The story of Ruggabellus Wines goes back thousands of millions of years. At least that is how winemakers Abel and Emma Gibson see it. The land is old and to its beauty they owe their craft. They live in a wide and shallow valley in an ancient mountain range, the Barossa Valley.
Natural winemaking is in no way typical to the Barossa Valley, or any other Australian wine region for that matter. In the recent decade, small producers have been fine tuning their skills in this divisive style. Some of these handed down through enlightened generations, others have gathered knowledge from respected producers overseas where tradition in natural techniques has been nobly established.
While seeming like a relatively new perspective for Australian producers, globally speaking these are techniques which have been celebrated for centuries. In particular we look toward Georgia, Italy and France for their use of skin contact to create amber wine, amphora aging and fermentation with indigenous yeasts. The philosophy encompasses a more holistic approach to truly express terroir, and consequently have positive ramifications on sustaining the land.
Abel Gibson grew up with wine as an element of life around him having experienced the aroma of a wine cellar from the age of two. His father worked for many Penfolds vintages and the richest culture of the region was embroidered into him from a young age. He was privileged to have observed diverse skills from some of Australia’s greatest winemakers. It helped him to develop a deep understanding of the region which is expressed though his unique style. A homage to his home.
Their first vintage was created in 2009 from small parcels of purchased fruit. In 2013 they took over their first small farm of old vine Syrah, Riesling, Semillon and Muscat. Vines in this region date back to the first German settlers in the late 1800’s. The Barossa Valley is located in South Australia and is a short drive from Adelaide. It is an iconic and historic region, made successful by its early production fortified wines and later of robust, jammy styles of Shiraz. Abel has a slightly different understanding of what stories lie in the land here.
In order to fly the flag for lighter styles of wine in the region, Abel picks the fruit weeks earlier than his neighbours, retaining a substantial amount of natural acidity and allowing the wine to expresser a lifted body. The generally very hot climate of The Barossa Valley means that the grapes become ripe very easily with very high levels of sugar and low acid. Many conventional producers will acidify their wines (add acid) in order to create balance. Honourable natural winemaking does not allow the input of additions or corrections therefore this inherent understanding of grape structure and viticulture is a reflection of the broader mindset of natural winemakers. In wanting to understand what makes their product individual, they do not veil their wines with new oak. They observe the subtleties of each vineyard and how this will naturally provide their fruit with unique complexities. It assists them in crafting a wine that has its own perfect intrigue.
True to their minimal intervention ethos, they produce wines which speak of time and place, that can never be replicated in the same way. They ferment with indigenous yeasts, an ancient practice which creates unique flavours by drawing bacteria from the air and providing a more savoury character on the final wine. They provide texture with the delicate use of skin contact fermentation. Each of the white wines that they produce are amber or orange that ferment with their skins in amphora and are then blended to achieve seamless balancewith other varieties. They are unfiltered and shine beautiful copper hues in all their cloudy glory.
As vignerons, they are explorers. Their respect for the rhythm and enchantment of the land outweighs everything. If it wasn’t for an inherent understanding of their environment, they would not be able to produce wines of this rare quality. These are producers who are aware of history and are mindful of the future that they contribute to. All the while, sitting on a veranda under century old eucalyptus trees, sipping from a glass that represents the evolution of Australian wines and the wellbeing for generations to come.
Olivia Evans is the Restaurant Manager at Fleet restaurant (https://fleet-restaurant.com.au) in Brunswick Heads, just outside of Byron Bay. Olivia describes her weekly changing, 25 bin list of wines from small and sustainable producers as her puzzle- “the smaller the list, the more time it requires to be so precise. It is so much fun”. She pours most of her list by the glass and provides drinks matching to the restaurant degustation menu. In her spare time Olivia enjoys writing about food and wine and is a contributor to Byron based magazine; Paradiso.