Most of us winelovers here in Australia are fans of at least some Australian wine (if not a lot of it!), but it might be fair to say that there are still many winelovers based here whose exposure to international wine is limited. There are many reasons for this: cost, loyalty to Australian products, not being exposed to it, or being unsure or overwhelmed with the possibilities.
It took me a number of years of enjoying wine to start to get into international wine, possibly for all of these reasons. Wine is produced commercially in over 70 countries, but when it comes to thinking about wines from around the world, it's very reasonable to think of France, Italy and Spain first. Not only do these countries have long winemaking traditions, but between them they account for almost half of the wine produced globally every year.
These amazing wine-producing countries are not the whole story, though, as there many countries that are producing amazing and interesting wine. In the Czech Republic, Milan Nestarec is a really interesting younger producer who sees his winemaking as a project of creative expression moreso than a winery. In South Africa, Craig Hawkins of Testalonga has been pushing the boundaries of the country's conservative winemaking culture, even to the point of having his wine banned from export for not being 'typical' enough of South African wine.
In Austria, amazing producers such as Gut Oggau and Claus Preisinger farm their vineyards biodynamically and make their wines using beautiful Austrian grape varieties such as Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and St Laurent.
The country of Georgia is home to the oldest evidence of winemaking: traditional earthenware/terracotta vessels known as qvevri which date back to around 6,000 BC! We stock Georgian wine when we're able to, and currently have a few bottles from Do re mi and Vino M'artville. Both producers make their wine using these traditional vessels and methods and using ancient native grape varieties.
Within the last decade, the number of smaller producers whose wine is being imported into Australia by passionate importers has increased significantly. In many ways, this is a golden age for wine enjoyment! Here at Juice Traders, we have relationships with a number of fantastic importers to help us to source interesting and incredible wine for our store. One of these importers is Lo-Fi Wines, run by James Audis and Tom Sheer. We asked Tom a few questions about Lo-Fi and the Das Juice label that they started together:
How did you get started with importing wine, and what was the first wine you imported?
James and I first started importing wines in 2013, back when we were still working at various restaurants. At the time we had received some feedback from a prominent food writer that the American-focussed list we were working with had neglected to include the wines of New York State, for us only to realise that no such wines were imported into Australia. At that point we realised we needed to take an extra step to make our list that much better and began considering importing. The first wines we imported were all New York State based, with two producers from Long Island (Paumanok and Lenz) and one from the Fingerlakes (Hermann J. Weimer).
How do you find and choose new wines to import?
Soon after we started importing wines James was given the chance to go work in Copenhagen at Noma, an opportunity that he couldn't refuse. While at Noma a plethora of new wines were introduced to him (and subsequently me), sending us on a complete tangent from our previous intention and slowly forming what Lo-Fi is now. These days we follow some fairly straightforward ideas that guide our imports; good sustainable farming that focus' on vineyard and soil health and minimal interference with the resulting great fruit in the cellar.
Some of the producers you work with produce wines using grape varieties that many people in Australia (and perhaps anywhere outside of the regions these producers are based in) haven't heard of before. Do you find it exciting or daunting or both to try to figure out who will be interested in wines that may not have an established market in Australia?
A little from column A and a little from column B. As an importer you, by-nature, become the first filter through which wines are exposed to the Australian market and baked into that is a gamble of sorts. Questions such as "will people enjoy this?" and then the slightly different (and often non-correlated) question of "will they buy it?" come up and we of course have to do our best to consider them. Unknown varieties can often be a determining factor to the answers of those questions but we're happy to say that often they're not. Great wine, regardless of variety, tends to speak for itself.
What excites you most about importing wine?, (and are you excited about adding any particular producers recently/soon?)
The discovery aspect of it is immensely exciting. Travelling to rural and often isolated places in the world to find ambitious, hardworking farmers who are doing something magnificent with their corner of it is a thrill in of itself, and then bringing that story back home is a real privilege.
We're also a fan of your Das Juice label. How did this get started and what excites you about that project?
Das Juice was born of necessity really. We had been receiving feedback for years from bars, pubs and neighbourhood restaurants asking for well-farmed wines at sharper price points, the kind of price points that are quite challenging to come across. Something genuinely delicious and approachable, eye-catching and in good stock that had the stamp of minimal-intervention and sustainability behind it was rare to find. So in 2017 we bought one tonne of grapes and went on to make a wine with a lot of help from friends and winemakers in our orbit and Das Juice was born. It's been a real pleasure to see the demand for the wines grow and be able to expand the range to include sparkling and still wines together, something we hope we keep doing for years to come.
Let's take a closer look at a couple of really interesting wines we have from some amazing producers at the moment:
The Testalonga El Bandito "The Dark Side" is a lush South African Syrah with subtle notes of red and black fruit, dark flowers and white pepper. Lots of crunchy red fruit.
The Claus Preisinger Zweigelt Keiselstein is packed with flavour: cinnamon and spice with cherry, raspberry, red fruit and soft tannins.
Speaking of Claus, we've put together the World Tour Pack which includes this and 2 other fantastic wines from around the world (and you save $13 by buying them in the pack rather than individually):
The World Tour Pack includes a beautiful amber blend out of California from Forlorn Hope Wines, an 8.5% Pet Nat out of South Africa from the wonderful Testalonga, and of course the fantastic Claus Preisinger Zweigelt.
There are so many interesting and incredible wines from all over the world, and we're always excited to see what's being released next. Well, that's it for this edition of HDH, so catch you next time, Juiceheads x