“It is what it is,” says Daniel Graham.
Daniel is a Barossa Valley winemaker who used to make wine for Jacobs Creek. He grew up in Griffith, NSW, where his father is a winemaker. He studied viticulture and winemaking at Charles Sturt University, in Wagga Wagga. After graduating, Daniel moved to Canada, before doing vintages in the Hunter and Barossa Valley’s, Central Otago, Hermitage, Bordeaux, and Barolo.
“Commercial winemaking can be so deceptive and regimented with all the adjustments and additions that are allowed…”
“Winemaking in Barolo was such an unbelievable experience,” says Daniel. “It was unreal to see how they approached winemaking, with minimal intervention and just letting the grapes do what they want to do. It was an experience that really opened me up to what was possible with winemaking.”
Growing up in Griffith, beneath towering steel tanks filled to the brim with homogenised wine that’s destined for bottles with prosaic names like, Pioneers Rest, F’Able, and Nature’s Harvest, Daniel became dissatisfied with how wines like these came to be.
“Commercial winemaking can be so deceptive and regimented with all the adjustments and additions that are allowed, you can almost already know what the wine is going to be long before it’s finished,” says Daniel. “It’s the ultimate expression of what you, or someone else, wants it to be, rather than what it wants to be.”
“I guess Sigurd is a bit of a rebellion against what I grew up with,” explains Daniel, “especially against the big commercial style of winemaking I saw. It was all about making wine as straightforward as possible, making heaps of it, and selling it to heaps of punters.”
In 2012, Daniel fermented two tonnes of grenache from a vineyard in Blewitt Springs, just north of McLaren Vale, on a friend’s verandah.
“It was a nice wine, although it was a bit hot because we picked the fruit so late that some of it was beginning to shrivel and raisin on the vine,” says Daniel, “but, it was fun to experiment making a bit of wine for myself, the way I wanted to.”
Daniel lives on both sides of the fence, making more commercially driven styles for Red Heads Wine out of the Barossa Valley, while producing a much more natural driven style for his own fledgling label, Sigurd.
“Natural winemaking, for me, is about exploring what you can and can’t do with a bunch of grapes to turn them into wine…”
“I’m happy to add acid and tannin and make adjustments, as required, to the wines that I get paid to make,” explains Daniel, “but I’ll still generally use more natural ferments, rather than inoculate with packet strains.
“I try to experiment as much as I can. Even when I worked for Jacobs Creek, I once ended up fermenting whole bunches of Coonawarra cabernet in un-ended hogs heads, and my bosses actually liked the results,” recalls Daniel. “But, of course, it still got blended away with the rest of the wine.”
With his own wines, however, it’s about trial and error, experimentation, observation and learning all the way.
Daniel makes two wines under the Sigurd label; the Sigurd White, and the Sigurd Red. Each year, since that first vintage in 2012, the grapes, their ratios and combinations have all been different. It’s all part of the adventure.
“This year (2015) I found a cool vineyard in Mount Crawford that I picked some marsanne, gewürtz(traminer) and garganega from,” says Daniel. “They were all fermented in barrel separately. I pressed off the garganega straight away, the marsanne spent six days on skins and the gewürtz was left in a milk vat for ten days before I had to move it to make room for the red grapes coming in.”
The 2015 Sigurd Red is a GSM blend – grenache, shiraz, mouvèdre (mataró) – with the grenache and shiraz grown on a small family run vineyard in McLaren Vale, and the mouvèdre sourced from a Barossa Valley vineyard, near Tanunda.
There’s a mystery to natural winemaking that makes creating it an adventure, of sorts. You never quite know exactly what you’ll get at the end of the road. You just have to follow it, closely, and wait to find out.
“Natural winemaking, for me, is about exploring what you can and can’t do with a bunch of grapes to turn them into wine,” says Daniel. “I like to find out the limits of what’s possible, which means you’re susceptible to mistakes, and believe me, I’ve lost plenty of wine doing it that way, but that’s just part of it…
“What I like about it is that it encourages you to think more laterally, more outside the box, and to be much more in tune with what you’re doing, and what the wine’s doing,” continues Daniel. “But, when all is said and done, I just make wines that I want to drink. I don’t like drinking faulty, shitty wines.”
– Sigurd White, 2015: Radiant yellow, like sunshine tipped in a glass. Wattle, honeycomb, sweet ginger, spice, and dried apricot aromas. Bronzed tropical fruits, unctuous, fleshy pineapple, saline peach, and mango seed. Incredibly smashable summertime irrigation… 12.5%, $30
– Sigurd Red, 2015: Cherry flesh and ruby red. Resting red meat and christmas cake scents. Fallen cherries and baking blood plums on wet earth. Luscious and supple, with a sappy tannin grip. Profoundly fun… 14%, $30
D// – The Wine Idealist
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