“What’s your name?”
“Sorry, I didn’t understand what you just said… can you repeat that?”
“Yow mah! It’s your fucking name in Catalan!”
When James Erskine was travelling through Spain, he met a winemaker called Jauma (‘yow mah’), who was making wine with grenache, or rather garnacha. Unlike the beastly boozers from his home in Adelaide, these wines were light, lithe, and had a delicacy about them that James had not seen before.
“Drinking grenache in Spain was a big revelation for me,” says James, winegrower at Jauma, in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
James Erskine initially trained as a hotelier after he left school, specialising in cookery, because he wanted to open his own restaurant. Not long after gaining his qualifications, James applied for a sommeliers position, even though, at the time, he didn’t know a great deal about wine.
“I wanted to pursue becoming a sommelier because of the opportunities to travel that it presented me,” says James,” and even though I didn’t know much about it, wine was amazing, because suddenly you had all these flavours and textures before you, which I was totally fascinated by.”
James ended up travelling overseas, working in Germany, London, and Japan, before returning to Australia to study oenology (the science of wine), and agricultural science, so that he could make an attempt at making some wine of his own. This lead him to further study at UC Davis, in California, where he studied, “anthropology/philosophy/whatever”, as well as learning how to ski, in between visits to Napa Valley and Sonoma.
“It was studying at UC Davis, with the general culture of the people and the town surrounding it,” says James, “that really opened up my mind to an organic way of life… and it was the States that made me have the opportunity to learn that you can be whoever you want. You have to create the world you want to live in, and it’s all possible,” James adds.
It was here, at UC Davis that James embarked on his first forays into natural wine.
“A natural wine is a wine you produce without a fixed goal at the end,” says James, defining natural wine, “If you start with a fixed goal for what you’re wanting to produce, you will need to ameliorate (make better) the juice or the wine, in order to get there.”
Jauma wine is made with no additions, subtractions, divisions, or multiplications. It is simply fermented grape juice, using wild yeasts, with no fining or filtration, no new oak, and only a minimal amount of sulphur before bottling to make the sure wine arrives at its final destination intact and as intended.
“Wine in the form of grape juice has its own natural matrix,” explains James, “comprised of acids, tannins, proteins, and so on, and as soon as you add anything to that matrix, you are adjusting the naturalness which is already there, and hence, creating an imbalance.”
Adhering to the loosely defined notions of natural wine, James wants the fruit for the Jauma wines to be free from synthetic chemicals, which is why he has teamed up with Fiona Wood, who manages the Jauma vineyards organically (not certified). Fiona works exclusively with James in order to provide him with the best fruit possible.
“Fiona and I met in 2011, and she is our viticulturist and manages the Jauma vineyard sites, which are called, Acension, Tullah, and Wood,” says James, “which is where our grenache and shiraz come from, and then Genovese, which is where we make our Chenin Blanc,” (this last vineyard is not managed by Fiona).
“I’m not into the use of chemicals in the vineyard, mainly because I’m eventually putting what grows there in my mouth,” explains James, “and also, I have two kids, and want to be able to take care of them.”
James works with Fiona in the management of the three Jauma vineyards, but doesn’t have the time to be able to commit to viticulture full time.
“I’m envious of my friends in Europe and elsewhere, who have 4-5ha farms and manage everything themselves,” says James, “but I’m not needing that at the moment, and it’s just not the situation that we have right now. I’m happy to help curate the vineyard with Fiona, and work with her when I can.”
James sees wine as a conduit that allows the idea of ‘the self’ to connect with the real world. He thinks that wines which have not been manipulated within the winery, and that are made with no preconceived ideas on how they will finally present themselves, reveal a more honest sense of place, and are wines that help us connect with the world around us, by tapping into our emotions and our senses.
“Music activates something in us, such as emotion, and serves as an interaction between us and the outside world,” explains James, “and a wine should do the same thing. It activates a sensuality within us that gets to a deeper connection of the individual experience.”
And Jauma wines certainly do that. With every drop of the 2011 Tullah Vineyard Grenache I poured into the glasses of UK and European wine traders at the Real Wine Fair, in London last week, each person expressed their delightful surprise that this was a red wine from South Australia (Adelaide Hills). It’s sweetly perfumed, ethereal, earthy, and oh so delicate… the complete opposite to what is generally expected from South Australian grenache.
“Everyone believes that 2011 was a shit vintage,” says James, “but we made awesome wines that year. The Tullah Grenache is definitely one of the best wines we’ve made, and that’s because we were out in the vineyards everyday, thinning out all the botrytis, until it eventually paid off for us.”
“There’s not many more places that are as exciting as Australia is, right now,” says James, “in terms of wine.”
James is one of the winegrowers who is at the vanguard of new Australian wine and is contributing to the reasons why it’s such an exciting place to be growing wine. Not just natural wine, good wine. Wine that expresses an honest sense of place, without extraction, manipulation, or heavy handedness in the winery. Wine that attempts to capture our unique Australian culture in a glass.
“Wine and food are such essential cultural drivers, and they both bring so much joy to people,” says James, “just as music does, or beautiful architecture, paintings, or whatever it is that allows them to feel more invigorated by the life they’re living in.”
D// – The Wine Idealist
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