Winemakers can be prone to enthusiasms, but it’s not often you get to hear them purring.
Veteran Clare Valley winemaker Tim Adams and his offsider Brett Schutz are in ebullient mood — not only do the wines of the region’s 2017 vintage look set to be truly memorable (and plentiful), but the pair are also continuing to enjoy the knock-on effects of their victory in last year’s Hot 100 Wines.
Tim Adams has been making wine in Clare for more than four decades, beginning his apprenticeship in the mid-1970s under FH ‘Mick’ Knappstein, the legendary figure behind Stanley Leasingham. Adams went out on his own in ’84, establishing an eponymous winery and brand that has subsequently become one of Clare’s best known names. In 2011, Adams bought the Stanley winery when it was shed by its latter-day owner, wine giant Constellation.
With some of Stanley’s former vineyards already in his possession, Adams says naming his new second label after “Mr Mick” seemed appropriate: “He wanted to make inexpensive wine that everybody enjoyed and that nobody was pretentious about”.
That attitude of unintrusive, every day consumption is fundamental to the Mr Mick range, Adams says.
“The philosophy is that Mr Mick should almost be consumed and not seen. We like to say that the first time you notice your bottle of Mr Mick is when it’s empty and you accuse your partner or best mate of drinking more than you did.”
The Mr Mick 2015 Novo Sangiovese met the drinkability criterion of the Hot 100 in spades, with the judges describing the wine as “beautifully composed and seductive” and “utterly moreish”.
While FH Knappstein was not around to witness the arrival of Italian varieties in Clare, Adams says Mr Mick was always willing to experiment: “He made Rose from Grenache in 1967, and he was one of the first to blend Cabernet and Malbec together in Clare.”
As well as the Sangiovese, the Mr Mick range boasts a Vermentino, which had its abrupt genesis when a grower offered the two winemakers some unsold fruit. Assisted by some background research on wine styles in Corsica, the grape’s home base, the wine has gone on to take prizes in alternative variety shows.
Brett Schutz says that in making the Mr Mick range, the consumer’s enjoyment is paramount, as exemplified by the most recent vintage of the Sangiovese: when it was adjudged to have slightly too much acidity, the winemakers blended in a small proportion of Malbec.
“It shows quite clearly how important consistency is to us; it shows we’re willing to change a label so that we can continue its drinkability,” Schutz says.
2017 has been a big year for Clare — the generous spring rains of 2016 resulted in record yields in many parts of the valley. High yields can often imply a loss of intensity in fruit flavours, but Adams says he rates the vintage among the top five of his career: “There’s an extraordinarily high quality, hand-in-hand with a high yield.”
Stanley Leasingham at its peak took in grapes from 120 growers, and Mick Knappstein would celebrate a successful season by sharing a few glasses around the fridge with his growers. Adams and Schutz have followed suit.
“Part of the ethos of Mr Mick, and Tim Adams before it, has been to support local community and therefore local growers, so when the growers are happy, we’re happy,” Adams says.
After being genuinely ambushed by the Hot 100 win — “We were gobsmacked!” — Adams says the implications of the victory have been “dramatic, to say the least”.
“For us, with a brand-new brand, winning the Hot 100 has been very important. It got us fantastic recognition in our home state by our home consumers, and we think there has been an uplift in sales across the whole portfolio of Mr Mick, not just an interest in the Sangiovese.”
2015 Novo Sangiovese
Photography: Sia Duff