“It’s about the rock and roll”, says Tom Belford, from Bobar Wines, Yarra Valley, “you get some grapes and make some wine… it’s like you hang a mic from the ceiling, play some music, and make an album.”
Bobar, is the passion project for Tom and Sally Belford, two viticulturists who met and studied together at Charles Sturt university, and who share a mutual philosophy for the simplicity of things.
“I distinctly remember hearing Sally saying to someone, with regards to adding tannin to red wine, that she didn’t get it, and didn’t think it was necessary,” recalls Tom, “we were mere viticulturists, he was a winemaking student, and he said ‘oh you just don’t get it, it works, it has to be done, because it’s a good thing to do’.”
Despite being ‘mere viticulturists’, Tom and Sally always intended to make wine. “Growing grapes, and making wine was always one and same thing to us,” says Tom, “the separation of the vineyard and winery doesn’t make sense.” So, in 2010, after having traveled around France for 15 months, doing vintages in places like Morgon, Cahors, and Beaujolais, Tom and Sally returned to their home in the Yarra Valley, conceived of, and created Bobar. Initially, only producing 180 cases of, what they call, Syrah.
“We call it syrah, because if we call it shiraz, people would be expecting an oaky, ballsy, Australian red wine, and it’s nothing like that,” says Sally, “so we thought we’d adopt the wanky term and call it syrah, and then people could expect something a little different.”
Bobar wines are made from grapes grown on the urban fringe of the Yarra Valley, on rolling, north east facing hills, on soils consisting of grey loam over a deep clay base. The vineyard where Tom and Sally get their fruit from is not managed by them, and is not organic, but the aim is to one day have their own vineyard, which will be managed organically.
This plan is already taking shape with the planting of over 700 cabernet sauvignon vines on the family property in the Yarra, which is looked after using organic composting methods. For now though, Tom and Sally work very closely with their growers, taking regular trips out into the vineyard to monitor and keep an eye on the progress of the fruit they wish to use for their wines.
“When you walk through the vineyard during the last six weeks before picking, you really get a feel for when the grapes are starting to feel right,” says Sally, “we look at the ‘linearfication’ of the bunch stems, and the colour, and shape of the berries,” but ultimately, “you really have to feel it.”
Once they get the fruit back into the winery, that’s where the Tom and Sally really exercise their control and influence over the fruit they harvest, and really, it’s nothing more than a caretaker role… or a sound recordist mic’ing up a few instruments.
“Even though the grapes are coming off conventionally managed vineyards, as soon as the grapes enter our hands we really let the grapes just express themselves,” says Tom, because, “If the grapes are healthy and sound, then they shouldn’t need anything added to them,” explains Sally.
For their Syrah, which is made using the Beaujolais inspired method of carbonic maceration (a process for making table wines by preliminary storage of whole grape bunches in an inert atmosphere), Tom and Sally consider themselves craftsman, rather than winemaking scientists, choosing to remain very hands off throughout the whole process.
To Tom’s trained way of thinking about the winemaking process, this can sometimes be a problem, until Sally steps in and reminds him to get a grip, and to trust his instincts a lot more.
“I don’t believe in fractionalising things,” says Tom, “because you want to represent the whole, the fruit, the season, the people and the weather.” In this way, everything from the vintage is included, and there is no fining or filtration of their wines either. Because of this, many of Bobar’s wines have a delicious cloudiness to them, especially noticeable in the Chardonnay, which harbors a unique fizz and zip that is, at first, arresting, but ultimately refreshing and exciting.
“If you could show people how wine is so heavily manipulated,” says Tom, “by the time it is actually finished, and out in the market, it doesn’t represent much more than the winemaker.” So, are Bobar self confessed natural winemakers (or, as I call them wine punks) that make wine in the same way that those great punk bands of the 70’s made music?
“With movements like the natural wine movement,” says Sally,”which bases itself on sustainability, and sustainable practices in the winery, we feel very strongly about it, and it’s something we’re always conscious of, with regards to every every aspect of our winemaking, so,” Sally continues, “the one thing that is important to me is that it gets people thinking about the wines that they’re drinking.”
When you taste the Bobar wines made by Tom and Sally, you are confronted with a flurry of thought processes, especially if you haven’t ever experienced these types of wines before. The Syrah, for example, has a bright, light bodied raspberry sweetness to it that is hidden, somewhat, in shadow because of the native black pepper, cola and clove characteristics inherent in the shiraz grape. It hums a little on the tongue, like the spark from a AA battery when you check to see if it still has life inside it. It takes a moment, but eventually the pleasure centres of your brain light up and a smile wipes across your face. It is delicious booze.
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The main reason Bobar exists is so that Tom and Sally can contribute, not just consume.
“Sally and I want to make wine together, which is something we enjoy,” says Tom, “because we enjoy that process, and it makes us feel productive.”
“And, also to feel like you’ve done something, and made something good.” says Sally.
“Hopefully, it’s really drinkable, in a really lip smacking way”, says Tom, “so when people drink it they laugh, and have conversation, and eat, and do all the stuff that people do together.”
“And that they have fun with it too,” says Sally.
Creativity through simplicity and a little bit of rocking out.
D// – The Wine Idealist