Meet the winemaker

Winemakers on Australian pinot gris

By Halliday Promotion

2 Feb, 2022

There is much to love about pinot gris, especially at this time of the year. Three winemakers tell us the key characteristics to their gris, and what they enjoy most about this underrated variety.

Refreshing and pure, rich and silky in texture, this versatile wine ranges from light to medium bodied, with a touch of spice, and offers unbelievable value – there's more than meets the eye when it comes to pinot gris. These winemakers explain how they make gris their own.

Bec and Jules from Small Victories in the vineyard holding wine Bec and Jules Ashmead – Small Victories Wine Co, Barossa Valley SA
H. How would you describe pinot gris to someone who’s never tried the variety before?
J. Pinot gris has small tight bunches with a hint of pink. The flavour spectrum is wide – from lemon sherbet through to ripe peaches – all have, at the very least, subtle florals on the nose. The palate has a delicious, spicy note to balance the stone fruit flavours. A great all-rounder, the style doesn't rely on oak nor is it overpowered by aroma.

H. What is unique about your pinot gris and how it is made?
J. 2021 was the debut vintage for Small Victories Wine Co, our aim is to make delicious wines that are a true reflection of their variety. Our fruit comes from a large vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, allowing us the opportunity to choose small parcels from different blocks, taking advantage of crisp acidity while also gaining more richness and flavour from some slightly riper fruit.

With no disease pressure, we were able to choose the right picking time. We pressed our pinot gris after skin contact, post destemming, then fermented on light lees using an aromatic yeast allowing the natural characters to shine through. We worked half the new wine with lees stirring to achieve that creaminess and let the other portion settle slowly in tank, preserving the delicate fragrance and fruit flavours. The result? A wine with a restrained acid, and spicy yet fresh flavours rounded out with a creamy texture.

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Jeremy from Contentious Character wearing a plaid shirt with his hands in pockets
Jeremy Wilson – Contentious Character, Canberra District NSW
H. How do you approach the winemaking process for pinot gris?
J. My approach is always driven by the season and what the fruit is doing, I prefer a dry-style pinot gris that is supported by solid fruit flavours and clean acidity to give the wine length and poise. Priscilla Queen of the Pinot Gris is made with fruit sourced from Cowra’s Central Ranges. This particular pinot gris was picked earlier than previous vintages, giving it uniquely dominant citrus flavours. It has a wonderfully vibrant lemon body with subtle hints of watermelon. Finally, a solid acid structure gives it length and a nice clean finish.

H. How has your winemaking process evolved or been challenged?
J. The biggest evolution has come from really understanding and working the fruit that comes off our vineyard. I’ve learned how the seasons can, and have impacted what we can grow. I’ve developed an instinctual knowledge of the optimal harvest time, to deliver a wine that requires minimal intervention and that has great body, clean acidity and balanced tannins. 

I love the challenge of making a pinot gris. It's a grape that can be difficult to grow and maintain, and there's always a balancing act to ensure the ripening process is driving the right flavours, without being too overwhelming or too big on the alcohol.

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Caitlin from Mountadam in front of barrels smelling a wine
Caitlin Brown – Mountadam Vineyards, Eden Valley SA
H. How would you describe pinot gris to someone who’s never tried the variety before?
C. Pinot gris is such an underrated variety that offers an array of fresh, bright fruits: nashi pear, citrus and fig while being wonderfully balanced with a line of minerality and punchy acid. The delightful textures and phenolic grip of pinot gris are what makes it the perfect pairing for Thai food or something sinfully greasy, like fish and chips. 

I love how versatile pinot gris can be, it has an ability to be dry, sweet, crisp, textural, oaked, which is what makes it so interesting, that and every winemaker and everyone who drinks it, has a different take on it. It's made for enjoying in the spring summer season when the wine has been on ice, is wonderfully chilled and you have everyone around for a barbecue.

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
C. Stylistic wise, Mountadam pinot gris has always focused on showcasing the High Eden fruit, which traditionally results in a dry, fresh fruit-forward style with juicy flesh and textural grip. The fruit is harvested using a selective destemming harvester at optimal maturity – taking advantage of the high acidity fruit High Eden has to offer, while ensuring the flavour is still there. The fruit is then treated oxidatively in the winery and co-fermented in stainless steel with a small parcel of Estate gewurztraminer.

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This article was produced in partnership with the featured wineries.
Top image credit: Mountadam Vineyards