The Main & Cherry label is Michael Sexton’s ever-evolving canvas for creating micro-batches of distinctive wines. Working from his family vineyard in McLaren Vale and his parents’ vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, along with select growers, Sexton punctuates his broad portfolio of classic regional varieties with specialisations in sangiovese, tempranillo and pinot meunier. His wines are quietly innovative, seeking to coax out a story of site and grape, rather than imprint one through winemaking methods.
Sexton’s parents’ vineyard was planted in 1996 on Main Road in Cherry Gardens, in the Adelaide Hills, hence Main & Cherry is a homage to those beginnings, as a youth amongst the vines. Sexton also made the first Main & Cherry wine from that site in his parents’ underground cellars in 2010. That was a shiraz, or two rather, from two separate picks. He now makes near on a dozen different wines, sourced from various growers, as well as from his own vineyard in McLaren Vale. And he still makes shiraz from Cherry Gardens, too.
Sexton graduated from the University of Adelaide in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in oenology, before stints at various McLaren Vale wineries, including Coriole, Angove’s, Mollydooker and Chapel Hill. And though he only spent one vintage there, he credits Michael Fragos and Bryn Richards of Chapel Hill as major influences, who make “amazing, balanced wines that sum up McLaren Vale so well.” Sexton also worked at Sumac Ridge in British Columbia, Canada, and then again in the Vale for McLaren Vintners before those first shirazes cohered his resolve to work solely on his own brand.
Sexton works with growers in the Hills and in the Vale, where he, his partner, Kirstie, and their two children live on their small vineyard. “I live in the wonderful community of Clarendon in McLaren Vale. I am privileged to work with amazing growers in McLaren Vale and further afield in the Adelaide Hills. I always loved driving past the little vineyard, that we are now lucky enough to own, so I guess things just aligned at the right time,” he says.
Work in the vineyard is painstakingly manual, and he eschews chemical inputs. “We have been farming this site without any herbicide, insecticide or systemic chemicals for the last few years, and use Indian runner ducks to forage under vine, and sheep and alpacas during the winter months to keep the grass down.”
While he grows shiraz, grenache and mataro in Clarendon, Sexton also sources grenache from Blewitt Springs, as well as sangiovese from the biodynamic Gateway Vineyard, on Seaview Road, which sits at the western entrance to the McLaren Vale township. He goes to the Hills for pinot grigio, fiano, shiraz, of course, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier – making one of the most interesting varietal bottlings of the grape. He has a full roster by any standards, but it’s an ever evolving one, too.
“I’m often adding and subtracting wines each year, dabbling with things. It isn’t necessarily a smart business plan, but it’s fun to take each vintage as it comes and bottle things when they look worthy of doing so. However, making sangiovese has always been a constant. I love making it and drinking it. I’ve found that by picking it earlier in the vineyard, using older oak and bottling it earlier has helped bring it closer to the style that I want to make,” he says.
Sexton utilises traditional, artisanal methods in the winery, employing measured whole bunch inclusions with the reds, trials with extended time on skins and terracotta fermentation pots, as well as oxidative handling and cold soaks with some of the whites to build complexity and texture. All oak is French, mostly old, and the wines are unfiltered where possible.