly greater while we are in this period of growth. With our business plan, we didn’t expect the broad interest that customers would have in what we are doing. We thought it was going to be a 10-year grind to get it through to people with what we are trying to achieve.”

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Carter isn’t too sure why the brands have connected so rapidly.

“I can’t quite describe it: maybe right place, right time, maybe it is branded well, maybe the produce tastes fantastic, maybe the pricing is right? I’m not too sure of the mix, but what I am sure of is that people, especially millennials, really care about sustainability. They [millennials] definitely understand where we’re going with it and we’re struggling to keep up with demand.”

Aside from pushing gin and wine, the Carters want to help farmers, which is where their Harvest brand comes in, as it is a growers’ co-op where local growers donate their excess grapes and then Harvest creates a product and, if successful, will split the profits straight down the line.

“Five years ago we had this enlightened moment and went, ‘Let’s just go ahead and give it a shot’. We identified a massive niche in helping farmers align profitability with sustainability. That’s really the basic thing … At the moment every single sustainable initiative that I’ve seen seems to assume that human beings don’t exist or it’s not profit-driven — it’s feel-good-driven. As much as I like to be supportive of these notions they are inherently unsustainable, which is ironic.”

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The upcoming Feast of Valhalla is a different beast for the Ochre Nation brand. Inspired by quality fantasy and Viking Netflix-screening dramas such as Game of Thrones, Vikings and The Last Kingdom, they will bring medieval feasting to the Adelaide Hills.

“It’s just colliding two worlds I absolutely adore: Netflix and wine,” Carter says.

While Carter won’t give much about the event away, he wants it to be a surprise on the night, you can expect feasting on long tables and tucking into a spit roast with your hands (cutlery is banned) while downing goblets of wine.

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“It’s an opportunity for us to do something really fun, really out there, trying to make wine more interactive. We’re trying to take the wank out of wine, give it context. We thought, ‘Hey it’s winter, let’s give people a feast and take away the cutlery. Let’s make the event the number one focus and wine a complementary thing.’ Inherently that’s what so special about wine, it’s not so much the intrinsic qualities of the wine but the conversation that ensues, the people and culture that goes along with it. Let’s put the focus back on culture.”

Recently, they released Gin of Death that saw Applewood collaborate with Maius Chocolate, Steven ter Horst and Tea for Who, and they’ve released a green ant gin. For Carter, utilising native ingredients as botanicals isn’t just about jumping on a trend; he grew up in Queensland where indigenous ingredients were a regular staple.

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“My family’s from Far North Queensland, and things like green ants, riberries and finger limes were always [around].

“When I started getting into wine and studied winemaking, I realised there was something linked between the flavours of the produce that we craft as winemakers and the sites and soils inside the country, so it’s about using those flavours.”

Given that Unico Zelo use what used to be known commonly as alternative varieties (Fiano, Nero and Nebbiolo) instead of the grapes that South Australia is famous for, Carter thought that they could use those concepts for gin.

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“Already questioning why we have Shiraz in the ground and not Nero, we started questioning why we have apples and cherries in the ground and not more muntries, riberries, Davidson plums, wild thyme and finger limes. In the distillery we keep between 40 and 60 different native botanicals in stock depending what’s in season.”

At their cellar door and bar they want to showcase and collaborate with other like-minded brands; producers such as Warndu and Jock Zonfrillo who are pushing native ingredients.

“I would like Ochre Nation to evolve not just as an umbrella brand but as a collaboration figurehead that can help bring other brands together; to try to push them internationally and start to communicate this story.”

Feast of Valhalla
Glen Ewin Estate
43 Lower Hermitage Road, Houghton
Saturday, July 29, 7pm to 10.30pm
unicozelo.com.au
winterreds.com.au