YOUNG GUNS

A con­ver­sa­tion with Abel Gib­son, the 2012 win­ner of the Young Gun of Wine Award.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Neue Lux­ury

Rory Kent, Founder of Young Guns of Wine, spoke to Abel Gib­son, the win­ner of the 2012 Young Gun of Wine Award, about tak­ing risks, mak­ing lux­u­ri­ous wine and Mother Na­ture’s var­ied gifts. RORY KENT: In 2009 you were work­ing for Pete Schell of Spinifex, the year he won the Young Gun of Wine Award, and I un­der­stand it was Pete who en­cour­aged you to go out on your own and start your own la­bel. Skip for­ward a few years – it’s 2012, you’ve had your prod­ucts in the mar­ket­place for lit­tle over a year and you’ve taken a clean sweep of the Young Gun of Wine Awards, pick­ing up both the Peo­ple’s Choice and the Young Gun of Wine. When you were start­ing on your jour­ney with Rug­ga­bel­lus, what did you imag­ine suc­cess to look like? ABEL GIB­SON: Def­i­nitely not that. I was go­ing to be happy that the wines would get some in­trigue from a cou­ple of good palates and then try and sell through them through­out the year. That’s all I was hop­ing for. That’s all I imag­ined. I def­i­nitely couldn’t have seen this hap­pen­ing. All I had to do was just knuckle down and make sure I made wines that were true to my­self and true to the Barossa, re­lease them and see how they go, see what hap­pens. It’s been in­cred­i­ble. RK: What do you mean by be­ing “true to the Barossa?” AG: At the start of that decade, a lot of Barossa wines were made for the Amer­i­can mar­ket. RK: You’re talk­ing about Park­er­iza­tion: those big, ex­tracted, heav­ily oaked, high al­co­hol wines where more-is-more. AG: Yes, Park­er­iza­tion. This Parker phe­nom­e­non re­ally did dom­i­nate the Barossa from the early to mid ‘90s. I saw it hap­pen­ing be­fore my eyes and was frus­trated! I went to the U.S. in 2007 pro­mot­ing my fa­ther’s wines. We met buy­ers who were frus­trated too with these big styles of wines. But they kept or­der­ing them be­cause they had de­mand from their cus­tomers. RK: Does this mean your mo­ti­va­tion to start Rug­ga­bel­lus was a re­ac­tion to the Parker ef­fect of wines from the Barossa? AG: It def­i­nitely played a big part. I just wanted to cre­ate some­thing that would be en­dur­ing, that wasn’t a re­ac­tion to con­sumerism, to achieve the high­est level of qual­ity I could. I wasn’t go­ing to do it un­til I owned my own vine­yard, but Pete Schell said to me, ‘there are plenty of good vine­yards in the Barossa you can source fruit from, and just have a go. Go and ask them and see if you can buy a bit of fruit and have a go’. RK: Start­ing Rug­ga­bel­lus, was it a big risk? AG: Yeah, def­i­nitely. We lived, Emma (my part­ner) and I, pretty fru­gally for a few years there, and we still do by the way! Hope­fully next year we’ll hit the sweet spot that I’m sort of aim­ing for. I tried to min­i­mize risk by liv­ing fru­gally, and we were both pre­pared to do that, so I’m very lucky to have Emma’s sup­port. She could see the pas­sion. She’s in the arts and re­ally loves pas­sion and re­spects it. Of course, we’ve had to tightly con­trol our costs. I’m out there pick­ing the fruit my­self. I do hire other pick­ers be­cause I can’t pick it all phys­i­cally, but I’m out there with them every time, which suits our crafted ap­proach per­fectly. By na­ture, wine should be made by hand. When I’m in the vine­yard pick­ing the grapes my­self, I can mon­i­tor what is picked to make sure we get the bunches in at the right mo­ment be­cause the sweet spots vary through­out the vine­yard. RK: Lux­ury is an on­go­ing pur­suit and how it is mea­sured changes over time. There­fore defin­ing a new lux­ury in wine is go­ing to in­volve change. With any change comes risk. In the strug­gle be­tween art and science, what is your phi­los­o­phy or re­la­tion­ship with risk in mak­ing your wines? When do you al­low mod­ern prac­tices to pro­tect the fer­ment or wine from mak­ing a wrong turn? AG: I sup­pose I re­spect both the art and science in wine­mak­ing. Hav­ing started mak­ing my own wine in the back­yard, it’s been some what of a ne­ces­sity that I take a more nat­u­ral or min­i­mal­ist ap­proach to wine­mak­ing. As it so hap­pens, nat­u­ral wines are go­ing to be more el­e­gant be­cause you have to pick the grapes with less ripeness to en­sure the sugar and al­co­hol lev­els do not in­hibit the abil­ity of indige­nous yeast to do their work in the fer­ment. The big­gest chal­lenge, the big­gest is­sue is the sun, and things get­ting too much sugar too quickly. In this ex­am­ple, I min­i­mize risk by pick­ing ear­lier.

