Year Wines was founded by Luke Growden and Caleigh Hunt to celebrate McLaren Vale through their lens, with minimal-intervention techniques and a focus on bright approachability, purity and a vibrant reflection of the year that shaped the wines – hence the name. A key player in the grenache revival in the Vale, Year Wine also specialises in climate-apt varieties like fiano and cinsault.
Growden found almost everything amongst the vines. A career he loved, his family… Well, he didn’t find his family, but he did meet his future wife, Caleigh, and a family followed. After a meaningful stint with some stalwart producers of the Vale, the pair founded Year Wines in 2012 and haven’t looked back since.
“For us, it’s all about holding acid. Whether that’s in using varieties that are naturally high acid or later ripening, vineyard selection or picking earlier. All the wines are fermented by indigenous yeast, we don’t fine, we don’t filter, add tannin, enzymes or any of that other shit.”
With grenache in the lead, Year Wines are all about mid-weight, red-fruited approachability, but that accessibility belies their genuine complexity, with layers of spice and carefully wrought web of fine tannin as signatures. Year Wines was the Young Gun of Wine Best New Act for 2015.
Yet another career diverted by wine. While taking six months off university, Growden worked a vintage in the Barossa, and his education and career took a sharp turn. A post-graduate winemaking degree in Margaret River followed, as did a move to McLaren Vale in 2008, which included a stint at McLaren Vale icon Wirra Wirra, amongst others.
It was during one of these stints dragging hoses around, cleaning the press or the like that Growden met Caleigh Hunt, a California native who was extending her vintage experience Down Under. The pair clicked, and Year Wines was born in 2012 when they fermented a small parcel of grenache from 50-year-old vines. It was a tough time to start, with a young daughter, a house under renovation and some persistent fox attacks on their henhouse at the time (true – it’s on the label blurb for that wine, if you can find a bottle).
That foray was a very busy spare-time operation, but has since blossomed into an all-consuming affair, with the pair primarily sourcing small parcels of grenache, mataro, cinsault,syrah and, fiano. “In the past couple of years, we’ve played around with some new varieties,” says Growden, “like grillo, graciano and muscat de petit grains, and we’ve expanded our range of white a skin-contact wines. We’ve also released a couple of Australian-first, if not world first, blends such as the ’21 Sausage in Bread Red (mataro, trousseau, grenache, cabernet, graciano) and ’21 Noodle Juice (grillo, riesling, muscat de petit grains). Our labels have also had a little makeover… Oh, and we even use a proper accounting program now, too. We’re heaps professional now.”
“We’ll always make a range of vineyard specific wines and fun blends of all colours, and definitely more whites from southern Italian varieties – honest and interesting wines from our little part of the Vale that people enjoy drinking.”
The winemaking for Year Wines is in the lo-fi camp, with an emphasis on preserving bright fruit characters and freshness. “For us, it’s all about holding acid,” says Growden, “whether that’s in using varieties that are naturally high acid or later ripening, vineyard selection or picking earlier. All the wines are fermented by indigenous yeast, we don’t fine, we don’t filter, add tannin, enzymes or any of that other shit. We generally keep wines on full solids for ageing and use judicious amounts of sulphur if any at all.
“The aim is to make honest wines that reflect where they’re grown and the season that shapes them and where I’m at personally. The desire is to capture a snapshot of time and place and to translate so many external factors into one thing that hopefully brings joy and pleasure. With every year, there’s something learnt, or experience gained. It’s fascinating.”
Growden says the stable will remain focused on varietal bottlings of Vale stalwart varieties, while constantly creating new project wines. “A pét-nat is currently fermenting away, and we’re also sitting on a barrel of fortified white wine maturing under flor, inspired by the fantastic sherries of Spain, which we’ll be releasing later in the year. We’ll always make a range of vineyard specific wines and fun blends of all colours, and definitely more whites from southern Italian varieties – honest and interesting wines from our little part of the Vale that people enjoy drinking.”
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