Brendan and Laura Carter are the duo behind the ground-breaking Unico Zelo winery and Applewood Distillery in Gumeracha, in the Adelaide Hills. Working with both local grapes and those sourced a little farther afield, they have recalibrated the potential for new varieties and even unglamorous sites like few before them. Nero’ d’avola, fiano, barbera, dolcetto, nebbiolo, zibbibo and moscato giallo get decent airtime here, with single-site bottlings upping the flavour and structure stakes, while the entry-level drops stake their claims with vibrant drinkability. Some whites see a little skins, some a lot – no rules here. Brendan and Laura won the Young Gun of Wine People’s Choice Award in 2014.
Unico Zelo streaked onto the wine scene somewhat comet-like, when the husband and wife duo of Brendan and Laura Carter launched into their own wine label in the Adelaide Hills, more or less fresh from university. And it wasn’t just wine. The Carters also opened their trailblazing distillery, Applewood, turning out spirits, amaro, liqueurs and limoncello, as well as a perfume brand, Nømad.
Brendan arrived in Adelaide from Queensland in 2010, via a stint at Veuve Clicquot. A good few years in retail in Brisbane had instilled him a love for wine, but it was that extended visit to Champagne that crystallised a desire to try his hand at making it. While studying Oenology at the University of Adelaide, he met Laura, who was studying Agricultural Science. Brendan passed that wine passion on to Laura, and she finished her degree with a work placement in the lab at Henschke, where she stayed until Unico Zelo took shape not so long later.
Brendan finished his degree in 2014, the same year that they established their label, setting up a winery in a converted 1920s industrial cold store in Gumeracha, which now also acts as their cellar door. Although the pair gained plenty of experience with other makers during their studies, this skipping of a working apprenticeship is unusual, but then again Laura and Brendan aren’t ones to walk a well-worn path.
Although the Unico Zelo home base is in the Hills, home to distinguished pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah, the duo champion both lesser known varieties and less salubrious regions. Fiano and nero d’avola, in particular, have been given great attention, with their wines showing distinct vineyard characteristics along with varietal ones. They have shown this both from Hills fruit, and from what is often perceived as the wine lake that is South Australia’s Riverland. However, working with progressive growers like Ashley Ratcliff has revealed nuance, interest and site-specific individuality. Barbera, dolcetto, nebbiolo, merlot and Greco also get the Unico Zelo lo-fi treatment.
Harvest Wines also sits under the Unico Zelo banner, a project that sees the profits split between the growers and the makers, an unusual initiative that sees the playing field squared a little for the mostly unsung efforts of grape growers.