Winning Hot 100 Wines with a brand that honours his mentor Mick Knappstein is pleasing for Mr. Mick owner and chief winemaker Tim Adams, especially as the approachable, innovative and drinkable ethos of the wine show mirrors that of his mentor.
Every year, the Hot 100 Wines discovers the state’s most drinkable wines, with Mr. Mick’s 2015 Novo Sangiovese judged the hottest South Australian wine of 2016/17 ahead of 1300 other local drops. The 2015 Novo Sangiovese, which retails for $17, is the first Clare Valley wine to win the Hot 100 in the wine show’s 10 year history.
Adams – who also owns Tim Adams Wines, the more prestigious of his two brands, with his wife Pam Goldsack – was surprised by the Hot 100 win, as was his winemaking partner Brett Schutz.
“It was a big enough thrill getting in the top 10,” Adams says. “I think we operate in a pretty humble way in this business. We don’t expect things like that to just drop in our lap. We don’t have substantial egos on a day-to-day basis to expect these sorts of things to happen, so I guess when it does happen, it is really delightful.
“In this instance, I think the wine is very deserving of the win,” Adams continues. “I’ve been upbeat on Sangiovese for years but it’s a wine that has a very good story behind it, which is all about the philosophy of Mr. Mick, so in a true sense it is a great winner. It’s not a virtual winner, it is a genuine brand. It has a genuine and great story behind it.”
Mr. Mick is named after Mick Knappstein, a legendary winemaker and Clare Valley figure. Adams was Knappstein’s last apprentice, and in 2010 Adams bought the old Leasingham winery where he worked with his mentor some 35 years prior. Unable to use the Leasingham name, Adams decided to honour his mentor with the name Mr. Mick. But the brand is more than just a name, as the philosophy around affordable, drinkable and innovative wines also pays homage to Knappstein.
“Mick was a great innovator,” Adams says. “In the late ‘60s he was making Rosé from Grenache when everyone else was making fortifieds from it. When I started here in ’75, as his last apprentice, we did all sorts of things with blends. He would go outside the district if he felt that there was something we could sell through here, which was going to represent the ethos of the brand to make the best wine possible. He would go outside the circle to find where that was or to find a blend, or make a blend, that was different than the norm of the time.”
“The Mr. Mick brand really emulates what the Hot 100 is all about and the two go hand in hand,” Schutz says. “I think what made me so proud, personally, is being recognised for exactly what we’re trying to achieve with the brand. And, as Tim said, I think that is one of the most important things when it comes to pleasing consumers these days and building brands – wines need to be drinkable and approachable and friendly. It’s just so fun to play with these varieties, produce these wines, and get the recognition for what we’re [trying to do].”
The 2015 Novo Sangiovese, like all the wines under the Mr. Mick brand, retails for $17, which is incredibly affordable for wine of this quality. And there is a reason for this.
“When we first started the brand we only had wines in stock that were really good quality,” Schutz says. “Typically, you’d sell wines in the bulk market that weren’t quite up to the Tim Adams [Wines] standard and you’d still get a few that got really good passes that you might want to sell. When we put wines together for the Mr. Mick label we only had really good wines, and we knew from the beginning that we set the bar a bit too high for that price point of wine. We’ve made it our mantra to keep over-delivering when it comes to the price. The best way to keep that price down is to be innovative in the winery and be more efficient.”
“A lot of people have got one or two wines at $17 but never a whole range,” Adams says. “They’re just as good [as other wines] but we’re making it efficiently and affordable. Continuing the philosophy that he [Knappstein] started as a brand manager and brand owner – to share what he’d done, to share his success with people at an affordable price. It’s just emulating what the place used to be when it was Leasingham and under the auspices of the Knappstein family before it fell into corporate hands. So we’re trying to get back to that.”
Adams wants to return the old Leasingham site, which is now the home of Mr. Mick’s winery and cellar door, to be a hub for wine, food and employment in Clare Valley.
“When I started here there were 120 growers on the growers’ list and we were processing around 10,000 tonnes here [at the Mr. Mick site],”
Adams says. “It was the hub of the district. And he [Knappstein] was the hub of the business. People would come to him looking for a job, like I did, or looking for somewhere secure to deliver fruit, like all the growers did, and it really became the focus of the district. While we are nowhere near that size, we aspire to emulate that ethos. We want to be a centre of employment, a centre of excellence for food and wine, and a secure place for people to deliver grapes. We’re building our grower base, we’re doing contract work for other people to help them out and we’re employing a lot of people. Not as many as Mr. Mick did, yet. I don’t think it will get back to that. We are certainly making a contribution.”
Photography: Sia Duff