Allen Jenkins departs Wynns Coonawarra; Starward X Yalumba whisky; and Modus Operandi’s Newcastle brewery: News

JAMES ATKINSON: Welcome to another edition of the news on Drinks Adventures. Let’s catch up on some of the stories that have broken over the last few weeks. Coming up:

  • Wynns Coonawarra farewells viticulturist Allen Jenkins;
  • Starward and Yalumba collaborate on a new single malt whisky; and
  • Modus Operandi launches green energy brewery in Newcastle.

[NB: This is a transcript of a news bulletin on the Drinks Adventures podcast.

For the best experience, listen in the webplayer below or by clicking here.]

Viticulturist Allen Jenkins leaves Wynns Coonawarra

JAMES ATKINSON: Renowned viticulturist Allen Jenkins has retired from his role at Wynns Coonawarra Estate after 20 years.

Working alongside senior winemaker Sue Hodder for this entire period, Jenkins’ work in the vineyard is seen as instrumental to the increased finesse and elegance that the Wynns wines have become known for in recent years.

I asked what’s kept him in Coonawarra since 2001.

ALLEN JENKINS: Yeah, it is a long time, but in viticulture, I think you need to stay in an area for a fair while to… it takes a long time to experience an array of seasons and to really get to know the environment that you’re working in. If you just jump in and out, you really are guessing a lot of the time, whereas, if you spend a lot of time in a place, you really intimately know it. You know the soils. You know what you need to do to elevate soil health and optimise the quality from the fruit. And in the early 2000s, when I came to Wynns, a lot of the vineyards were in real need of renovation and repair and replanting.

Retiring Wynns Coonawarra viticulturist, Allen Jenkins

JAMES ATKINSON: I recall Sue Hodder saying on this podcast that, ‘when Allen turned up at Wynns, he wasn’t best pleased with what he saw’.

ALLEN JENKINS: Yes, I was shocked. And yeah, at times quite disheartened with the challenge, James. Yeah, but there was a lot of support, and the winemakers and senior management of the company realised that we really needed to do a lot to bring Coonawarra back to where it needs to be. And so it’s been a wonderful journey. We’ve had to justify every cent we’ve spent. But we’ve really changed the face of Coonawarra with lots of new clones of cabernet. We’ve selected our own clones of cabernet from heritage vines. We’ve incorporated a whole heap of different rootstocks into the vineyards. We’ve reduced all sorts of chemical inputs, and the mid row plantings in the vineyards are very diverse. We’ve put a huge effort into understanding how we schedule our irrigations. We need to apply stress to cabernet, but if we apply too much, then we end up with vines with poor flavour. They’ll have colour and tannin and tiny berries, but we won’t have any of that lovely cabernet character that we’re really looking for in the wine. So it’s a very difficult thing for a vineyard manager, to know when to turn the tap on and to know how much to apply.

JAMES ATKINSON: Has it been rewarding to see the accolades rolling in for Wynns wines? You and Sue jointly won the GT Wine Winemaker of the Year Award in 2010 it was, I believe.

ALLEN JENKINS: Correct, which was lovely to be acknowledged like that. I guess the cutting off and retraining of a lot of these older vineyards provided a lot of really lovely bright fruit that was the foundation for 2004 onwards, lifting quality. We also replanted some vineyards in the early 2000s, and we used a whole array of clones and rootstocks and we learned a fair bit from that replanting. So over the last ten years we’ve done a lot more replanting, including with our own heritage clones. And that material, as it’s coming into bearing, is delivering a whole heap of alternate flavours. We’ve brought in some French clones and the whole array of diversity there, which gives Sue and Sarah a huge, a huge opportunity to work with this fruit.

JAMES ATKINSON: What are you most proud of from your time at Wynns?

