Mallaluka’s Sam Leyshon got his first experience of winemaking hands on, helping with his father’s rather consuming hobby vineyard near Yass. But that’s all it was when he was growing up – a hobby. Circling back to wine later in his 20s, that hands-on approach has stuck with Leyshon, who now crafts a range of boundary-pushing wines – lo-fi, no adds, no subtractions – from his father’s vineyard, as well as from select growers.
That early inspiration didn’t lead him to immediately embrace the family vineyard, though, with Leyshon spending a decade roaming, with no particular interest in wine. That roaming did take him there, eventually, with a job at Blackhearts & Sparrows in Melbourne providing plenty of inspiration over a couple of years. Wine science study followed, before being lured back to the Canberra District to work at Clonakilla, in Murrumbateman. Four harvests followed there, as did a revelatory stint with the godlike Northern Rhône producer J.L. Chave.
It was this practical experience that gave Leyshon the confidence to make his own wine, and the fact that his dad desperately needed a hand to keep going. Initially, that was while also pulling shifts at Clonakilla, running a gruelling double vintage for four seasons, but once the Mallaluka brand started to get some cut through with their experimental styles, the home gig became a full-time one. Leyshon admits to throwing plenty of wine out in the early years, with experiments gone wrong, but with the sanguine support of his father, his essential spirit of adventure has persisted, with a range of wines that are impossible to box in.
The stint in Melbourne had a major influence on Leyshon’s style, with his approach informed by exposure to some of the most interesting avant-garde wines of the world. “When I was introduced to more alternative wines around 2012 that seemed to reflect how I want to see the world. Pushing boundaries and always questioning how. Moving away from what is perceived as ‘normal’. Alternative routes to a somewhat similar outcome, or at least a pleasing and sometimes challenging one,” he says.
Leyshon’s Mallaluka wines are textural, mid-weight expressions and deep on detail, with sangiovese, shiraz, riesling and cabernet all getting varietal bottlings, while sangiovese also makes it into a dry and savoury pét-nat, as well as a blend with shiraz. Fiano and viognier also make a blend, as do cabernet, shiraz and malbec.
“We make all the wines here ourselves. Our approach in the winery is minimal intervention. I understand this term is quite heavily debated, and so it should be. We don’t use commercial yeasts we don’t add acids or fermentation aids and we don’t fine of filter our wines. The fruit we grow and obtain is not certified organic and in which case I would never call our wines ‘natural’. I will leave that term for those that are legitimately, in their eyes, worthy of it.”