Broth­ers Ko­erner

Da­mon and Jono Ko­erner are do­ing things dif­fer­ently in the Clare Val­ley.

Halliday - - Inside - By CASEY WARRENER

Meet the broth­ers be­hind Ko­erner, who are do­ing things their way.

Words Casey Warrener.

I rst stum­bled upon Ko­erner at a Mel­bourne bar. eir easy-drink­ing red blend, the La Corse, was sur­pris­ing, and even more so when I found it was from the Clare Val­ley – a far cry from the renowned styles of this South Aus­tralian re­gion. I in­ves­ti­gated and dis­cov­ered it was the work of broth­ers Da­mon and Jono Ko­erner, who grew up around the winer­ies of Water­vale and the Ade­laide Hills. e sons of grape grow­ers An­thony and Chris­tine Ko­erner, their prox­im­ity to the fam­ily vine­yards has been an in flu­enc­ing fac­tor, but they are marching to the beat of their own drum. Da­mon and Jono are among the new wave of wine­mak­ers in Aus­tralia – learn­ing the sci­ence, but us­ing it for their own art.

One of the fas­ci­nat­ing as­pects of the 2016 La Corse was its in­clu­sion of sci­acarello – an ob­scure va­ri­etal by Aus­tralian stan­dards, but com­mon on the French is­land of Cor­sica – along­side san­giovese,

Da­mon and Jono Ko­erner: “Some of our ex­per­i­men­ta­tion has in­cluded work­ing with

ce­ramic eggs and large­for­mat oak, and in­d­ing out which va­ri­eties are best suited to which ves­sels.”

mal­bec and gre­nache. Jono, the younger of the duo, and the brains be­hind the brand’s sales and mar­ket­ing, rst ex­pe­ri­enced this grape while work­ing a vin­tage with Christophe Fer­ran­dis of Clos Sig­nadore in Pat­ri­mo­nio, a moun­tain­ous area of the is­land. “Our neigh­bour Rob Tiver in the Clare Val­ley went over­seas to scope out a bit of san­giovese and when he got back he said, ‘You don’t want any sci­acarello, do you?’ I pretty much dropped to the oor in dis­be­lief that he even had it,” Jono says. Da­mon adds:

“Rob grafted it along with san­giovese and we started mak­ing rosé us­ing those two va­ri­etals, as well as a bit of red [the La Corse, and the Mam­molo, which is 100 per cent sci­acarello]. As a pure ex­pres­sion, Jono ex­plains it has a lot of nat­u­ral acid­ity. “If you shut your eyes, it’s al­most like you’re drink­ing a white wine.”


Let’s rewind. Be­fore this tiny Clare Val­ley out­fit got its hands on some sci­acarello and I drank a glass of its wine, what was go­ing on? Da­mon, the big brother who makes the wines and works as a viti­cul­tur­ist full-time, says not a lot. “I did a year’s worth of land­scap­ing on Christ­mas Is­land in the In­dian Pa­cific, which was a ‘make money’ op­er­a­tion fresh out of school.” Jono, mean­while, was a DJ for about four years. Ko­erner is not their sole op­er­a­tion though. “I man­age vine­yards in the Ade­laide Hills, and Jono does sales and mar­ket­ing for Ki­likanoon,” Da­mon says.

So, why wine? “Well, we love drink­ing it for one,” Da­mon says. “We grew up on our fam­ily vine­yards, so we were in­tro­duced to it from a young age. I guess that early ex­po­sure has had an in­flu­ence.” ey also love the travel as­pect of the wine world.

“It can take you to some of the most beau­ti­ful places. We have been for­tu­nate to travel to some amaz­ing wine re­gions and we draw lots of in­spi­ra­tion from the peo­ple we meet and the di er­ent wine­mak­ing tech­niques we learn along the way.”

From sling­ing records and cul­ti­vat­ing land, how did the broth­ers get a smart­look­ing wine busi­ness o the ground? e way they tell it, their ex­pe­ri­ence was de­ceiv­ingly sim­ple. “I was al­ready mak­ing wine with some mates, and then Jono and I made ve bar­rels. We had to put money away from our pay cheques ev­ery sec­ond week to af­ford those ve bar­rels. at was only four years ago,” Da­mon says.

“We didn’t have a proper plan, but the wine looked quite good and di er­ent to oth­ers we’d tried in the Clare Val­ley. So we bot­tled them, al­though there wasn’t a lot to sell, and con­tin­ued to make a bit more each year af­ter that.”

e win­ery is based in the Ade­laide Hills, but the fruit is sourced from a hand­ful of vine­yards in the Clare Val­ley. As well as us­ing the sub­stan­tial fam­ily hold­ings in Water­vale, Da­mon and Jono look next door. “We source from our neigh­bours

Rob and Ann Tiver, who have been re­ally sup­port­ive of what we are do­ing. Hav­ing more con­trol over the vine­yards is the next step for us, but it’s not go­ing to hap­pen overnight. For now, we’re lucky to have ac­cess to amaz­ing sites.”

