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Charlotte Hardy Charlotte Dalton Wines

Top Winemakers

Charlotte Hardy’s Charlotte Dalton wines were launched from the 2015 vintage, a semillon and a shiraz made in an unfussed lo-fi way. With a career making wine for some serious labels, these weren’t your classic new wave wines from Basket Range. They were a pivot from the norm, unbound but not wild, essentially personal expressions. Hardy’s wines are like that, made with technical understanding, but intuitively, a reflection of mood and moment.

For Hardy, wine was not her first career choice. “I was a vet nurse when the wine bug grabbed me,” she says. “My housemate was a viticulturist for Montana Wine Estates in NZ, managing a big vineyard in Hawkes Bay. I would go to work for him on the weekends, pruning, leaf plucking, slashing – general labour jobs. I really enjoyed it, quit my job, worked a summer in the vineyard and enrolled in a wine science degree.”

While studying, Hardy worked at two Hawke’s Bay stars: Craggy Range and Sacred Hill. After graduating in 2004, she took on a fulltime role at Craggy Range, with time out for international vintages, including at Château Giscours in Margaux, and Abreu Vineyards in the Napa Valley.

In 2007, Australia beckoned with a winemaking role at The Lane Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, with the winery still a construction site. In 2009, Hardy launched a mobile laboratory service for the Hills, which she subsequently staffed in 2012 – then sold in 2016 – so that she could return to winemaking. That was for Tash Mooney’s consultancy business, Wine Architect.

Hardy’s own wines, with a couple of tonnes of fruit made in the shed on her property, followed in 2015. The arrival of her daughter in 2017 saw Hardy take leave at her day job, from which she never returned, deciding to grow her Charlotte Dalton label instead.

As a new Zealander, you can see Hardy’s reluctance to use her surname on the front label, given the Australian wine aristocracy that it conjures. Hardy’s middle name is Dalton, which is her Grandfather’s middle name, so that conflict also presented an opportunity for a tribute. It’s a theme that runs through her wines.

Dalton’s signature semillon, ‘Love You Love Me’, is a refrain her mother used when settling her children for sleep (her syrah is called ‘Love Me Love You’). This connection runs deep for Hardy, with all that she makes deeply personal. Winemaking is a job, but it’s much more than that.

“When I started my brand, I wanted to make a shiraz and a semillon from the vineyard I still work with,” she says. “It was more about the grower and the place than the desire to make specific varieties. The growers are important to me, my relationship with them. …I really simply do it because I love it. Nowadays, it is my occupation to bring food to the table, but I never, ever want it to cause stress. You can see, feel, taste stress in wines. I like the wines to be calm.”

In 2019, Hardy and her husband Ben Cooke (of Cooke Brothers Wines) relocated from the Adelaide Hills to the Fleurieu Peninsula. Interestingly, part of Hardy’s reason for leaving her base in Basket Range is one of the reasons many would stay. Hardy very much became wrapped up in what has been the locus for natural wines in this country, and her wines were often seen as part and parcel of that movement. And while that’s no judgement on the makers of Basket Range, she wanted to be seen for what she did, what she made.

So, they upped stakes and moved their young family to a tiny shack in Goolwa, just off the beach. A cellar door and winery in Port Elliot followed, which now houses both the Charlotte Dalton and Cooke Brothers operations.

“These days I only make wines for me,” says Hardy. “My partner Ben and I share a winery. We have two toddlers – they are our world. We have created a lifestyle where we can go fishing in the morning and press grapes in the afternoon, or wander a vineyard in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon. We take turns working at night so we can have family time during the day. We work hard. We are HAPPY, and relaxed and I absolutely, firmly believe that happy people make happy wines with soul.”

And though there’s already a lot happening, Hardy has longer term plans, too. “One day, Ben and I will have a vineyard and we will plant varieties sensible to the place, the change in climate. We will experiment and do what we can in the field so that hopefully I can continue to make wines that don’t need to be adjusted in the winery to make up for our changes in the climate.”

Hardy’s move to the coast has also inspired shifts in her catalogue, with the 2019 ‘Wahine’ replacing ‘Eliza’ as the name of her Lenswood pinot noir, which has dual meaning as a Maori word for a strong woman and a Hawaiian word for a female surfer. In 2020, pinot noir aptly comes with the name ‘A Change is Coming’. Subtle tweaks, but Hardy believes that all experiences affect the wines she makes.

“There is change with the wines every year – all of my experiences and growth change the wines, which I always marvel at because they are really left to their own devices. I don’t really make any stylistic choices for the wine, rather the grapes do. I now believe to decide on a style before the grapes are even in the winery is just fucking with the grapes to force them to be something. It’s tiny things I do differently which I am not conscious of that changes the wines. My wines are softer and less intentional since I have become a mother – they don’t have the sharp edges or the shaping. These things fascinate me as I am still quite interested in the science behind the wines, but the numbers don’t give an indication of how the wine feels. Hard to explain. Wine has soul.”

Joining the Charlotte Dalton project are also two project wines, one a co-lab with The Stoke. “Guroo Wines is a concept from the clever minds behind The Stoke, Nick and Bec Dugmore, who source fruit from Australia’s third biggest island. They put Kangaroo Island grapes in the hands of a mainland winemaker who has been awarded in the variety they have been chosen to make – for me, shiraz. I’ll make Shiraz for the project for three years.”

Additionally, Hardy also made a fiano in 2020, from Langhorne Creek fruit. “Langhorne Creek 5255 is a collaborative project between growers and winemakers from the region. The project has been designed to provide three winemakers with the opportunity to create a one-off wine under their own label that solely showcases Langhorne Creek fruit.”