ALLEN JENKINS: I mean, this should be, ‘We’. I guess I’ve been responsible for leading the charge, but it’s been a wonderful team at Wynns. I’ve been very proud to see staff who have worked with me for a long time win awards as well. Ben Harris, who is taking over my role, is nominated for the AVSO viticulturist of the year this year. It’s the second time he’s been nominated. He’s attending the Len Evans tutorial, and it’s not often you see a vineyard manager selected to attend a Len Evans Tutorial, and it’s an indicator that Ben is not just a viticulturist and a very, very good one, but he’s also incredibly passionate about wine. So I’m probably most proud of the people that… ‘mentor’ is an interesting word. Probably more given them the space to develop and the encouragement to develop to their full potential along the way. And we’ve got a couple of viticulturists who’ve got PhDs in viticulture here, and a third woman obtained a masters in viticulture while working here. It’s been wonderful to see these people develop during that time. So that’s on the people side. On the vineyard side, I am very confident in saying that our vineyards are in a lot better state than when I came here; from a environmental point of view and a straight viticultural vine point of view.

Starward and Yalumba launch Starward Octave Barrels

JAMES ATKINSON: Starward Octave Barrels is a new whisky from the Melbourne distiller aged exclusively in barrels that have previously held Yalumba’s The Octavius Barossa Valley Shiraz.

The Octavius is the world’s only red wine aged in 100L octave-sized barrels, which Starward head distiller Sam Slaney ensures more wood interaction for the whisky versus standard wine barrels.

SAM SLANEY: I think it’s really about seeing that single wine source and being able to see that translate into the whisky. There’s not many whiskies that are fully matured in red wine barrels. A lot of whisky producers will do a finish, but not many do full maturation in a red wine barrel. So it’s sort of pioneered that quite a bit, and then to be able to take it back to a single wine, a single source and a fantastic cooperage and story and wine, like it’s pretty amazing I think.

Starward Octave Barrels

JAMES ATKINSON: Yalumba has long produced its own whisky under the Smith’s Angaston label.

Sixth generation family member Jessica Hill-Smith says the family relished the opportunity to collaborate with Starward.

JESSICA HILL-SMITH: Particularly collectors of the Octavius will love being able to explore their beloved Octavius have a second life through this project, and we love being able to see our barrels go to somewhere else, not cut down into garden pots, but to be used to make something that we can continue to enjoy for a really long time. So if we can resist finishing the bottles too soon, we’ll be able to keep drinking them for years to come. Um, but yeah, I think that all our Octavius drinkers will love being introduced to Starward and being able to discover a new product or a new whisky like this that maybe they haven’t seen before. And the same for all those whisky collectors and fanatics out there, and I know there’s plenty that absolutely love Australian whisky. They’ll be able to discover an old vine Barossa Shiraz through their love of whisky. So I think it will be a you know, a wonderful occasion to bring the two loves of different collectors together and crack open a couple of bottles and share it with people.

Modus Operandi Brewing Company opens Modus Merewether

JAMES ATKINSON: Modus Operandi Brewing Company has opened a major production brewery and hospitality venue in the Newcastle suburb of Mereweather.

Speaking at the launch event in recent weeks, Jaz Wearin said it’s an important milestone for the business she founded with her husband Grant seven years ago on Sydney’s northern beaches.

JAZ WEARIN: Within the last seven years, we’ve humbly picked up some of Australia’s most prestigious awards, brewed hundreds and hundreds of beers, been at the forefront of innovation, grown our team from three to 53, created Nort, our non-alcoholic brand. And as you’re experiencing today, we have built our second dream Brewery.

JAMES ATKINSON: Grant Wearin said sustainability was central to the development of Modus Merewether, which has environmental features including solar and water efficiency systems.

GRANT WEARIN: Essentially two important things to us and our business is sustainability and the community in which we operate. It’s our beating heart, and a few quick, fun facts that I wanted to reel off. 100% of Modus’s energy that we’ve used since we started from Day one has been green, and it always will be. In the current build as you look around, you’ll see this beautiful rammed earth, which makes up a lot of our walls here. Some of that rammed earth comes from bushfire-affected soil. We basically take the old burnt stuff out of the ground, that no one can grow anything in anymore and replace it with good, healthy soil, and we turn that soil into walls. You’ll see all the branded tiles in the toilets. Now, they’re built out of recycled shampoo bottles. That’s pretty cool, too. We always aim to be green and lead the industry in sustainability.

JAMES ATKINSON: That’s all for this week. See you again with another full-length episode soon.

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