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Ryan Ponsford Entropy Wines

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Ryan Ponsford’s Entropy label is the result of him being diverted from a successful artistic career to making syrah, pinot noir, semillon and sauvignon blanc in Gippsland’s Baw Baw Shire. With a focus on organic growing and minimal-intervention winemaking, learnt working alongside Bill Downie, Ponsford is also in the process of resurrecting a derelict vineyard, which will form the future core of the Entropy wines.

Elegance is the word that Ponsford uses to describe the main thread that he wishes to capture in the Entropy wines, but that is something he believes is part site, part climate and part picking decisions, with the winemaking, at its best, not distracting from this.

“What drew me to wine was the idea that a grape vine can act as this kind of receptor to everything around it. It pulls information in from all around and that information can be extracted, bottled and potentially be stored for decades, holding in it the time and place it recorded.”

“I make wine in a way that would probably be considered quite traditional. Old barrels, wild ferments, simple winemaking. I don’t make any orange wine or pét-nats or anything trendy like that. I generally try to avoid making anything that’s fashionable because these things come and go. I just want to make well-farmed wines that speak of the incredible place we live.”

Ponsford already had a career when he got sucked into the world of wine, and it was a successful and satisfying one at that. Working with the wet-plate collodion process, one of the oldest photographic mediums, Ponsford was an established artist based in Melbourne, when a chance moment sent him down a different road.

“What drew me to wine was the idea that a grape vine can act as this kind of receptor to everything around it,” he says. “It pulls information in from all around and that information can be extracted, bottled and potentially be stored for decades, holding in it the time and place it recorded.”

Ponsford describes having dinner at Tonka, in Melbourne’s City, where he came across one of William Downie‘s pinot noirs. “The Sommelier explained that Bill was interested in making an expression of the Australian landscape through wine, which mirrored what I was doing in photography, so I emailed Bill and went out to his farm to meet him. I started working with him the next vintage.”

In 2018, Downie gave him some grapes to play with. That fruit made up the first Entropy wine, released in 2019. “I never planned on starting my own wine label,” says Ponsford. “It just kind of happened. I came to Gippsland based on the idea that one could make an expression of the landscape through wine. I came to help see that idea manifest. When Bill gifted me a tonne of pinot noir one year, it gave me no choice but to start a wine label.”

For an artist, naturally the details matter, and that label was never going to be named or designed flippantly. “Entropy was something I was always obsessed with as an artist and in my life,” he says, “the constant movement of the universe to disorder, the never-ending arrow of time. In many ways, the job of the winemaker is to try to slow the speed of entropy, bottling what would otherwise have quickly become vinegar. The name came first, but it took a while and a lot of thought to work out what the brand should look like. The central thought was it must look Australian, and it should hopefully represent the next stage in Australian wine labelling.”

“I make wine in a way that would probably be considered quite traditional. Old barrels, wild ferments, simple winemaking. I don’t make any orange wine or pét-nats or anything trendy like that. I generally try to avoid making anything that’s fashionable because these things come and go. I just want to make well-farmed wines that speak of the incredible place we live.”

With the core desire to reflect place in his wine, and with the uncompromising vineyard-first philosophy of Downie as a guide, Ponsford notes that he knew that he had to grow his own grapes to truly make the best, the most reflective wines he could. “Things have moved very fast,” he says, “and I’m now organically farming almost five hectares of grapes in West Gippsland myself, with a nursery block on our own farm in the Hills.”

While Ponsford currently sources his grapes from the Wild Dog Vineyard – as well as some other small sites – which is managed by Downie and Patrick Sullivan, his renovated home vineyard represents the future for Entropy. “The vineyard, in Baw Baw Shire, had a multitude of problems,” says Ponsford. “The worst being blackberries that had completely grown over the vines. The site itself is awesome, but I’ve spent the last seven months trying to get it into shape. It’s been incredibly tough both physically and mentally but there’s a crop out there now that will probably produce the best wines I’ve made so far.

“Baw Baw Shire is an incredible place to grow, well, anything really. The climate is cool, it always rains, and we have these incredible red volcanic soils that are structured, deep, old and nutrient rich. If there’s a place in Australia that we should be growing grapes, it’s here.”

Ponsford notes that the conditions that make it ideal also make it a huge challenge for vignerons. “The constant rain leads to incredibly high disease pressure, the lush green landscape leads to massive bird pressure, and the cold can lead to very low yields and difficulty ripening many grape varieties. But I think the greatest wines often come from the most difficult places. And I think we’re in a place where we could really make some great wine.”

In the winery, Ponsford describes his approach as “mostly intuitive, with a lot of help from local Gippsland winemakers,” noting that he has no over-arching dogma, remaining flexible to always learning lessons. “I’ve seen so many winemakers say absolutes that in five, ten years they’ve completely abandoned. The best I can do is say that good farming is key. After that It’s just being as gentle as possible as you usher the wine to bottle.”