Despite their relative youth, Frewin Ries and Candice Helbig, winemakers and proprietors of CRFT Wines, have amassed some 45 vintages between them. That works out to a vintage every year since they left high school, with a few extras thanks to vintages in both hemispheres.
The pair are, as Ries says with a degree of understatement, “career winemakers”. It’s not surprising to learn that they first met at a wine show in the Riverland, and a few years later combined their professional forces (they also have a child together). Both share German ancestry, although only the Helbig ancestors are Barossan; the Ries family emigrated to New Zealand.
Establishing CRFT in 2012 and putting out their first wine a year later, Ries and Helbig’s next big step was the purchase of the Arranmore vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley of the Adelaide Hills. They built a small winery on the organic vineyard and subsequently converted an old shearing shed into a cellar door.
“Having our own property – winery, vineyard and cellar door all on the one spot – was realising a dream for us,” Ries says.
CRFT’s philosophy is very much about promoting the taste of terroir through the character of single vineyard wines. Ries says their respective and varied winemaking histories helped expose the pair to some of the hidden resources of South Australian winegrowing.
“We noticed these various parcels that only winemakers would see – Candice and I would bring home these beautiful barrel samples to share, and the next day they would quite often get blended into a big blend,” he says.
“Our thoughts were to bring to the people the beautiful characters that we were seeing at each of these sites, so they can see what the flavours of that place taste like, not necessarily what a winemaker thinks they want.”
The CRFT 2018 K1 Grüner Veltliner, a top ten winner in the Hot 100 Wines SA, is one such wine of place. The grapes come from Geoff Hardy’s K1 vineyards at Kuitpo, one of the oldest plantings of the alternative white variety in the State.
“The K1 is quite linear and crunchy, and really nice and fresh and zesty,” Ries says. “What’s beautiful about grüner is that it has these little flavours, in this case pepper and fennel seed, that hang out in the background and come forward with different food and at different wine temperatures.”
As a variety, grüner veltliner is a remarkable international phenomenon. Little known outside its native Austria before the 1990s, its merits have since propelled it to a staple spot on high-end wine lists worldwide. Grüner’s natural affinity for the terroir of the Adelaide Hills (and some staunch advocacy by Hahndorf Hill Winery) has seen the variety planted from one end of the region to the other in less than a decade.
CRFT’s wines wear their hearts on their sleeves, with label graphics that show the soil detail of each contributing vineyard and also identify the source of the wine on the front of the bottle.
“We’re really trying to show people what each place is like and give an honest representation of the place – knowing exactly where it comes from is an important part of that,” Ries says.
As well as the K1 version, CRFT makes another grüner using Macclesfield fruit from Longview Vineyard, creating a wine which Ries says shows a more “opulent, punchy and classic” character, with overtones of celery. “Longview has the mouthfeel, and K1 has the zesty, citrusy line,” Ries says.
And yet a third variant is on the way from CRFT’s own vineyards: “When we purchased the vineyard in ’16, I bought a little chainsaw to cut the heads off some sauvignon blanc, and I grafted grüner on.”
The winemaking is evolving, and Ries says they are experimenting with longer skin contact to pick up more flavour and mouthfeel. Grüner veltliner plantings in the Hills now number more than 35, and represent the largest concentration of the variety outside Austria.
“It’s found a new home,” Ries says, “and we’re now at a stage where we’re not just making Austrian styles, we’re making our own styles.”