If Joe Holyman was a slightly better cricketer, the wine game might just have missed out on his prodigious talents. Although being a wicketkeeper and a couple of years older than Adam Gilchrist may have made the ultimate achievement somewhat tricky. (Joe did, however, don the whites nine times as a wicketkeeper for Tasmania in the Shield back in the early ‘90s – he took a record number of catches on debut, too). Well, cricket’s loss, as they say. With a base of wine interest formed on a hobby vineyard on the family property near Launceston, Joe studied wine marketing in Adelaide, before working in pretty much every facet of the wine game, including vintages in Burgundy and the Douro. He launched his Stoney Rise label in 2000, initially working out of Robe, before eventually landing back just near that home vineyard, when he and his wife bought a 20-year-old vineyard on the Tamar. Since then the Holymans have been turning out some of the country’s most engaging renditions of chardonnay and pinot noir, as well as forays into growing and making grüner veltliner and trousseau. Joe was a finalist in the inaugural Young Gun of Wine Awards (2007).
While Joe Holyman and his wife, Lou, have come a long way since the first wines they put to bottle, some things have stuck with them. The first wine committed to bottle was made in Robe, in South Australia, while the pair worked in different sides of the business at Cape Jaffa Wines. In a rush to label, they borrowed the name of a local surf spot, Stony Rise – picking up an ‘e’ in the process – and enlisted the skills of Microsoft Clipart to fashion the design. Even a move to Tasmania some years later to take possession of their own vineyard didn’t shake the name (or shake out the extra ‘e’), nor did it see them retire the Clipart surfer, although the design has seen considerable refinement.
That vineyard, on the banks of the Tamar just outside of Launceston, was known as Rotherhythe Heights when the Holymans chanced across it. A chat with the owner developed into a sale, and in 2004 they renamed the property and set about canting it towards their preferences. Out came the cabernet, and in went more pinot noir, with some high-density plantings following some years later, as well as smatterings of grüner veltliner and trousseau. This part of the world was no mystery to Joe, as he’d grown up not far away, and, in fact, his dad had planted half a hectare or so of vines two years before the Rotherhythe Heights vineyard was planted in 1986.
That early education in wine, and growing, eventually led Joe to study Wine Marketing at Roseworthy, which led to roles on the wholesale side of things, selling wines in both Melbourne and Sydney for Negociants, Yalumba’s importing business. With growing and making luring Joe, he worked vintages around the world, and took up the tools at Cape Jaffa at the turn of the millennium.
Joe’s approach is very much vineyard first, with his attitude to winemaking almost dismissive. He still uses much of the equipment that his father used, and though he is very considered in his methods and approach, it is a process for him that is designed to display the quality of the fruit and not the maker. To that end, he only adds a minimal amount of sulphur and nothing else to the wines. In the vineyard, he uses many biodynamic and organic practices, but is not bound by them. He produces pinot noir, sulphur-free pinot noir, grüner veltliner and occasionally chardonnay under the ‘entry-level’ Stoney Rise label, while the best blocks of chardonnay and pinot noir make it into the Holyman imprint, which also includes an all-whole-bunch all-new-oak affair, dubbed ‘Project X’.