Wine styles

Ko­erner’s Euro­pean lean­ing is ap­par­ent, spe­cial­is­ing in bright, fresh wines that make them the dar­lings of restau­rants and bars. ere aren’t many big, brash reds here – in fact, their strength lies in their whites. Da­mon ex­plains that af­ter work­ing in Al­sace and Ch­ablis in France, he favours vi­brant, acid-driven styles. “We were also in Vit­to­ria, Italy, re­cently, where we tasted a lot of frap­pato and nero d’Avola. We like those Ital­ian reds that are 12 per cent al­co­hol with heaps of acid and avour.”

“We­don’t want to be in the cor­ner with the su­per-nat­u­ral guysand we don’twant to be tra­di­tional ei­ther;we want to be ac­ces­si­ble to every­one.”

e in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the wines is re ected on the la­bels, us­ing names that are tra­di­tional for grapes in cer­tain places. One ex­am­ple is their Can­nonau, which is the Sar­dinian/Ital­ian name for the gre­nache grape.

The fam­ily in­flu­ence is broader. “What we’ve taken from them is work ethic, drive, and be­ing open to ex­plor­ing and tak­ing cal­cu­lated risks,” Da­mon says.

“Dad is pretty par­tic­u­lar, so we know his vine­yard is in good hands. We source a lot of fruit from there.”

In terms of the wine­mak­ing phi­los­o­phy, Da­mon says they like to keep it sim­ple.

“As long as the fruit is grown with care and we pick it at the right time, tech­ni­cally we shouldn’t have to do a lot in the win­ery,” he says. “We do play around, but we don’t want to over­com­pli­cate it. e idea is to make clean, ex­pres­sive, en­joy­able wines that are a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of their ori­gins.”

The Clare Val­ley

e broth­ers are craft­ing a unique style o the Clare Val­ley’s famed terra rossa soils. “ ere are lots of peo­ple plant­ing al­ter­na­tive va­ri­eties here, but you don’t of­ten see them in nished wines – they usu­ally get blended away into shi­raz or caber­net sauvi­gnon,” Da­mon says.

“Plenty of small pro­duc­ers in Aus­tralia have a sim­i­lar ap­proach to us, al­though they maybe don’t use the same va­ri­eties, and don’t work in the same re­gion. We try to pick the fruit when it’s flavour­ripe but with the acid in­tact, and aim to pro­duce lower al­co­hol wines. We’re not the rst to do it, but it’s fairly new for the Clare Val­ley.”

Jono adds: “ e Clare Val­ley has cold nights to re­tain that nat­u­ral acid and warm days to be­gin ripen­ing again. It’s also a good t for the Mediter­ranean va­ri­eties that we’re us­ing be­cause of the beau­ti­ful breeze that comes over from the Gulf.”

The start of some­thing

It’s an in­ter­est­ing time to be talk­ing to Ko­erner, just as the op­er­a­tion is hit­ting its straps and nd­ing its feet. “e wine­mak­ing process starts out with a lot of trial and er­ror, and evolves with the in­ten­tion to get bet­ter with ev­ery pass­ing year. It’s tough in that re­spect be­cause you only get one shot at it each year. Some of our ex­per­i­men­ta­tion has in­cluded work­ing with ce­ramic eggs and large-for­mat oak, and nd­ing out which va­ri­eties are best suited to which ves­sels. ere are so many vari­ables and there is so much learn­ing that hap­pens along the way,” Da­mon says. He sug­gests that it all came to­gether for them with the 2016 vin­tage. “at was pretty bang-on for our style." Jono adds: “Since then and de­vel­op­ing the new pack­ag­ing, the wine has re­ally taken o . I was in Mel­bourne for a trade event that had 200 peo­ple come through and they were lin­ing up to taste the wines. We’ve still got a way to go though – I de nitely wouldn’t say we’re there yet.”

Ko­erner made its rst ap­pear­ance in the Hal­l­i­day Wine Com­pan­ion guide this year with an im­pres­sive four-and-a-half star rat­ing – no small feat for a three-year-old win­ery. “We were stoked to get four and a half stars for our rst time,” Jono says.

“It was ex­cit­ing to open [the book] and have a look, and be happy with the scores. It was also nice be­cause lots of guys mak­ing wines in a sim­i­lar style to us don’t put theirs for­ward. We don't want to be in the cor­ner with the su­per-nat­u­ral guys and we don't want to be tra­di­tional ei­ther; we want to be ac­ces­si­ble to every­one. We’re glad we can slot in there and that peo­ple seem to like our wines.”

Next steps

It’s early days for Ko­erner, but there’s a lot of prom­ise. “Even­tu­ally we’d like to have more of a pres­ence in the Clare Val­ley with a cel­lar door,” Da­mon says. “We’d also like to just con­sol­i­date a bit. It’s one thing to be the avour of the month and an­other to main­tain that over time, so that’s our big goal,” he says. “It’s about con­sis­tency and qual­ity for us right now, so when you open a bot­tle of Ko­erner you know what you’re go­ing to get,” Jono says.

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