How Many Times Did You Call My Name? Knock At The Door But You Couldn’t Get In?
I met Soul Growers’ owner Paul Heinicke and his colleagues, Iron Maiden-loving winemaker Stuart Bourne and Neil Bullock for a 19mm-thick beef schnitzel in the front bar of the Tanunda Club, frequented by German descendants for 125 years for wine-inspired knees-ups. Leigh Underwood was an apology.
Stern old German blokes in sepia photos stared down as if to say “don’t f**k up our wine heritage, hipsters.” Paul wanted to talk about a special new drink they had made. Hmm, schnitzels… I was thinking Barossa Shiraz or German-style Riesling.
Their new venture, Barossa Distilling Company, has made the first-ever small-batch Barossa gin – Generations Gin 2016 ($85). Tarac made the grape spirit base with marc recycled from local wineries, including Soul Growers. The gin has 12 botanicals. “So it’s deliberately minimalist,” says Neil. Along with the traditional juniper and citrus, is coriander, angelica and orris root. Ginger, fennel and almond add warmth, structure and a robust mouthfeel, while chamomile, cassia and local lavender provide savoury floral notes. SA navel oranges add vibrant citrus. Making a gin in the heartland of Aussie wine? Disruptive. Courageous. Brilliant.
The boys looked gin-weary; bemoaned how much harder it was nailing the gin recipe than winemaking. Poor bastards “had” to taste every gin going. They made 150 batches with no success. Then one Tuesday in late April, it happened. “We all gathered at the winery to try yet another one,” says Stuart. “We took a swig and looked at one another and smiled. We didn’t have to say anything – we were finally there!” There were two rules: they had to love it, and it had to be distinctly Barossan. French oak chips are in the brew. “And I think we’ve nailed the intensity found in local Shiraz,” says Neil. It was distilled at Brendan and Laura Carter’s Applewood Distillery in the Adelaide Hills.
Winemakers love gin; Barossans order it by the 44-gallon drum and upsize to a rainwater tank leading up to vintage. Generations Gin will be the year-round mainstay of the BDC range, with only subtle botanical variance. There will also be seasonal gins with local native botanicals including lemon-scented grasses once used by Aboriginal communities on kangaroo meat grilled over open coals.
Paul lives on Krondorf Road; he wants to make a gin using only botanicals found there. Neil wants a local quince gin. Stuart wants to chuck freshly-picked Shiraz in there. There’s talk of a visitor centre, a Barossa tonic water and a juniper-berry plantation. Life of Brian stuff, but hold the wolf-nipple chips. Place is the essence of fine wine; gin too. Global gin sales are up 36 percent in five years. Stuart says the Barossa has it all: great food, wine and beer. “What’s the one thing left? Gin!” he says. Paul adds, “And taxis.” Stuart continues, “I think these things help future-proof the Barossa. It can’t all be about wine.”
The winemakers are loving the freedom of gin production. “We’re on the bus, but we’re not sure where we’re going,” Stuart says. Paul adds: “All we know is what we gins we love – and we’ve ordered an ice machine.” Who’s going to pull Barons of Barossa Grand Master Stephen Henschke aside and break the news a fifth-generation comrade has made a drink other than wine? “Neil’s MD, he’s the spokesman,” says Paul. Will the Blessing of the Grapes become the Blessing of the Juniper Berries?
Generations Gin will be out in mid-July. Pre-order at barossadistilling.com. “I can’t wait for people to try it,” says Neil. Stuart adds, “I’m wet-your-pants excited.” In true Barossan style, Neil wants to make magnums of gin. “If I can find the bottles, why not?” The long-departed in the frames all winked.
One last question: why the schnitzel as a feed to discuss a non-German drink? “No reason, they’re just bloody good here,” says Stu, still on a natural high from the Iron Maiden gig and having his snout in the gin-trial trough for two years. Never over-think. Hail the juniper berry. And always look on the bright side of life. – Ed