Working exclusively with shiraz from the revered Hoffmann Vineyard for his label, Sami-Odi, Fraser McKinley has reframed the possibilities of what Barossa wine can be. Sourced from small plots of vines (some significantly old), which he tends with organic principles, his wines are made using only whole bunches, with no adds bar a touch of sulphur. Blending across sites, barrels and even vintages, McKinley remakes the puzzle of components in surprising ways, creating wines that tell stories of time, place and people. He was crowned Young Gun of Wine in 2014.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in Spatial Design, Fine Art & Design at home in Auckland, Fraser McKinley moved to Sydney. After a brief trip to the Barossa, working vintage, his career was irrevocably tilted towards wine – a not unfamiliar story. His winemaking apprenticeship was at Torbreck and the Standish Wine Co., with over a decade spent as an assistant winemaker between the two. And while both of those makers have shaped McKinley’s skills, his own Sami-Odi bottlings walk with distinctly less Barossa swagger.
While still at Torbreck, he approached legendary growers Adrian and Jeff Hoffmann to lease a small section of vines to fully understand what it is to care for them, to make wine in the vineyard. With a bit of supervision and plenty of advice, they let him manage four rows of younger vines in their Dallwitz Vineyard – acquired in the 1940s but with many vines planted in the 1880s. Although the Hoffmanns were close to organic in practice, McKinley became rigorously organic in that section. He subsequently expanded his reach into other sections of the Dallwitz Vineyard, occupying small blocks with differing soil types, aspects and vine ages, some over 100 years.
Today, in addition to the organic farming methods, McKinley works hard in the vineyard to be able to pick early, with shoot and crop thinning essential to getting ripeness of flavours and phenolics, while preserving crunch and freshness.
McKinley is more inclined to talk to about blending than he is about winemaking, but enough said that his process is exhaustively manual, with small whole-bunch ferments a mainstay, and no additions aside from a modest amount of sulphur. Some ferments are open, and some locked up for carbonic maceration, before basket pressing into neutral oak. The wines are bottled by gravity un-fined and unfiltered. His aim with making was always to be as simple as possible, traditional if you like, and that has not changed
That blending is key to his wines, weaving together the finest of threads to achieve the most complex of patterns. Sites, barrels, vine age and even vintages are catalogued and tirelessly workshopped, with the result blends that may be a snapshot of vintage across sites, or a multi-vintage blend that bolsters the brood of older wines with the youthful crunch of those younger. Overall, the blends are never pitched towards the ‘impressive’, but towards what makes the most sense in McKinley’s mind. McKinley’s degree wasn’t wasted either, with both his quirky ‘shed’ and labels almost as impressive as the wines. Almost.