The first time I clapped eyes on some Vinteloper bottles I was torn, the styling seemed to attract yet repel me in the same instance. Standing out from the crowd with their colourful, contemporary graphic labels on a white background, I prayed this wasn’t going to be a case of style over substance (a great label doesn’t always translate into a great wine and vice versa). Going in for a closer look I saw the name had been capitalized and abbreviated to VNTLPR, a practice that I thought was confined to EDM DJ’s/artists. Was the wine maker’s identity going to be hidden from us by some sort of glow in the dark Tribal mask à la SBTRKT to add to the intrigue? In my mind I was starting to form a word that now seems to carry more vitriol than wine snob, hipster….
Tasting through the wines any ill feeling my preconceptions had conceived fell away like water off a ducks back, I wanted to buy some and learn more about Vinteloper. Luckily he was in London the other night and I got the chance to have dinner with him along with U.K importer Nik Darlington from Red Squirrel Wines at wine-centric restaurant High Timber, trying many of his wines and hearing more about the project from the man himself.
The name Vinteloper is a mash up of Vin/Vino/Vintner (take your pick) and interloper, a person who becomes involved in a place or situation where they are not wanted or are considered not to belong, an intruder, trespasser or invader.
The wines are made by ex basketball player David Bowley, he’s a stand up guy, and when he does stand up his athletic frame towers 2 metres above you! His wines and the thinking behind them are about as contemporary as it gets, he’s not looking to conform but rather make wines in his own unique way, embracing experimentation. Tasting through many of his wines, along with some tasty grub (the way wine ought to be consumed) it was clear to see that he was incredibly passionate about his work and came across as a very approachable and down to earth bloke. He’s the ‘Chief Everything Officer’ of Vinteloper, drafting in friends, family and even his customers when needed, but otherwise doing it all himself. This means that the wines will only ever be made in relatively small quantities, current production levels are around 30,000 bottles total for the 14 – 15 wines that he makes.
Though not certified he applies organic and biodynamic principles to the Vinteloper home vineyard with a real focus on sustainability that is shared by the growers he works with.
Growing up in the beautiful Adelaide foot hills you can see how David caught the wine bug, being in such close proximity to some of Australia’s greatest wine regions must be hugely seductive. The city of Adelaide has changed a lot in the past decade or so, from a rather pious City of Churches to a place with a vibrant social scene populated by plenty of great bars and live music venues. A catalyst for this change has been the Adelaide Fringe festival which started in 1960 and has now developed into an annual event and Australia’s largest arts festival, attracting 1.59 million people in 2013 and bringing in $64.6 million of expenditure to South Australia.
The fringe festival has also spawned one of David’s most interesting wines, the Vinteloper Urban Winery Project or VUWP. First made in 2012 from 100% Grenache sourced from nearby McLaren Vale, the following two vintages have been blends (#1 & #2) using everything from Aglianico to Graciano. These are wines made by the people, for the people and came about when David realised that instead of missing the fun and games of the fringe festival due to it coinciding with vintage, he might be able to temporarily re-locate to an unused urban space, have a party and get visitors from all over the world to muck in and help make the wine. How fucking cool is that? This wine fomo lead to literally hundreds of people having a hand (or foot) in making the wine, getting to learn a bit about the process while they’re at it.
Urban wineries are nothing new (we’ve even got one in London) but this is a great take on the trend and sounds like a whole lot of fun, crack open a few bottles, slap some tunes on and let’s have a party, if you have to work stupidly long hours you may as well have as much fun doing it as possible. Again the end product not only looks good (bottle design here is from street artist Steen Jones) but also tastes great and is incredibly well priced considering its very limited production. The past two vintages (14’/15’) have been blends of Shiraz & Malbec, David feels this works well across the board with all wine drinkers, new and old.
We kicked off the evening with some nicely chilled Pinot Gris out in the sunshine overlooking the Thames just across the way from the Tate Modern and Globe Theater. It’s a fun wine made from a blend of two vineyards, one in Wrattonbully, the other in Southern Fleurieu, partial skin contact and some barrel fermentation lend the palate a decent weight, giving the wine some colour and lifted pear notes, a glugger that lets you concentrate on whoever your drinking it with.
Once sat down with our food orders out of the way we got stuck into a pair of Rieslings and a question: Nature or Nurture? David explained that the fruit for the two wines we were drinking came from the same vineyard in Watervale, Clare Valley, and was farmed organically by a guy called Greg Bryksy at an elevation of 440m. The first wine, R1/14 had gone through a long, cool and controlled fermentation and only ever touched stainless steel prior to bottling, the nurture side of the coin. Classic Clare valley Riesling, which I admit is not a style I go mad for due to the smell of it usually leaning more towards vulcanised rubber than any kind of fruit blossom in its youth. Quite linear at this young stage but with vibrant lime and granny smith acidity that shoots through the palate, one for the cellar.
