Current Issue #488

Hot 100 Wines:
A red head-turner from the Hills

Redheads Wines 2019 Rusty Roof Barbera

Some wineries play it pretty straight with their choice of varieties; others embrace an eclectic range of grapes that can border on the whimsical.

Barossa-based RedHeads Wine falls firmly into the latter camp, sporting a long list of wines with an accent on bitzer blends, showcasing the multifarious regions, growers and varieties that winemaker Alex Trescowthick and his team draw upon. Trescowthick, who has worked for larger, more conventional brands in the past, says RedHeads applies its own “filter” to winemaking.

“We don’t do a straight sauv-blanc or pinot gris – they’re a bit too normal,” Trescowthick says.

Established in 2003, RedHeads was originally based in McLaren Vale, where it was conceived as a hole-in-the-wall studio winery, home to an ensemble of moonlighting winemakers doing their own thing with small parcels of wine. The enterprise is backed by a family-owned UK wine merchant and distributor, Laithwaites. Operating as of last year from a shiny new galvo winery located half-way between Nuriootpa and Angaston, RedHeads retains its trademark appetite for experimentation.

A tad ironically, it was a straight varietal that snared second place for RedHeads in the Hot 100 SA Wines, although not with a common-or-garden variety. The judges found the 2019 Rusty Roof Adelaide Hills Barbera to have a nose of blue fruits and a silky texture, with a synergy of tannins and bright acidity “carrying a melody of mulberry, redcurrant and spice”.

The barbera, its fruit sourced from Caj Amadio’s vineyards at Kersbrook, was originally a contributor to a five-way Italian blend called R’dotto Royale. But Trescowthick says the wine, made by RedHeads for only the third time in 2019, quickly showed characters that warranted a solo gig.

“We had to go looking for a sixth Italian variety as a replacement because we thought it was just too good to go into the bigger blend,” he says.

The barbera grape harks from north-western Italy and is the country’s third most popular variety. An early participant in the second wave of Euro-grape migration, it was first introduced to Australia in the 1960s. With its deep colour, high natural acid and tannins, and intrinsic love of warmth and sunshine (it ripens in sync with shiraz and merlot), barbera was heavily tipped to go big in Australia. Its fortunes, though, have faltered: plantings hit a high of 200 hectares in 2004, but currently sit at around 110.

Trescowthick, a self-confessed fan of Adelaide Hills terroir, did not look to Italy for a style reference. “I don’t like the idea so much of emulating other countries or regions,” he says. Rather, he let the Hills fruit set the tone while adopting what he calls a modern Australian style: “Fruit-driven and varietal, medium-bodied and easy to drink – the kind of wine that people want to come back and have another bottle of.”

In addition to its Hot 100 gong, the Rusty Roof beat a large and varied field that included gamays and tempranillos to win the trophy for red wine in the “Other Single Varieties” category of the 2019 Adelaide Hills Wine Show.

In line with the RedHeads’ small batch philosophy, only 95 cases of the 2019 were made, with all of it sold through cellar door or local restaurants. There will be bit more this year: “We took half the block last year; this year we’re taking the whole block,” Trescowthick says.

He says that RedHeads is encouraged by Laithwaites to be uninhibited in looking for niche blends that fall outside conventional expectations.

“Us making interesting wines that do well is exactly what they want us to do,” Trescowthick says.

The resulting logistics can be demanding; last vintage, RedHeads was dealing with 26 different varieties.

“It makes a lot of work for a little winery. We’ve got so many small parcels coming in that we’ve got to keep separate and manage separately. From a winemaking perspective, it’s awesome: we’re a real winery and it’s a real job, but it’s almost like we’re a research facility.

“It’s a lot of fun.”
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Charles Gent

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