The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

Toby Bekkers’ grand­fa­ther grew up in McLaren Vale, own­ing a prop­erty in Reynella, and worked in the re­gion’s his­toric Reynell cel­lars. Sto­ries of his grand­fa­ther’s time in the wine trade pep­pered the young Bekkers’ child­hood and set him on a path to craft what are un­doubt­edly bench­marks in mod­ern Aus­tralian wine­mak­ing.

Be­fore em­bark­ing on viti­cul­tural stud­ies Bekkers be­gan his ca­reer work­ing for David Pax­ton, spend­ing his school then univer­sity hol­i­days prun­ing and work­ing around vine­yards. Pax­ton has been a lead­ing viti­cul­tur­ist in Aus­tralia for al­most 40 years and there were few bet­ter viti­cul­tural train­ing grounds than his.

After grad­u­at­ing from univer­sity and con­tin­u­ing his work for Pax­ton, Bekkers be­came in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in the grow­ing field of or­ganic and bio­dy­namic grape grow­ing, although at first he was far from con­vinced. “At Pax­ton we saw many wines we liked that were BD farmed. Although some­what scep­ti­cal, we de­cided to trial it and were very im­pressed with the re­sults.”

While viti­cul­ture was clearly his home ground, Bekkers also en­ter­tained the idea of step­ping into the win­ery and tak­ing on the chal­lenge not only to grow but to craft great Aus­tralian wines. An early stroke of luck cat­a­pulted him in that di­rec­tion.

Dur­ing a vin­tage at Tin­tara in McLaren Vale a French wine­maker, who was work­ing for Hardy’s in France and had trav­elled south for the vin­tage, was dig­ging out a fer­menter and needed a help­ing hand to get out. Bekkers reached in and Em­manuelle, his fu­ture wife and busi­ness part­ner, emerged.

After con­tin­u­ing their ca­reers Em­manuelle and Toby came to their now-or-never mo­ment. They quit their jobs, packed up their fam­ily and moved to France for al­most a year. “Em­manuelle and I were able to spend time plan­ning for what we’d do on our re­turn to Aus­tralia and vis­it­ing some great con­tacts Emma had built up over the years through many vin­tages.” It was a sem­i­nal mo­ment in the cre­ation of not only Bekkers wine but also the philoso­phies that would un­der­lie it. They would re­turn to Aus­tralia and try to mir­ror the great wine es­tates of the world.

Bekkers vol­umes are small enough that the hus­band-and-wife team can over­see every part of pro­duc­tion, sales and mar­ket­ing. You can find them at the cel­lar door host­ing tast­ings be­fore re­turn­ing to the vine­yard for win­ter prun­ing.

Only se­lect vine­yards are cho­sen, most of them man­aged un­der or­ganic and bio­dy­namic prin­ci­ples and owned or part-owned by Bekkers. Fruit is sourced from lower el­e­va­tions in McLaren Vale, close to the coast with shal­low, sandy soils for their struc­ture and den­sity, which he blends with later-ripen­ing Claren­don and Ble­witt Springs fruit, that adds trade­mark de­tailed aro­matic com­plex­ity.

The wines are dif­fer­ent from the tra­di­tion­ally big, plush and op­u­lent lo­cal style that has made McLaren Vale fa­mous, and this is as much due to fruit sourc­ing and pick­ing as to the ap­proach in the win­ery. Rather than ex­tract as much flavour, tan­nin and colour as pos­si­ble, the Bekkers are more re­strained. “Take your time, ex­tract from the grapes what you need and leave be­hind what you don’t. A light touch goes a long way when your fruit is nat­u­rally gen­er­ous.” This ap­proach only comes from a well-earned con­fi­dence in the win­ery and vine­yard that the Bekkers team have built up through hard work and ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Bekkers range is made up of just four wines: three from McLaren Vale made from syrah and grenache, and a mail­ing list ex­clu­sive Premier Cru chablis that not only keeps Em­manuelle and her fam­ily in touch with their roots but also pro­vides a tremen­dous foil to the wines of McLaren Vale.

The grape at the core of the Bekkers la­bel is grenache. “Many re­gions fash­ion great shi­raz but with grenache we have the op­por­tu­nity to de­liver some­thing clearly unique,” Toby Bekkers says, adding that grenache is sim­i­lar to pinot noir, be­ing more af­fected by vin­tage and vine­yard than shi­raz.

While grenache and the grenache blend are the stars at Bekkers, the whole range is a pic­ture of beau­ti­fully de­tailed wines that show tremen­dous con­cen­tra­tion as well as el­e­gance and sub­tlety. Em­manuelle and Toby’s plan, hatched in France, was to cre­ate a new star in McLaren Vale that would help to re­de­fine Aus­tralia’s place in the global fine wine mar­ket. They have suc­ceeded.

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