Riley Harrison’s own wine project started very small and stayed very small for quite some time, allowing him to focus on the detail. That patience has paid off, with the Harrison fruit now coming from some of the finest vineyards in the Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. Harrison makes a syrah and a grenache, both of which are 100 per cent whole bunch, while his roussanne and grenache blanc blend sees a judicious amount of skin contact before being raised in neutral oak, building detail and mouthfeel. His wines are approachable, bright and textural, with endless layers of refined detail.
“I started Harrison as a creative outlet from my corporate winemaking day job,” says Harrrison. “It was tiny – hobby winemakers were making more booze than I was for the first few years. I wasn’t forced into growing quickly, so it worked perfectly. I was able to slowly piece together the vineyard sites that I wanted to play with.”
Harrison studied Viticulture at The University of Adelaide, starting in 2005, then completed a postgraduate degree in winemaking in 2011, also at UOA. Over the years, he has also worked vintages in California at Pisoni, and the Mosel, as well as for Herdade do Esporão in Portugal. In 2014, Harrison took on an assistant winemaker role at Dorrien Estate, making wine for owners Cellarmasters, as well as many other makers under contract. It was while helping to manage the 14.5-million litre facility that his own label started to take shape.
Leaving Dorrien in 2016, Harrison took up a winemaking role at a more simpatico estate, alongside Justin McNamee at Samuel’s Gorge Winery in McLaren Vale. Since then, the Harrison brand has grown a little in volume. “I couldn’t be happier with the parcels of fruit I now have in my arsenal,” he says, “and now it has become much more of a hedonistic venture into the land of aromatics and textural pleasure.”
The 2015 ‘Fleur de la Lune’ Grenache was the first vintage for the label, with it released in 2016. “‘Sol’ was a straight Roussanne in 2018 and ’19, but the 2020 ‘Sol Blanco’ is the first release as a roussanne and grenache blanc blend,” Harrison says, noting that he sources from the legendary Schiller Vineyard in the Barossa for grenache, as well as the certified biodynamic Yangarra Vineyard for the white varieties, while his syrah is from Murdoch Hill in the Adelaide Hills.
“Harrison Wines was established in the attempt to produce wines that people crave to drink… wines of great perfume, with freshness and vitality but also the structural bones to provide the framework for a little bit of bottle age. Essentially, I started a wine brand based upon styles of wine that I wanted to drink. As every harvest season approaches, I make sure that these very principles sit at the forefront of my mind. I always keep dreaming, experimenting and pushing boundaries in the quest for flavour.”
This pursuit of flavour is nothing new for Harrison, having had a fascination with smell and taste since a young age. “As a child, I was bit of a sniffer and a licker… maybe not the best quote… I love the hard work and long hours of vintage but am far too lazy to do it year-round, so becoming a chef was never an option… making wine seemed like a much better idea. I wanted to create drinks with great perfume, mouthfeel and the ability to transport the imbiber to another place. Taking grapes and really expressing the country on which they were grown and imparting a bit of your own personality is wholeheartedly what drives me.”
Drinkability is a key word for Harrison, but that’s not to say that his wines are gluggable, forgettable wines, far from it. “For every part of drinkability, there should be an equal part of intrigue – something to keep you going back for more. I like textural white wines, but I like them to show refinement.
“I’m really loving the fine-tuning of skin contact time on my Rhône whites. Whole bunch inclusion and just how much I should be doing is another constant variable in my winemaking. I’m a junkie for bunch. I definitely have a pretty refined set of techniques when it comes to each variety I work with, but I worry that following any absolute rules may result in my wine style becoming stale. I much prefer to set myself a bit of a brief and then fly by the seat of my pants.”
Sourcing his grapes from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills gives Harrison scope to make wines in styles he favours, but for him it’s a bigger issue than that, with badly sited and conventionally farmed vines a burden on an already stressed climate, depleting water resources and the soil.
“In my limited experience, I have found that a lot of Australian regions just plainly have too much dirt planted to vine. Careful contemplation of what sites are actually appropriate for the grapes suited to that region is something we need to pay more attention to. My decision to make wines from multiple regions stemmed from wanting to only work with varieties highly suited to their growing conditions. Less vines and more thoughtful planting is our future.”