It’s not common to see a tagline for BK Wines’ Brendon Keys that doesn’t mention that he’s a DJ and mad skateboarder (see, we did it too), but at his heart he’s one of this country’s (well, he’s a Kiwi, but he lives here) most progressive, creative and prolific winemakers. You’ll find plenty of classic Adelaide Hills varieties at play here (along with an exciting digression with the savagnin grape), with various stylist forays, some emphasising structure and deeply mysterious profiles, some stressing accessibly bright drinkability. Keys was the Young Gun of Wine Winemaker’s Choice recipient for 2014.
Starting his career as a chef, Brendon Keys wasn’t so enamoured with the lifestyle, but the restaurant scene did spark an interest in wine. That interest led to him completing a viticulture and oenology degree in his native New Zealand, before setting off on somewhat of a working world tour to find his place. That jaunt took him to Australia, in McLaren Vale, and then to California, in the Napa Valley, and on to Argentina.
While in Argentina, Keys and his wife, Kirstyn, felt the pull of permanence, a need for a place where they could settle down and make the wine they wanted, year in, year out. While in McLaren Vale, Brendon had seen the quality and balance afforded fruit from the Adelaide Hills, so they headed back.
Keys kicked off BK wines in 2007, the same year the pair moved to the Hills. While working vintage with another maker, he put together two barrels of pinot noir in his downtime. The need to turn that liquid into cashflow saw his initials migrate to label and brand. Luckily, Keys had some experience selling wine in London, so that didn’t prove too tricky, and today the range has expanded to a dizzying 23 lines.
Working closely with growers, Keys sees fruit quality as paramount, but his early experimentation with extended skin contact, on both reds and whites, and alternative fermentation vessels was somewhat trailblazing at the time. The early ‘Skin & Bones’ wines often slumbered for months on skins. In 2012, the pinot took 276 days before Keys pressed it, though that maceration time is closer to a month now, as it is across the ‘Skin & Bones’ range.
Today, he makes wine in the same low-tech way, if some of the experimentation has resulted in a refinement of methods. That said, a pair of pét-nats, a few savagnin-based homages to the jura and a savagnin-based vermouth, called ‘Gin n’ Bones’, round out an eclectic portfolio of raucously flavourful, textured and complexly structured wines.