IN THE VALLEY
ONE BAROSSA LABEL IS BRINGING TWO DISTINCT WINE WORLDS TOGETHER.
You could not find two wine regions more different than Champagne in northern France – historic home to the finest and most delicate sparkling wines and dominated by lush, green vineyards – and the Barossa Valley, whose sunbaked soils turn out bold and generous red wine styles. But the two are brought together by Brett Grocke and his Eperosa winery. Named after both, it’s where the subtlety and restraint of Epernay in Champagne emerges in red wines with a truly Barossa heart that trace back almost 200 years.
This is not a story of long-held vineyards, raised by a family for decades; hand-tended vines, passed down through the years to a new generation. It is more about a homecoming and a return to the past – the Grocke family returning to its roots of grapegrowing and vineyard ownership that started in the late 1800s.
Brett Grocke’s early memories are tethered to Barossa royalty. Growing up a stone’s throw from Moorooroo Park vineyards, where relative Samuel Nitschke had planted vineyards almost 200 years before, he was also friends with Travis O’Callaghan, son of Robert O’Callaghan of Rockford Wines, which would later come in handy. “Robert knew me as a kid as I used to walk home with his son Travis and would often spend an hour or so at their home waiting for my mum to pick me up. Travis and I often watched Monkey while drinking milk and eating YoGos.” Yet, despite his long history in this hallowed region, young Grocke would have to build up his own legacy from scratch, the family’s vineyard holdings having been sold off in the early 1990s.
Eperosa began in 2013 with Grocke’s first vineyard purchase. After looking for over a decade, with a number of disappointments, Grocke was more than happy with what he had found. The Magnolia Rd property was, he says, “a winemaker’s dream of old vine plantings”, with shiraz vines from 1896, 1965, 1996 and 2010; semillon from 1941, 1971 and 1975; and grenache planted in 1950, to which he added grenache blanc.
And it was not long before another opportunity arose. “A few weeks after I bought the Magnolia Rd vineyard a Krondorf vineyard came up for sale less than a kilometre from my original family home. I’d always wanted to buy land back in the Krondorf village.” Money was tight but an old friendship would come in handy. Grocke went into partnership with Rockford wines to purchase the property, which had grenache plantings dating back to 1903. He added mataro and five favourite clones of shiraz, and built an underground, off-grid, solar-powered winery. The infrastructure was funded by his own viticultural consultancy, already servicing vineyards around South Australia, although this has now been cut back to a bare minimum as Eperosa has grown.
The sustainable winery and his own organic viticultural philosophies fit neatly in the Barossan expression that is at the heart of Eperosa – powerful and generous wines but with a measure of reserve that are a rejection of the oaky, soupy, sump oil, black-asnight wines that were popular a decade ago.
Minimal additions in the winery and no fining or filtration are just some of the ways that Grocke is looking to create the most honest Barossan expressions. And production is small, sourced almost exclusively from the two vineyards and producing at most 1000 cases per vintage.
With Grocke’s viticultural training and experience, though, it is no wonder he sees much of his work as being in the vineyard. “Viticulture is of utmost importance and crucial to Eperosa and its wines. I feel that I’m more of a farmer than a winemaker.”
Tasting the Eperosa range, the influence of France’s Rhône Valley comes through quickly in their reserve and savoury characters as well as the varietal mix of shiraz supported by significant plantings of grenache, mataro and grenache blanc, which Grocke shows an uncommon interest in. Quite early in his career in 2003 Grocke was selected for a Barossa-Rhône exchange and spent a month hosted by wineries throughout the region with plenty of time in local vineyards and cellars. “I probably don’t give this the credit it’s due in shaping what I do now, but I think there’s a lot of almost subconscious direction given from the experiences of that trip,” he says.
Yet while the outside influence is strong, these wines are still unmistakably Barossa, with more than a touch of serious subtlety and style.