The second Riesling was the OR/13 or ODEON which is really left to its own devices at the fermentation stage, wild yeast and old French barrels are the order of the day here with more time in the bottle before release. To my taste this was a far superior take on the raw materials, offering at least twice as much complexity on both the nose and palate. It really was a joy to drink, the citrus fruit had more purity to it along with a mealy, honey’d character on the nose, full weight on the palate though in no way flabby, gental green spice notes carried the finish, top stuff.
I love it when winemakers do stuff like this, it’s fun, educational and a great way of showing consumers how the stylistic approach a winemaker takes effects what ends up in the glass.
David makes two Pinot Noir wines, though in this instance the fruit comes from different sources. The PN/13 is from a vineyard that he farms on Norton Summit located on the Western limits of the Adelaide Hills, separated from Adelaide by only the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges. The vineyard was planted in 1990 and sits 440m above sea level, grapes are squashed by hand and foot then go through a wild yeast fermentation using a third whole bunches followed by 11 months in (33%) new French oak.
This is a punchy pinot, tightly wound and not for the faint hearted! A large part of the character of this wine is down to the vintage conditions which led to poor fruit set, smaller grapes giving lower yields with more tannin and concentration than usual. David has worked a vintage at Domaine Dubois in Burgundy and spent a fair amount of time in the region since so it’s not too hard to figure out why he’s making Pinot and though I’m sure he would usually prefer a bit more elegance he has clearly embraced the vintage character of this wine. Rich cherry fruit with a good layering of herbs and spice and a well framed tannic structure make this best suited to the dinner table and a decent bit of duck or a few years in the cellar.
The second Pinot we drank was the OPN/12 or Odeon 2012, it was shockingly good juice and another confirmation that Australia is making £ for £ some of the best Pinot Noir on the planet. The fruit for this wine is grown by a guy called Robb Cootes in the centrally located Lenswood area of the Adelaide Hills. Lenswood is one of the youngest townships in the Hills and though the focus is more on farming apples, pears and cherries than grapes, producers like Henschke have brought acclaim to this heartland. The vineyards elevation is slightly higher at 550m, the vines 4 years older but the wine making is similar though 50% whole bunches are used and the wine spends a bit longer in barrel and then bottle. 2012 was a fantastic vintage in these parts and David says that this is the best vineyard that he gets to work with, it’s organically & sustainably farmed and you get the feeling that he wouldn’t hesitate to buy it should it ever come up for sale.
Drinking this wine is a true pleasure and it has a delicacy and layering that even a Burgundian vigneron could not refute, I’m afraid I don’t have any tasting notes for this as I was too wrapped up in its charms but it is a fantastic Pinot. Alas, this beautifully made, artfully packaged (@fauxnonfaux) wine is not available in the U.K and only 42 dozen bottles were made so I doubt it will pass my lips again but if you do come across it don’t hesitate for a second.
Touriga Nacional is probably Portugal’s finest red grape variety and one of the main components in the country’s most renowned and long lived wines, Port. Now there’s a time and a place for Port but I much prefer the grape in a dry, unfortified style from either the Dão or Douro regions. It’s a grape variety that is gaining in popularity in Australia and the TN/12 is one of the finest examples I have come across from down under. Coming from fruit grown by Peter & Vicky Widdop in the Langhorne Creek It’s a voluptuous drop with an incredibly attractive nose filled with ripe blue fruit and sweet floral and spice notes on the nose. Creamy rather than rugged tannin in the mouth make this one hell of a seductive wine that can be enjoyed in its own right without the addition of food. Of the Vinteloper wines available in the U.K this would be my top pick.
We proceeded to tuck into a number of other bottles over the course of the evening including the A/13 ADELO which is a field blend led by Touriga Nacianal & Shiraz and a rather lovely straight up Shiraz, the SH/12. He also makes a couple of very limited bottlings, long since sold out (Refosco & Moscato anyone?).
David is one of the most exciting Australian wine makers I have come across in quite a while and I can’t wait to see what sort of wines he makes in the years to come. Adelaide is now a city I’m desperate to visit, surrounded by some of the most innovative, passionate and progressive producers I can think of. This is the new world at its most progressive and experimental, never shying away from the unknown or impossible. Next Generation wines for the modern wine lover, embracing interaction and new ideas.