On the wine­mak­ing side, there has been a process of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Hav­ing said this, I was con­fi­dent that the qual­ity of the fruit would al­low me to do things such as in­clude stems with the fer­ment with­out the end wine be­ing too con­fronting or un­bal­anced.

It’s just sort of the process of elim­i­na­tion, try­ing to trust my feel­ing of where I thought things would work and where they wouldn’t. But I think the big­gest risk was those bot­tles. They’re not the best look­ing bot­tle out there. There was a phi­los­o­phy be­hind the choice of our bot­tles that I had to make the call on. Pete Schell’s ex­pres­sion is, “grab your balls, hang on, and see what hap­pens.” We did that. I kind of had to, every­thing that I had done be­fore and af­ter that had to hon­our our phi­los­o­phy of cre­at­ing some­thing to en­dure. So, re­ally, I didn’t have a choice. It was kind of nice to be guided by our phi­los­o­phy, so that sort of re­moved the risk a lit­tle for me. It put the risk in per­spec­tive. RK: With­out the risk, you’d end up mak­ing pretty bor­ing wines. AG: Yes, you would. RK: Where would you be if you didn’t take those risks? AG: Would I be mak­ing wine? I don’t think so. I don’t think you can make wine with­out risk. I’m quite pre­pared to sell stuff off, give it away, put it down the drain, what­ever, if it doesn’t fit. RK: Your ap­proach is, less is more. AG: Ab­so­lutely. RK: You use in­ex­pen­sive light­weight bot­tles in your pack­ag­ing. Ob­vi­ously, that’s with your en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly mind­set. Were you tempted to use heav­ier bot­tles, which might be con­sid­ered more fash­ion­able for lux­u­ri­ous wines? AG: I was def­i­nitely tempted. I think wine is a beau­ti­ful thing, and I would love the pack­age to be in­nately beau­ti­ful as well. At the mo­ment, I don’t think these bot­tles are beau­ti­ful, they may be­come in the fu­ture. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how the per­cep­tion changes.

I was in­ter­ested in your com­ment that lux­ury equals change and risk. It’s al­most like it’s pre-pro­grammed into the planet that things change. We’ll be fash­ion­able for ‘X’ amount of years, and that will be a small amount I sus­pect and then it will change. I’m re­ally try­ing to fight that some­how. At the mo­ment, I’m re­ally keen to con­sol­i­date what we’ve started. I prob­a­bly didn’t ex­pect to be in this po­si­tion this soon. I thought we’d still be work­ing hard to get aware­ness of our wines for prob­a­bly four or five years, and then we’d work hard on con­sol­i­dat­ing it but it’s hap­pened in two years, and I’m re­ally keen to catch up. Yeah, re­ally con­sol­i­da­tion is where it’s go­ing and the risk associated with that is that it doesn’t be­come fun any­more.

The beauty of wine is that it varies from year to year with the sea­sons, it’s in­ti­mately con­nected in the sea­sons. I get change, I get nat­u­ral change, every year, nat­u­ral vari­a­tion, which is a beau­ti­ful thing. So I’m hop­ing that will cater to that ne­ces­sity for peo­ple that need change. So hope­fully they see it just from what Mother Na­ture gives us every year.

Max Allen, Judge of the Young Gun of Wine Award said, “You see, wine’s not just about what’s in the glass. It’s why we ul­ti­mately chose Abel Gib­son as our 2012 Young Gun of Wine. Yes, his wines are stun­ning, but it’s the whole pack­age, from the light­weight bot­tles to the min­i­mal­ist la­bels, so­phis­ti­cated blend­ing and mat­u­ra­tion phi­los­o­phy and sense of tra­di­tion that sets Gib­son apart.”

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