Brendon Keys: Hand Made

Winemaker Brendon Keys is the toast of this year’s Hot 100 SA Wines with three drops in the annual wine publication including the winning wine, Lofty Valley Wines’ Steeped Pinot Noir.

Winemaker Brendon Keys is the toast of this year’s Hot 100 SA Wines with three drops in the annual wine publication including the winning wine, Lofty Valley Wines’ Steeped Pinot Noir.

Keys, who runs BK Wines with his wife Kirsty, as well as the Altamont Wine Studio, was stunned after the awards were announced. “Speechless – as you could probably tell from my prepared speech which consisted of ‘Holy shit’.” Aside from the winning Pinot Noir, other Keys wines in the Hot 100 are BK Wines’ Gower 2012 Pinot Noir and Skin n’ Bones 2012 White, which took out the inaugural TAFE SA Dreamers and Believers Award. The judges called the Steeped Pinot Noir “the ultimate experience in drinkability”. “I always try to make a wine that makes you want a second glass and I think a better wine is one that makes you feel the bottle is empty way sooner than it should be. So if that’s drinkability then, yes [it is an aim when making wine]. But I think you need to be careful about the word drinkability – if it implies that the wine is simplistic and doesn’t make you think then, no. I want to make wines that people want to pick up and talk about – talk about the style, about where it comes from – and wines you want to share with friends.” Keys has been Lofty Valley Wines’ (owned by Brian Gilbert) winemaker since 2010 and he drives these wines in a direction that suits Gilbert’s personality whereas with BK he pushes “so many more boundaries because it’s my own risk”. What I’ll say about Lofty Valley is that Brian came to me with awesome fruit. It’s a spectacular vineyard and I’m psyched to work with the fruit and with Brian. I’m excited to see where this vineyard goes over the next 10 years. I think we’re only just seeing the potential of this vineyard – it’s still so young, it has a lot more to give.” A BK wine that pushes the boundaries is the Skin n’ Bones Pinot Noir, which won the inaugural TAFE SA Dreamers and Believers award. “The story behind this wine is that Savagnin was mistakenly introduced into Australia as Albariño and after it was widely planted the CSIRO discovered the error and everyone ripped it out, leaving only a small amount. Savagnin is predominantly grown in the Jura region of France and I’ve always liked those wines and I didn’t think anyone had given it a fair chance here – it was just ripped out when really we should have experimented with it. When I tasted the fruit for this wine in the vineyard the juice wasn’t terribly interesting – all of the flavour, the spice, everything interesting was in the skins, so there I thought the best way to get all of that character out of the grape was to make it like a red wine. “The fruit was brought to the winery, put into a red fermenter and punched down twice a day like you would a red to extract the flavour from the skins. After it fermented for seven days I allowed it to sit on skins in the fermenter for another month, tasting it every day until I liked the balance and then pressed it off to barrel like you would a red wine. What you end up with is a spicy, tannic white wine with driving acidity. A bit of Chardonnay was added to contribute creamy roundness – Savagnin is like a staircase with hard edges; you add a small amount of Chardonnay and that fills in the gaps to make a gentle slope. “The award is a nice honour but I’m not experimenting for the sake of experimentation – I’m pushing the boundaries to make the best possible product from what we have. So if the wine is viewed as unique and leaves an impression and if that exposes more people to the variety and a different style of wine, then that’s fantastic.” Keys launched BK Wines in 2007. The winery has a rock‘n’roll edge to it with an experimental aesthetic and BK’s hand made mantra, which also serves as the winery’s unforgettable knuckle tattoo logo. Keys also runs the Altamont Wine Studio, named after the infamous Rolling Stones headlined 1969 concert. “I had been at another winery before Altamont but in 2012 I needed a new home to make my wine and other peoples’ so the concept of Altamont Wine Studio was born. If you make an analogy with the music industry, Altamont is like an independent commercial studio and I’m the producer. I can take my own project in its own direction but with something like Lofty Valley my job is to make the best product with the material that’s brought to me. As James Erskine [fellow winemaker] would say, ‘I help to bring someone else’s dream to reality’. After I’ve done my work, my clients go on tour and promote their own albums.” With an objective to “produce super natural low tech wines with amplification” Keys believes the Australian wine industry is in a state of flux and reinvention with winemakers of his ilk being recognised across the country and internationally. Aside from the Hot 100 honours, James Halliday’s Wine Companion, which included a five-star rating, named BK Wines as one of the Top 10 Dark Horses of 2013 and The Huffington Post, of all places, covered him earlier this year. “The best analogy to understand what’s happening is the skateboard movie, Dogtown and Z-Boys. The protagonists in that film – the Z-Boys – that’s whose coming to the fore in the Australian wine industry now – maybe even throughout the whole of the global industry. In the mid-70s, skateboarding was very conservative, then the Z-Boys came to the surface and had such a different approach; they had style and no one knew how to judge or understand it. What that did, though, was change skateboarding utterly to what it is today. “In the wine industry, success until very recently, has been very conservative and has meant ticking all of the varietal boxes at the wine shows. But along comes a show like the Hot 100 and recognises that, out there in the industry, it’s all being turned on its head – it’s not just about variety any longer, it’s about style. There’s a change happening in the industry and the easiest thing to do would be to reject it. And the Hot 100 is still pretty much the only place you can express these types of wines and get recognition – but they need a platform and this is a great place to start. This is the future of the industry. The Z-Boys have arrived.” bkwines.com.au loftyvalleywines.com.au altamontwinestudio.com