James Halliday’s Winery of the Year award coincides with the 60th anniversary of Jim Barry Wines, making it an especially significant event for this Clare Valley producer. In looking at the story of Jim Barry Wines over time, a lot has happened since the purchase of that first vineyard back in 1959. Beginning with humble aspirations to grow and sell grapes, the late Jim Barry could never have guessed how his small family business would grow – from one vineyard to 10, including some of oldest vines in the region, and with a raft of highly-rated red and white wines. Today, Jim Barry Wines is one of the Clare Valley’s most successful wineries, with shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and riesling the long-term heroes of the range, and the Greek white variety assyrtiko the new star of its stable. Read on to hear what James has to say about his Winery of the Year.
James Halliday on his Winery of the Year
The Jim Barry story has echoes of times past when Jim enrolled at Roseworthy Agricultural College to study oenology. During 1946 (the third year of the degree course) he gained work experience, choosing the Clarevale Cooperative. Later that year he became the Cooperative’s first qualified winemaker, the Clare Valley’s likewise (and just the 17th in Australia).
While working at Clarevale, Jim met Nancy; six weeks later, they were engaged, and they married in 1950. They purchased their first property on the northern outskirts of the Clare township in 1959, planting 32ha with the intention of selling the grapes. Three sons, Peter, John and Mark, and three daughters, Susan, Julie and Dianne, changed their perspective.
Increased income also played its part when Bill Taylor approached Jim seeking help in the establishment of his new 440-acre vineyard and winery.
Over the years, Jim and Nancy assembled 10 vineyards, covering 240 hectares and differing terroirs, and began producing their own wines, with their sons working in various roles and their daughters in sales and marketing.
Jim Barry Wines has established a second-to-none hold on Clare Valley riesling.
Peter and brothers John and Mark made a coup of major significance when they purchased the Florita Vineyard in 1986. The timing was exquisite, the price (from the Barry point of view) likewise. The one problem was that Leo Buring had registered the trademark ‘The Florita’ in 1946, and the Barrys had to wait until 2004 to obtain ownership of ‘The Little Flower’ (the English translation of the Spanish Florita).
Jim Barry Wines has established a second-to-none hold on Clare Valley riesling; it swept all the riesling classes at the 2018 Clare Valley Wine Show. It also produces cabernet sauvignon from a 13.3ha block in Coonawarra purchased and planted in 1978.
Its most recent move was to go through the tortuous path of importing the first rootlings of assyrtiko, a white variety from the Greek island of Santorini, where it grows on pumice stone soils and withstands winds that blow incessantly every summer. It shows real promise and will be the last vine standing if the climate Armageddon strikes the Clare Valley.
Previous ‘Winery of the Year’ recipients were Paringa Estate (2007), Balnaves of Coonawarra (2008), Brookland Valley (2009), Tyrrell’s (2010), Larry Cherubino Wines (2011), Port Phillip Estate/Kooyong (2012), Kilikanoon (2013), Penfolds (2014), Hentley Farm Wines (2015), Tahbilk (2016), Mount Pleasant (2017), Mount Mary (2018) and Seville Estate (2019).
This extract is from the 2020 Halliday Wine Companion guide, published by Hardie Grant and available at all good bookstores.