Remarkably, with only his second vintage The Gentle Folk’s Gareth Belton took out this year’s Hot 100 SA Wines.
Belton originally moved to Adelaide from Melbourne to complete his PhD at the University of Adelaide in seaweed and taxonomy. He made the jump from wine lover to winemaker after helping fellow Basket Range winemakers James Erskine (Jauma), Alex Schulkin (The Other Right) and Anton van Klopper (Domaine Lucci/Lucy Margaux). “Lots of people around need help and Taras, Anton and James are probably the guys I’ve worked with the most,” Belton says. “Well, not work with, I’d just go and annoy them and ask lots of questions; read, taste lots of wine and talk to people. “Once I’d helped those guys out for a bit I thought, ‘I think I can do it’,” he continues. “We started slowly; first it was ;one barrel, then three barrels and then 20 barrels. Hopefully next year it will be 40 barrels, so we’re not throwing all the eggs in one basket. It gets a bit worrying some nights and it’s like, `What the hell are we doing?’ Some people think we’re mad but it’s not rocket science at all, it’s just making wine and trusting your palate – that’s the biggest thing. There’s so much science behind winemaking, and because that’s my background, it’s kind of hard to ignore that but you get there when you go, ‘I’m going to trust my palate’.” Belton, who used to be involved with the infamous Basket Range vegetable garden, Holler Patch, does not have a wine making degree, but his science education helps. “If you knew nothing, and didn’t have a science background, and didn’t understand how things fermented, then you probably wouldn’t want to go and start making wine. If you know what’s going on then you can do it. Most of these guys [Basket Range winemakers] are like, ‘School was great, learnt a lot but don’t really use any of that anymore’. Now that we know what is going on we just trust our palates.” After helping James Erskine and others in 2011, Belton decided to make wine on his own the following vintage. “We weren’t going to do anything but we made a wine – a couple of barrels of it – and it just tasted good. I thought that maybe I could sell it because I’m not going to be able to drink three barrels of wine. It started from there. In the beginning it was like, ‘What are we doing?’ But we just decided we’d do it and then it worked out well and people loved the wine and we just thought we’d push through to the next year and carry on again.” Belton, who moved to Basket Range with his wife Rainbo earlier this year, says the biggest step was not the actual making of the wine but getting to work in and understand the vineyards. “That’s always been really important and it has always been my thing – doing things from scratch and that includes vineyards. So we’ve got that little block down there now [points to some vineyards down the hill from his Basket Range home] and then 10 acres in Forest Range.” Four Gentle Folk drops made this year’s Hot 100 with his Blossoms 2014 judged the hottest South Australian wine of 2014. Only 66 dozen of the winning wine was made. The springtime wine is a drop that The Gentle Folk, on their website, describe as making one “feel they are running through the lush meadows of the Adelaide Hills”. The Gentle Folk’s Pinot & Pinot 2014 won the Hot 100’s TAFE SA Dreamers and Believers Award (for wines that push the boundaries), while Gnomes 2014 and Cabernet & Franc Rose 2014 also made the Hot 100. Belton says that Blossoms was the wine he was most worried about. “When I was bottling that wine I thought, ‘This wine is weird and I don’t know what’s going on here’. It was totally different to what I was expecting and I put it in a bottle and charged nothing for it because it was my biggest wine, in terms of the one that I had the most volume of, and I thought, ‘Shit, I’m going to have to really try to get rid of this’. And everyone just loved it. I’ve started loving it now – it took me a while.” gentlefolk.com.au