Ansel Ashby launched his Gatch label in 2016 with a shiraz viognier and an eccentric blend of riesling, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris, with all but the riesling (Clare Valley) coming from the Adelaide Hills. And while he was super pleased with those wines, you won’t find Ashby spending too much time talking about variety or place these days. And that’s pretty odd for a winemaker. While he’s not trying to downgrade the importance of either, Ashby is interested in removing those anchors and focusing sole attention on the liquid and how effective a vehicle for enjoyment it is. Working with fruit from his home base in the Adelaide Hills, the Clare Valley and the Riverland, Ashby makes a rosé, a white and a red – nothing more to be said.
“I really like the idea of an everyman’s wine. We, as winemakers and consumers, are so hyper-focused on variety, region, vineyard. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is super important, but I think we get so caught up in that hyper-specificity we forget to ask some really basic questions – does this wine taste good? Am I enjoying it? Maybe giving up a vineyard, varietal, or regional designation means making a better wine or at least a more approachable wine – I’m trying to explore that idea [with Gatch],” says Ashby.
A Colorado native, Ashby came to wine via literature, with a Bachelor of Arts focusing on creative writing that led to him to pursuing a career in wine journalism. That took him to New Zealand, where the pen was temporarily pocketed in the interests of getting some hands-on experience. As Ashby puts it, “One day, entirely by mistake, I found myself working in a vineyard and winery in New Zealand. That was at Cambridge Road, in Martinborough, and that pen largely stayed in the pocket from then on, with Ashby working around the world, including in the Adelaide Hills and Great Southern, as well as back home at Soter in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon.
Settling on South Australia as his base, Ashby obtained his Master of Viticulture and Oenology from the University of Adelaide, before founding his Gatch label. Evolving out of those first two blends, Ashby’s aim is to make wine with deliciousness at the fore, from a crisp white to a textural and savoury rosé to a full-flavoured red, but that’s not all. Ashby recently up and moved in with the Little Bang Brewing Company, when former backyard beer whizzes Filip Kemp and Ryan Davidson moved to their brewery and beer hall to a warehouse in Stepney, in Adelaide. Ashby makes both the Gatch wines and a slew of lines for the Little Bang lads, infusing them with the craft beer ethos of experimentation.
“This is a great place to play – to explore other varieties, styles of winemaking, and maybe push the boundaries a little bit. I’m working with Little Bang Brewing on all these wines, so it’s very collaborative and they’re so creative. Winemaking can learn a lot from the craft brewing movement, and this is a space to explore together,” Ashby says.