Cushioned in the Adelaide Hills is one of this state’s best-kept secrets – Basket Range, a small town encircled by hills, which is home to a talented group of winemakers shaking things up.
The last three winners of The Adelaide Review’s annual Hot 100 SA Wines competition either live or make their wines in Basket Range. Brendon Keys (of BK Wines) is a resident of Basket Range and made the 2013 winning wine for Lofty Valley Wines (Steeped Pinot Noir); Anton van Klopper, 2012’s victorious winemaker, lives and makes wine in Basket Range, as does this year’s winner, Gareth Belton of The Gentle Folk, who moved to the area earlier this year. Established in 1853, Basket Range, until recently, was best known for its rows of fruit orchards and the Basket Range Sandstone company. But a young crew of vintners have put the small town on the map thanks to their adventurous winemaking. They weren’t the first winemakers in the area; Basket Range Wines, for example, has been going since 1980, but over the last few years this group has spearheaded the so-called natural winemaking movement. These include Jauma, Ochota Barrels, Domaine Lucci/Lucy Margaux, BK Wines and The Gentle Folk. These small wineries are causing major ripples in the industry; aside from winning Hot 100s, Ochota Barrels’ Taras Ochota was named the Young Gun of Wine last year and Best New Winery in Australia by Fairfax’s Good Wine Guide in 2013. According to Africola Executive Chef Duncan Welgemoed, who has been supporting the Basket Range winemakers for years, what makes this group special is that they are all “non-conformists living literally next door to each other, out of each other’s pockets, living and breathing their craft”. “They have all found their voice within their wine and have built up a strong community that embraces it. That community is about love and above all else, the love of winemaking,” Welgemoed says. It would be easy to dismiss the Basket Range crew as the ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ hippies in the Hills. But most of this group have a science and/or academic background. Belton is completing his PhD in seaweed and taxonomy; Ochota and van Klopper both have Oenology degrees (wine science) while Erskine got his honours in Agricultural Science. Importantly, they aren’t in this game to make a quick buck and, as Welgemoed says, they are in it for the love of winemaking. Ochota, a winemaker who, due to the buzz surrounding his wine, could easily sell out or expand, says he simply doesn’t want to.“We don’t want to get big and have to employ staff,” he says. “We don’t want to grow. We just want to keep it small and keep life simple and have enough time to go surfing, fishing, and laze around reading books in hammocks, but mainly concentrate on the quality of the wine.” Out the back of their 10-acre home, where they are planting a vineyard to Gamay, Ochota says he and his wife Amber moved to Basket Range after returning home from winemaking in Europe. Their home and wine studio, which recently had a famous guest in Mick Jagger, is a serene place. A spring-fed creek runs through their property surrounded by chestnut trees and forest with chickens ranging free in the yard. With an impressive vegetable patch and a whole range of herbs (used for a special vermouth-inspired wine exclusive to Restaurant Orana), sitting in Ochota’s backyard, you can understand the appeal of living here. The likes of Maynard James Keenan, from the band Tool, and his family take time to venture up and spend time on the Ochota:Keenan Grenache project called A Sense of Compression. “It’s so tranquil and lush and everything just grows beautifully, so you can have these gorgeous vegetable patches and amazingly healthy fruit trees,” Ochota says. “It’s only 20 minutes from the city and Anton, Gareth, James and I hang out often. Our wives are all friends so we do things socially and it’s interesting that we’re all sort of on the same page with wine but also in a different way, each of us with our own little thing.” Brendon Keys moved to Basket Range from Lobethal with his young family two years ago. “To be this close to the city, you can go and have dinner or whatever and you can still retreat back to the Hills – people don’t even know that it really exists,” Keys says. Keys, Belton and Ochota live in places that back in the day probably would have been labelled hobby farms. All contain beautiful views of the Range. And the size of their properties are useful, as Belton and Ochota make their wines at home while Keys, on the other hand, has a skate ramp instead of a winery on his property. But what makes their wines so special? Belton, this year’s Hot 100 winner, says it’s the community rather than the dirt. “It’s not really that the wines have been grown in Basket Range – I don’t think the last two [Hot 100 winners] have been grown here,” he says. “I know that BK makes his down at Lenswood, so I don’t necessarily think that it’s the land here that’s making the wine. I think it’s the community over anything else. We push each other. Anton makes some seriously crazy stuff, so that means the rest of us can push the boundaries because we’re never really going to go as far as him, but his wines are beautiful, so once you see some of the stuff he does you just go, ‘There really are no boundaries to what you can do’.”Keys: “As far as grape vineyard potential goes there’s some cool vineyards there [Basket Range] but it’s core spots. I think between Lenswood and Basket Range, and then down to Piccadilly, there’s kind of a circle there and that’s where you get, I think, the most interesting cool climate stuff.” “We’re all just small families, I suppose, just starting out,” Ochota says. “All of our wineries are small and we’re trying to do things a bit differently. Not following the 101 recipe book. “There’s sort of been a natural focus on well, natural wines, and we all are technically,” Ochota continues. “I suppose Anton and James are really right behind it [the natural wine movement] and want to be under that umbrella whereas, I prefer them to be considered part of the gorgeous wine movement,” he says with a grin. Keys says that there’s been a recent shift to lighter-style wines and maybe Basket Range is the hub of this style. “2011 sort of pushed us into that style because we didn’t have the balls to make that before. But we had that shit, wet weather in 2011, so we had to pick early and everything was tight and restrained and that’s kind of how we wanted it to be. From there it’s like, ‘Fuck, I’m glad I did that in 2011’. I guess that I’m in love with those less-extracted wines and things that haven’t been worked on and have just been left alone. Whether it’s the hippies in the Hills that have taken on that non-interventionist approach, that’s kind of what has happened as well, but I’d hate to think of myself as a fucking hippie.” Keys believes the opportunity for the Adelaide Hills is massive, as it’s a new region with no “restraint or preconceived ideas”. “I guess that’s why you are seeing so much more experimentation happening,” he says. “A lot of it is happening in Basket Range, but the Hills themselves can be open to experimentation and if you look at the Hills, and you think of the history of the Hills, basically big companies have come in and planted vineyards to fill bigger volumes of white wine, essentially. And they’re losing interest in the white wine in the Hills, and now you’re getting small producers going, ‘Wow, this is cool stuff’.” Aside from the winemakers, other young creatives are moving to Basket Range. The hairy local rough-and-tumble musical ensemble Dr Piffle & the Burlap Band recently moved in and, like Keys, they have a skate ramp on their property. “Heaps of young people have moved up here like Dr Piffle & The Burlap Band,” says Belton. “Tom Munro, who does Boovability Wines, he actually planted that little vineyard just below us, where the Piffle boys live. It’s like party central up there with the skate ramps.” Ochota says that Basket Range is a “cool little community”. “Basket Range seems to have a lot of artistic people – there are a lot of chefs, artists and musicians here.” The secret’s out. ochotabarrels.com bkwines.com.au gentlefolk.com.au