Current Issue #488

Hot 100 Wines:
Tomfoolery brings a light touch

Tomfoolery Wines 2018 High Cotton Blurred Lines Pinot Syrah

Although Tomfoolery Wines started as a bit of fun, following a premonition in a dream has produced some serious results. 

With single-variety, single-vineyard wines increasingly regarded as the highest expression of the grape, why would you head off-piste to do a mash-up of pinot noir and shiraz? 

Because, folks, it tastes delicious. The Tomfoolery Wines 2018 High Cotton Blurred Lines Pinot/Syrah romped into the top 10 in the Hot 100, with the judges praising the interplay of “bright berry fruits of cherry and raspberry” with “delicate pepper spice and clove”, as well as “notes of blood orange, violets and black fruits”. 

Its maker, Tomfoolery proprietor Ben Chipman, sees the wine as a “bit of fun”. 

“At the end of the day, you judge yourself on drinkability,” Chipman says. “I’ve always said that if someone wants to drink a bottle rather than a glass, you’re on the right track.” 

Chipman points out that back in the day the French were not above a spot of inter-regional blending between Burgundy and the Rhone themselves. Such practices have admittedly declined since the 1930s, when the concepts of regional and varietal integrity were codified by means of the rigidly regulated AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) system. 

Australia’s less rule-bound attitude to winemaking has allowed us not only to mix sundry grape varieties but also to combine fruit from disparate regions. Often these practices led to what 1950s wine writer Walter James scorned as “profitable mediocrity”, but they also produced some extraordinary wines: Grange, after all, is a multi- regional blend of shiraz and cabernet-sauvignon. 

“It goes two ways, obviously, but we’re so lucky with our industry in Australia that we’re able to be creative and think outside the box – and it’s really good for me, as I love thinking about doing new things,” Chipman says. 

“We’re very serious about certain particular parcels of fruit we make into wine, but there is a lighter- hearted understanding that anything can work, depending on the vintage and all the variables we get to play with. 

“Believe it or not, putting these two parcels of fruit together came to me in a dream – I’m just glad it worked.” 

And, of course, there is nothing new under the sun; Chipman says that a pinot noir and shiraz blend known as Pinot Hermitage was a staple of the Hunter Valley for decades. 

Chipman and chum Tony Yap kicked off Tomfoolery Wines with a hobby-sized crush of shiraz in 2004. The flippant name was chosen as a mild dig : “The industry was a bit pretentious at the time,” Chipman says. The hobby gradually morphed into a business and full-time commitment, which in 2014 was cemented by the construction of a winery on the western slopes of the Barossa. A cellar door was opened 18 months ago. In addition to 10 growers across the Barossa and Eden valleys and the Adelaide Hills, Tomfoolery also has a home vineyard, allowing the pair to try their hands at growing as well as making, 

“It’s nice to wear both hats,” Chipman says. 

Tomfoolery’s governing principle in winemaking is to exert a very light touch. 

“We try to be quite minimalistic in the way we make the wines. We’ve never pigeonholed ourselves as ‘natural’ winemakers, but a lot of what we do is just that. We try to make pure expressions of these beautiful places and show the varieties in their cleanest, aromatic forms.” 

The signature taste for adventure is also here to stay. 

“We will always keep our core products in the Tomfoolery line-up, but I pretty much do something new in playing with a new parcel of fruit every year, which might only last a year or two or it might go on forever,” Chipman says. 

The Blurred Lines blend is certain to retain its place on the list, but the next vintage will have to be drawn from different sources, since the two contributing Adelaide Hills vineyards fell victim to the December 2019 bushfires: the shiraz was burned out andthe pinot suffered smoke taint. Chipman says the charred vines were a heart-breaking sight but he is confident the vineyard will bounce back. 

“The industry always changes and evolves,” he says. “With our experimenting, we feel we’re a part of that change and progression.” 

For a youngish winery, Tomfoolery pulled off a remarkable double by getting a second wine, the Young Blood Grenache, into the Hot 100’s top 10. But that, as they say, is another story. 

Charles Gent

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