The Adelaide Review

In just over 10 years, (Spinifex) has aquired a fierce following, achieved with very little in the way of bells and whistles.

The Adelaide Review
May 2012

by Charles Gent
The Barossa's radical traditionalist

The 2009 La Maline, a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley’s Spinifex Wines, is popular not only with the critics – it was fifth-placed in The Adelaide Review’s Hot 100 South Australian Wines– but with drinkers too: the winery sold out some time ago.

But then many Spinifex wines sell out every year, a tribute to the gifts of winemaker Peter Schell. In just over 10 years, his winery has acquired a fierce following, achieved with very little in the way of bells and whistles.

La Maline is a French term for a woman of experience yet charm, and a name, says Schell, that alludes to the “feminine” style of the wine.
“It’s got intensity, it’s got presence, but it’s pretty light on its feet.”

Although a Barossa GI wine, it has much in common with Eden Valley Shiraz, as it comes from a high, late-ripening vineyard just on the Barossa side of the Valley’s eastern scarp. And to complete what Schell calls a taut, finer-boned style, the wine does have an Eden Valley component as well as a very small portion – less than five percent – of Viognier.

The addition of Viognier, to lift the wine and intensify its colour, originates from the Rhone, and Schell is happy to admit that France has a strong influence on his approach to winemaking. In the course of working six vintages across France, he says he has “drunk pretty widely”.

Given the age and maturity of France’s wine history, he says it is only natural that the French should have a deeper understanding of wine. “Spending time there, you get to appreciate that there is a lot wisdom and refinement of ideas.”

Schell, a New Zealander, came to Australia in his early 20s. He and his French wife Magali Gely met while studying at Roseworthy, and decided to settle in the Barossa. Inadvertently, Schell was completing a circle – he discovered later that his great-great-grandfather had been a resident of the Valley in the 19th century.

For Gely too, who numbers several generations of vignerons among her immediate ancestors, working with wine has a sense of destiny fulfilled.

As a new boy in the Valley, Schell had to create his own lines of supply. “In the first five or six years, I spent a lot of time chatting and having cups of tea and beers with old blokes. It was a gradual thing,” he said.

Schell has ended up with a network of around 30 growers – “a ridiculous number for our size” – who supply 70 or 80 parcels of grapes.  “I know the Barossa better than some of the locals because I’ve really had to scour it to find what’s where. Half my job, I suppose, is making sure I get the right fruit.”

Beyond its striking, elegant label and a sharp-looking website, Spinifex will remain low-key in its marketing, an attitude based on the proprietors’ own dislike of the hard sell.

“We don’t like being told something is good or what we should like,” Schell said. “If you do like it, fantastic.”

While there is a traditionalist aspect to Spinifex – Schell does not see the point of experimenting widely with grape varieties, preferring to focus on the tested stalwarts of Mataro, Shiraz and Grenache, Marsanne and Semillon – he is a strong advocate of drinkability, of wines that are “snappier and fresher, not monstrous”.

And there is nothing conservative about his attitude to winemaking: he is a believer in constant reassessment and reinvention.

“If you’re not evolving your styles every year, I think you’re dead in the water. You can’t make your wine better by doing the same thing.”


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