Bondar is Andre Bondar’s take on McLaren Vale seen through the eyes of someone who has a deep appreciation for the Northern Rhône, as well as long history of making wine in the cool climes of the Adelaide Hills. Working with classic Vale varieties, as well as some Italian interlopers, he makes wines that are fragrant and bright, complexly structured and typically mid-weight.
Andre Bondar and his wife Selina started Bondar wines in 2012 with a tonne or two of shiraz grapes picked by family and friends. That was the first ‘Violet Hour’ they made, a homage to the sky at the time once the pick was done. That was clearly a nice moment: family and friends, first harvest, pretty sky… But Andre wasn’t totally happy that the style reflected what he wanted to make, so they released the 2013 ‘Violet Hour’ as the first Bondar wine. Okay, so the romance takes a hit, but it neatly catches the standards that Andre won’t compromise on.
An honours degree in biotechnology is not exactly a feeder degree for wine science, but Andre credits it as being extremely useful when he did his postgraduate winemaking degree at Adelaide University, finishing in 2005. He got the taste for making wine in 2001, after a vintage gig in Oregon flicked off the hard science switch and flicked on the winemaking one. Following that, Andre worked at Tyrrell’s, in the Hunter, and Tintara, in McLaren Vale, as well as in Padthaway. Overseas, he worked two seasons in California, and credits a vintage with Northern Rhône legend Alain Graillot with being hugely influential, particularly in respect to the impact of whole bunch fermentation. “It changed the way I made wine,” Andre says.
Andre worked at Nepenthe, in the Adelaide Hills, from 2006. He started as a cellar hand and left seven years later as the senior winemaker. That was 2012, and he and his wife Selina were intent on their own brand, and in their home region of McLaren Vale. Work at Mitolo then Haselgrove followed, which gave him a taste of larger operations, and some cashflow, of course. The pair bought the lauded Rayner Vineyard in Blewitt Springs in 2013, and have grown their brand from a solitary shiraz to nine lines, with new plantings promising plenty more in the future.
“Our vineyard sits at the southern tip of Blewitt Springs in McLaren Vale, right on the border with the Seaview District. Shiraz and grenache plantings date back to the 1950s when the property was owned by the Rayner family. The eastern side of the road is a huge sandhill, part of the Pirramimma sandstone geology that stretches right up to Kangarilla. I am in the process of converting our vineyard to organic management and lots of new plantings of varieties that are late ripening and ideal for a warming region – cinsault, counoise, mataro, carignan, touriga and sagratino. These should bring some exciting new propositions to the Bondar suite,” he says.
Along with grenache and shiraz from their home vineyard, as well as from some growers in special sites (like for the fragrant 2019 ‘Higher Springs’ Grenache), Bondar make a mataro, nero d’avola and fiano from various McLaren Vale vineyards, as well as a racy and pure chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills.
The Bondar style is one that pursues “wines that are bright, structured, mid-weight, yet concentrated in flavour, and with a savoury element.” There’s a familiarity in the wines, in that they express grape and place, but there’s a vivid freshness and complexity of structure that is thoroughly individual. Andre picks earlier than many, and uses an array of vessels for fermentation and ageing, including ceramic eggs, as well as judicious use of whole bunches and sometimes very long periods on skins, depending on the fruit, to build layers and detail. “Subtlety, nuance, complexity – something I try to achieve in all my Bondar wines,” he says.