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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. Hardy was a Young Gun finalist in 2017.

For Hardy, wine was not her first career choice. “I was a vet nurse when the wine bug grabbed me,” she says. “My house mate 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 the 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 full-time 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 so that she could return to winemaking. That was for Tash Mooney’s consultancy business, Wine Architect. Hardy’s own wines, a couple of tonnes made in the shed on her property followed in 2015, and her daughter Ada Pixie’s arrival in 2017 saw her take leave, 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,” says Hardy. “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.”

Hardy and her husband Ben Cooke (of Cooke Brothers Wines) recently 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. The pair also have major plans for a food offering well beyond most, taking advantage of the local catch and the ample produce from the area, as well as Cooke’s love of, well, cooking.

And though there’s already a lot happening, Hardy has longer term plans too. “Next, Land. Land to plant with vines, bring our family up and slow things down. I grew up on a big farm and I would like the slowness and connection to the land for our children. If we are happy, the wines are happy. It’s a dream that is closer to becoming a reality.”

Hardy’s move to the coast has also inspired shifts in her catalogue, with the ‘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. A subtle change, but Hardy believes that all those 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. 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 quiet 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.”