Ditching a career as one of this country’s most decorated sommeliers, James Erskine began crafting pithy, natural-leaning McLaren Vale Grenache in 2010. Since then, his Jauma label has become something of a touchstone for natural wines done well, and his soon to be planted Adelaide Hills vineyard promises to be profoundly exciting in the years to some. Erskine continues to make a suite of grenache expressions from the Vale, as well as an ever-evolving range of naturally hued eclectic blends, without recourse to sulphur and all under crown seal. Erskine won the Young Gun of Wine Winemaker’s Choice award in 2013.
Before jumping the fence, James Erskine had carved out a formidable career as a sommelier. Well, he actually kicked off studying to be a hotelier, fresh from school, with cooking as a major. It wasn’t long after he finished his studies that Erskine started applying for sommelier roles – though he readily admits that he knew little about wine then – which took him across the world, working in the UK, Japan and Germany.
On his return home, Erskine earnt an Honours Degree in Agricultural Science (Oenology) while also working in various Adelaide hotspots. With his educational thirst not yet quenched, he enrolled at UC Davis in California, taking frequent visits to the Napa and other winegrowing districts. Back home, Erskine racked up a slew of honours, including a sommelier of the year gong, as well as topping the class at the Court of Master Sommeliers exams in Melbourne in 2008. He was also a recipient of the Negociants Working with Wine Fellowship and is a Len Evans Scholar.
While at the peak of his front-of-house career, Erskine was doing plenty of hours amongst the vines, including consulting to the Bowe Lees Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, as well as making experimental wines as a member of The Natural Selection Theory with Sam Hughes (RIP), Anton von Klopper and Tom Shobbrook. His plans for his own wines, which were bubbling away over his visits to the US and Europe, were taking shape, and the first Jauma wines were made from the 2010 vintage from McLaren Vale Grenache fruit.
Erskine’s philosophy is very much down a natural line, with manipulation and additions shunned, excepting the occasional dusting of sulphur. Having met a like-minded grower in Fiona Wood in 2011, Erskine contracted her to look after the sites he leases, managing the McLaren Vale vineyards with strict organic practices (though not certified). In 2018, Erskine purchased an old cherry orchard in the Adelaide Hills, which has been certified organic for over a decade. He plans to plant chenin blanc, savagnin, cabernet franc and traminer in 2020.
Much of Erskine’s reputation has been built on various expressions of McLaren Vale grenache, though his reach is considerably broader, with an evolving roster of styles, including a 13-variety mélange from Wood’s father’s vineyard, a long-skin-contact muscat à petit grains, a chenin blanc, cabernet franc and a lolly-pink pét-nat made from grenache, called ‘Peekaboo’. Erskine has not used sulphur since 2015, and there are no other additions made. All his wines are now closed with a crown seal.