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The Wildman of Adelaide Hills


Australian wine has come a long way. Even just a few years ago, the focus was on big jammy juice bombs with fuzzy creatures on the labels. But today we're just as likely to think about cool climates and experimentation as we are over-extraction. The Adelaide hills, a high-altitude climate in South Australia, sits at the heart of this new identity. 

Domaine Lucci is a prime example. Not only does this winery reject the mass market approach to cultivation, they go a step further in exploring mind-bending methods of making their wine. Seriously, they're doing some crazy shit. Take for example their slow production sauvignon blanc, a wine they aptly call "Wildman." I'll try to be brief.

This is young-vine fruit, farmed biodynamically, harvested late in the season (for higher sugar levels, or brix) and put through a long and stilted open fermentation. Oh and the skins stay with the juice throughout, more like a red wine. After harvest they place the whole grape clusters in open vats and let gravity and biology go to work. Carbonic maceration means they don't press the grapes, but let the weight of the pile squeeze the juice free from its flesh. And wild fermentation in this case means they add nothing and take nothing away, but let the ambient yeasts (from in the air and on the skins) do all the sugar-to-alcohol conversion. 

Winter comes, the high hills freeze, the cap of skins floats on top of the juice and seals the container, fermentation slows to a halt. But it doesn't stop there. Winemaker Anton van Klopper wants to push this wine as far as he can. So the barrels sit open in the cold until the spring thaw when he pours the juice into different barrels (this time closed, mostly) where the fermentation continues until dry. That is, until the sugars are gone and the yeast no longer active. 

To be clear: I've never heard of anyone making wine quite like this in the 21st Century. And this is sauvignon blanc—not a grape we tend to mark as being radical. But van Klopper's approach is nothing short. The result is both a heartfelt expression of, and not at all catering to what we expect in a sauvignon blanc. What I mean is that it's both weird and transcendent (it's been compared to Dirty & Rowdy's semillon, for all you lovers out there). 

Domaine Lucci is pushing the boundaries of Australian wine, and contemporary wine in general. And they're doing it with flare. So far reception has been glowing. And as far as I'm concerned, the rest of Australia might take note and follow the leader, because while this is not a method suited for global domination, it is honest and delicious and fun. We've seen where mass-scale industrialism takes us. Where the Wildman takes is yet unknown.