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The Barossa Valley, the heartland of Australian wine for nearly two centuries, has very likely made Bacchus turn in his grave with the impending release of the first-ever handcrafted Barossa gin – the region’s second drink of choice.
Barossa Distilling Company (BDC) will release 2016 Generations Gin (RRP $85) in mid-July. Even more disruptive than a Barossa gin, is one made by a fifth-generation Barossan – Paul Heinicke, who is managing director of Soul Growers. Business partners include fellow gin connoisseurs, high-profile winemaker Stuart Bourne, Leigh Underwood, Tom Fotheringham and Neil Bullock, managing director of BDC.
The gin project was conceived over a late-night discussion at The Star casino in Sydney two years ago. Paul and Tom enjoyed “too many” little bottles of Hendrick’s gin while pondering the logistics of making their own.
“We had been talking about it for a while, but that was the moment we solidified the idea,” says Paul. “Two years later, here we are. The beauty of gin is there is a wide spectrum to make different styles. It’s a learning experience, we are by no means experts, but we are building our knowledge one glass at a time. We all knew what we loved, but the hard part was absolutely nailing the recipe. We got there in the end. It’s a good gin, we’re really happy with it.”
Generations Gin uses Barossa grape spirit. Local business Tarac Technologies produced the spirit from grape marc recycled from local wineries, including Soul Growers. It was infused and distilled with 12 botanicals. “So it’s deliberately minimalist,” says Neil. The traditional juniper and citrus are joined by 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. South Australian navel oranges provide vibrant citrus.
BDC set out to produce a distinctly Barossan gin with the same trademark intensity of Barossa Shiraz. “We wanted to create a savoury blend with the vibrancy of fruit so characteristic of this region,” Neil says. “This gin has that Barossa strength – a robust mouthfeel – but in a sophisticated way.”
In a nod to traditional Barossa winemaking – and in what could be a first for Australian gin production – the winemakers couldn’t resist using toasted French oak. The gin is not barrel-fermented; oak chips were part of the distillation process, overseen by Brendan and Laura Carter of Applewood Distillery in the Adelaide Hills. “The oak introduced generosity and mid-palate weight,” says Neil. “It sits in the background, just as it does in any great Barossa wine, with hints of vanilla while binding other flavours together.”
In true Barossa fashion, Neil wants to make magnums of gin. “Absolutely,” he says. “If we can get the bottles, why not?”
While Generations Gin will be the year-round mainstay of the BDC range, following a template with only subtle botanical variance, several seasonal gins are also planned with fresh ingredients including Shiraz grapes. “I live on Krondorf Road in Tanunda, and I’d love to make a gin using only botanicals found along that particular stretch of road,” says Paul.
The global gin market has grown a whopping 36 percent in five years. “Gin has shaken off its staid, unfashionable ‘mother’s ruin’ image and become a sophisticated, exciting choice for adventurous drinkers,” Neil says.
“Flavour and provenance are driving this revolution. Consumers are clamoring for authenticity. We have cool native botanicals like lemon-scented grasses, once used by Aboriginals to flavour kangaroo meat grilled over open coals. The grass grows all over the Barossa. We’re yet to work out how to get the flavour through without unsavoury characters, but we’ll get it in there somehow. Ninety-seven percent of gin consumed in Australia is imported; we want to change that. We want to see gins that have Australian ingredients outselling those that don’t.”
Creating the gin was painstaking work; Citrus was the stumbling block. “We had been playing around with intensities and it just wasn’t coming through as refreshing as we wanted it to,” Neil says. “It came down to using exceptional in-season navel oranges. If you have a great ingredient, it shines through. It was a simple answer in the end. We didn’t cut corners, we could have pushed a few batches out there, but they weren’t ready. It’s all part of the journey.”
Even after 150 different trial batches, the winemakers still hadn’t tasted a gin they loved and that they were prepared to put their name on. Then it happened. One Tuesday afternoon in late April, they were all standing at the tasting bench with yet another trial sample. “We all had that ‘are we there yet?’ in the backs of our minds,” Stuart says. “We tasted it. I was looking around the room thinking, ‘If anyone so much as tries to change this...’ We were all thinking the same thing. I said, ‘I think we are there.’ Everyone agreed; the smiles said it all.”
The business partners admit to a mix of excitement and slight trepidation about the release of their first gin. “I can’t wait for people to try it,” says Neil. “It’s a great gin.” Stuart adds, “You’ve always got a tiny amount of trepidation when you do something like this in a place like this. We think it will be well received. We have put a huge amount of love into this. It’s not shits and giggles, it’s a serious gin. So yeah, absolute piss-your-pants excitement from me.”
The 700ml bottles feature cool, contemporary packaging – including a distinctly Barossa typeface and a logo that proudly says “established in 2016”.
“We have no desire to try to be something we’re not,” says Neil. “We see our birth in 2016 as a positive thing. This is a work in progress.”
The winemakers recommend drinking Generations Gin with a quality tonic water, a few ice cubes and a slice of South Australian navel orange.
The gin is the first of a range of spirits on the drawling board for BDC, which also plans to release whisky, vodka, vermouth and eau de vie (fruit brandy).
Finally, how many bottles of Generations Gin will the winemakers drink themselves – and how many will actually make it to market? “I’ve just looked at the budgets and we won’t be drinking too much of it ourselves,” quips Paul. “Then again, worst-case scenario: we’ll have a good time.”