A Lightbulb Moment for Boutique Clare Wineries

Five small Clare wineries have joined forces to form Lightbulb Winemakers, a collective that will showcase grass roots winemaking as part of The Clare Valley’s Gourmet Weekend and beyond.

While boutique and small wineries have shaken things up and are all the rage in the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and the Barossa, smaller labels further north in the Clare Valley aren’t on our radar as often as the producers who are closer to the city.

Lightbulb Winemakers, a collective featuring Reg & Co, Sussex Squire, Talbot’s Block, Matriarch & Rogue and Wykari, aim to change this by showcasing quality juice from the Valley’s smaller wineries on Saturday, May 20 at the Sevenhill Hotel.

One of the Lightbulb wineries is Reg & Co, which, at the moment have only one bottle on the market, the Tank Slap Riesling. The fledgling label is run by John Barry who says the group are “grass roots”.

“I think there’s a lot of wine jargon that goes on in the wine world, some of the other Lightbulb winemakers agree with me, we just need to get back to grass roots and let people enjoy drinking wine without talking about bloody gooseberries and all the other crap that goes with it,” Barry says. “We just band together to enjoy wine and fruit for what it is. It’s that simple.”

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Barry is from the famous Barry winemaking family. He worked for Jim Barry Wines for three decades and decided to go on his own with his first vintage in 2015.

“I’ve only got Riesling [Tank Slap] on the market at the moment,” he says. “I’ve got reds in barrel, and I’ll be tasting some of my reds for Gourmet Weekend. I’ll have barrel samples of Shiraz and Cabernet. I only made 160 dozen of my first Riesling, it won a silver medal in the Clare Wine Show, which was good in a massive class of 100 wines, so that was handy.

“I worked with the [Barry] family for a long time, essentially as the viticulturist and grape grower. My brother Mark Barry has got Mad Bastard [Wines]; I was his assistant winemaker for several years and did some vintages overseas and that sort of gear. I think it was just time to get out and let the next generation of Peter’s [Barry] sons [take over], they’re coming through and it was time for me to get out and do my own thing like Mark did [with Mad Bastard] and my sister Julie with Good Catholic Girl [Wines].”

Barry says you won’t find a bottle of his Riesling in Adelaide as he wants to look after the locals in Clare first, and the pubs and the restaurants there.

“I’ve got a Facebook page where people from Adelaide can buy my wine but I’m really focussing on the local market first and just moving it really slowly. From 160 dozen, I’m down to about 40 dozen now, just moving it locally. The local pubs and restaurants have been great supporters of my wine. The more people that drink it, the more they like it. People just ring me up and say, ‘I want a dozen of your Tank Slap’. That’s the way it’s working for me. I know if someone local can’t buy a bottle of wine that’s made locally they get a bit pissed off if it all goes to Sydney and Melbourne. I’m starting at the other end; starting small and letting people drink my wine locally.”

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Barry thinks the Lightbulb group will do more events as a collective following Gourmet Weekend as they all “get along really well”. Another winemaker part of the group is Mark Bollen, who established his label Sussex Squire in 2014.

“From a consumer’s perspective, the Lightbulb function gives them a great opportunity to see five small winemakers and what they’re doing in the Valley,” Bollen says. “We’re all doing something a little different, and it’s an opportunity to really see that there are some great little small wineries that are doing good things.

“Obviously the bigger wineries have had the spotlight in the past and it’s been difficult for smaller wineries in Clare to get any publicity or traction in the market,” Bollen continues. “McLaren Vale is a little bit, probably a long way, ahead of Clare in terms of the smaller wineries coming together and putting on events. [McLaren Vale’s] Vale Cru is a good example of small wineries banding together, so it’s probably in that vein of trying to utilise resources because none of us are well known in the market. It will be interesting for people to go and see five small wineries in the one spot and try all their wines.”

Bollen believes Clare is emerging as a destination with restaurants such as Terroir Auburn and Seed complementing the region’s famous and emerging wineries and cellar doors. Sussex Squire recently opened an informal cellar door/tasting room for visitors to taste their red wines.

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“We opened the doors to the tasting room eight months ago, and the response we’ve been getting from visitors has been fantastic. Obviously down the track we’re looking to expand the cellar door at some stage.”

Bollen and his family moved to Clare to set up Sussex Squire a few years ago as he found the perfect vineyard.

“I came back to Clare because my grandfather had a farm in Clare and I spent a lot of time up here as a boy. I just forgot what a beautiful spot Clare is and pretty much found the perfect vineyard here. It was exactly what I was looking for: dry grown Shiraz. That set the ball rolling. We’ve got a perfect spot, the fruit quality is excellent and everything just fell into place. The Clare community is fantastic for supporting some of the smaller guys. We get great support from some of the bigger cellar doors and the Visitor Centre and restaurants and so forth. It’s a really good opportunity for some of the smaller wineries to get their wines out there.”

Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend
Friday, May 19 to Monday, May 22
clarevalley.com.au

Lightbulb Winemakers
Sevenhill Hotel
Saturday, May 20, 11am to 4pm
facebook.com/LightbulbWinemakers

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