James and Jessica Audas launched A.R.C. Wines in 2017, celebrating various Gippsland sites through the lens of organic farming and minimal intervention winemaking. Now with their own vines planted, and a 3-hectare plot under their stewardship, the pair employ biodynamic farming methods (not yet certified) and make wines with no additives – bar minimal sulphur at bottling – and they neither fine nor filter.
A.R.C or A Random Collection is very much a work in progress, as the name sugests, with the pair prioritising organic farming methods and a minimal intervention approach as defining features, rather than establishing any concrete varietal or style markers. Semillon, chardonnay, riesling and cabernet sauvignon and merlot, made into both red and rosé, have all featured, but with both their leased site and their recently planted vineyard contributing in the years to come, expect that catalogue to be reshaped.
Before making wine, James Audas had a somewhat glittering career as a certified sommelier. Notably, he worked at Tetsuyas and René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, before opening the acclaimed but short-lived Sydney fine diner Silvereye with former Noma sous chef Sam Miller. In amongst floor shifts, Audas started LO-Fi Wines in 2013, focusing on representing minimal-intervention organic producers from Europe and Australia.
With a front-of-house career that included stints at Momofuku Seiōbo and Sydney’s Rockpool Bar and Grill, James’ wife Jessica was very much on a similar hospitality path, but with a move to West Gippsland in 2017, it was only a matter of time before the pair started to make their own wine.
James had already had short stints over vintage in France’s Jura region, as well as in Burgenland, Austria, but it was working vintage with Bill Downie that pushed the pair into creating A.R.C. Wines, with four wines released: a rosé, red blend, sauvignon blanc and a cabernet merlot.
“A.R.C was started in 2018 as a way of expressing our goals to make interesting, thoughtfully farmed wines,” says Jessica. “Our goal is to farm all our own fruit to organic principles, something we are thrilled to have achieved for the 2021 harvest. We aim to make clean, bright wines with no alterations and additions – other than minimal sulphur – that show the personality of site and variety. We grow, ferment, wax and bottle all of our wines by hand.”
The pair have recently planted their own high-density vineyard in Ferndale, as well as managing 3 hectares in Warragul South, which were previously farmed by Patrick Sullivan and William Downie, converting it to biodynamic farming methods in 2017 (not certified). “Since taking control, we have continued the work done by Bill and Pat, which saw dramatic changes in quality since conversion,” says Jessica. “We have converted a host of varieties back across to cane pruning and seen a huge difference in the quality of the grapes for the 2021 vintage.”
That connection with Sulllivan and Downie is a critical one for the couple, says Jessica, as is the broader wine community. “We have an amazing community of West Gippsland winemakers who have all committed to growing fruit honestly and to the highest standards possible. Winemakers such as Pat and Bill, Momento Mori Wines and Neil Hawkins (The Wine Farm), our South Gippsland brother, all inspire the way we grow, and challenge the way we make wines. We have an amazing region to grow grapes, the potential of which is only just starting to be realised.”
James says that while they have put down very firm roots, planting a site and about to enter their fourth vintage under their own label, that they are still “very much in our winemaking apprenticeship,” which is more freeing than it is nerve-racking, allowing them to explore varieties and styles. “With this we have made some challenging wines and mistakes along the way that have helped shape the direction we are heading,” he says. “Some wines have ended up down the drain, while others have been projects to try and fix… we have learnt lessons and we are really proud of the 2020 release, which shows the clear direction we are heading in.”
That direction takes cues from both the natural bent of the LO-FI portfolio, as well as the approach of local growers. “We are inspired by those around us who grow to organic principles and by those whose wines both challenge and thrill us,” says James. “We make honest, minimal intervention wines using organically farmed grapes as our base,”
That foundation in organics is critical to the pair, and on a number of levels. “After leaving our hospitality careers,” says Jessica, “we were drawn to living a different and more sustainable way, more connected with the land. We bought an off-grid permaculture farm 1,200 km from our home in Sydney. Since that point we have grown deeply connected with the land, and our winemaking style reflects the natural and organic approach that we take to growing grapes.”
The 2020 release has seen a semillon, riesling and chardonnay added to the A.R.C. line-up, with James noting that their exploration of variety and sites is very much in its infancy, suggesting an ever-changing roster of bottlings. “We are just learning which varieties really work in our soils and climate,” he says. “One we have loved working with is cabernet sauvignon. Much maligned and often very under-appreciated in the minimal wine scene, we have loved playing with maceration lengths, picking maturities and styles. It grows beautifully in our rich red volcanic soils and makes wines of great purity.”