Gary Mills was an early advocate of a boots and all approach with whole-bunch fermentation, making a significant impression of the possibilities for how shiraz could be made, while also celebrating sites and subregions that never typically graced front labels. His Jamsheed single vineyard wines represented a watershed moment in winemaking in Victoria, and his influence on both a new generation and those established is hard to overestimate. Mills was a Young Gun finalist in 2008 and 2009.
Gary Mills took a little while to come to wine full time. It was an interest that first began to percolate while working as a cocktail bartender in London many moons ago. The wine and the lifestyle were good, but the weather, as it usually does, began to drag on the Perth native. Heading back to Australia, Mills opted for Cairns working as a tour guide for Japanese visitors. You see, Gary is fluent in Japanese, a skill he learnt while studying a degree in literature at Curtin University, then honed while living and teaching in Japan. Apart from the language skills, Japan was a good fit for Mills, as it’s arguably the world’s second home for baseball, which was his first career choice… as said, not a traditional path to the grape.
Returning to Western Australia, Mills took on some vineyard work in Margaret River to cover his bills while he mostly either surfed or lounged on the warm white sands that fringe the Indian Ocean. That work gripped Mills beyond funding his downtime, and an obsession was born. Once Mills had decided that wine was his course, those Japanese language skills still came in handy, giving him the edge for a short placement at the legendary Ridge Vineyards in California, under the equally legendary Paul Draper. That month or so contract evolved into nearly three years at Ridge, and a stint further north in Oregon followed.
Mills eventually returned to Australia, working in various regions, but finally settled down to launch his Jamsheed label in 2003. Jamsheed, named after a Persian king who is said to have accidently discovered wine, was built on the foundation of great vineyard sites, which Mills elaborated in ways that were shunned at the time. Sourcing from the Yarra Valley and Grampians (including the old Garden Gully site), he fermented shiraz without destemming any of the fruit. Whole-bunch ferments were used at the time, naturally, but Mills went all in, creating quite the splash and a style that evoked the Rhône but spoke in a distinctly local accent, channeling the detail of distinguished sites through a spicily wrought and structured frame.
Today, Mills has expanded his orbit to include the Pyrenees and Beechworth, and his ‘Harem’ series embraces more everyday drinking. Those wines are typically tagged with pithy cuvee names, like the ‘Le Blanc Plonk’, a blend of riesling and gewürztraminer, a whole bunch cabernet franc, ‘Ma Petite Francine’ or the ‘Pepé le Pinot’ (noir, that is). More recently Mills has pushed further into the experimental with a pair of pét-nats – ‘Candyflip’ and ‘Lemon Haze’ – as well some crown-sealed skinsy whites and slurpable nouveau-style reds, including one made from the Italian rarity sagrantino.
After much planning and financing angst, Mills opened his Urban Winery on the fringe of an industrial zone in Preston in 2020. It has much the vibe of brewery/bars that dot the area, with an old warehouse given some more comfortable trappings and a dose of style. It’s where Mills makes his wines, and it acts as his cellar door, with the man himself typically the one pouring the juice. And don’t worry, Mills understands better than anyone that it takes a lot of beer to make wine, so there’s a bank of quality craft taps to choose from, too. Plus, simple snacks are supported by the exemplary wood-fired pizza made in-house by the Wolf & Swill crew.