Iain Baxter New Era Vineyards

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After studying and undergoing on-the-job apprenticeships across all facets of the wine industry, Iain Baxter landed back at his family’s Adelaide Hills vineyard. Originally planted to cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, merlot and pinot noir, sangiovese, touriga, nebbiolo and montepulciano were added to better suit the changing climate, but all that changed after the 2019 bushfires. With the vineyard almost totally destroyed, the Baxter family saw an opportunity, and it was replanted to even better suit the climate. In anticipation of those emerging varieties coming online, Baxter has been crafting wines from the Hills and Limestone Coast from emerging varieties, including grüner veltliner and lagrein.

New Era Vineyard is one of the oldest in the Adelaide Hills subregion of Woodside. First planted in 1988, it was purchased two decades ago by the Baxter family. Bob Baxter had a long career with Southcorp (now Treasury – Penfold, Leo Buring et al), beginning at Lindeman’s Wines at their Nyrang Street Cellars in 1975, working his way up to being a production manager across multiple brands. He left the company in 2001. Since 2010, his son Iain has worked alongside him.

Originally from Sydney, with 15 years spent on a vineyard in Victoria, Iain Baxter now regards South Australia as his home. “The Adelaide Hills is and has been my home for over 21 years now and always will be, with there being too many reasons for this,” he says.

Baxter completed a Bachelor of Wine Marketing from the University of Adelaide in 2008, then worked in various roles, covering every aspect of wine, from making to distribution and retail. With both his formal and practical apprenticeship served, Baxter joined his father at the family’s vineyard, mainly making a familiar roster of grape varieties. That all came to an abrupt halt with the Cudlee Creek bushfire that rampaged through the Adelaide Hills in late 2019.

New Era was one of the worst hit, with 20 hectares of vines burnt, along with the winery and sheds, destroying all the equipment, vehicles, 40 hogsheads of maturing wine and 500 dozen bottles of museum stock. “Eighty-five per cent of the vines were dead and totally removed,” says Baxter. “Even when cut at the ground, they did not reshoot, requiring total replanting.”

It was a devasting loss by any measure, but it was one that also provided a silver lining. “It allowed us the opportunity to rethink the vineyard make-up and think about the potential changes in climate, providing us with a number of options regarding plantings that we otherwise may not have taken up.

“Luckily, we had some guidance from recently retired Adelaide Uni viti lecturers Phil Earle and Kyme Anderson who gave valuable advice and provided source material from Kyme’s vineyard at Mt Torrens. New varieties and clones planted include fiano, montepulciano, saperavi, nebbiolo, grüner veltliner, nero d’avola and touriga, with more to come in the next few years that will continue to shape New Era to reflect the terroir of the site in its best light, changing climate and consumer trends.”

Naturally, that left a hole in the New Era portfolio, with time required for those new plantings to come online. “I was scrambling to find fruit and wasn’t having much luck,” relates Baxter. “After contacting the boys from Longview, they said that they may have 2 tonnes of grüner veltliner available. I had not made the variety, but was very keen to try as it is very suited to the climate and elevation.”

That fruit was gifted to Baxter when he went to settle the account. “They offered it for free, as they had wanted to help out people who had been affected by the fires. My strategy with the wine was to buck the trend and leave on skins for five days, also wild fermented in old Seguin Moreau hogsheads for six months with lees stirring three times a week. The wine then went on to win the Gruner Veltliner trophy at the 2020 Adelaide Hills Wine Show.”

Subsequently Baxter has sourced fruit from the Hills, including from the highly regarded K1 Vineyard, as well as further afield. “After the fires, I was required to search further afield than the Hills and have sourced some alternative varieties from a vineyard in the south-east near Mundulla,” he says, referring to an inland region north of Padthaway.

Baxter says that he expects a crop from their fledgling nebbiolo vines in 2023, with all vines being nurtured with a sustainable approach. “Our vineyard and winemaking operations have a philosophy focused on delivering a sustainable future for the business while minimising the impact on biodiversity… Minimal applications of herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals ensures that the vineyard operations have the smallest impact possible on the local ecosystem. A hands-off approach really encouraged the natural terroir of the individual vineyard and variety to shine through.”

The opportunity to plant emerging varieties has seen Baxter work broadly in anticipation for when they become viable. “I just really enjoy making wines without boundaries and experimenting with new varieties and obscure techniques to expand my knowledge and abilities, to push the boundaries that are not usually taken in a more commercial winery. It’s a hands-off approach, not disturbing the wines too many times before bottling – the more you touch it, the more likely something is going to go wrong. The pure enjoyment of handcrafting delicious wines for the enjoyment by others is a really satisfying feeling.”

That range will expand significantly soon, with his ‘Colours of Variety’ label series developed as a succession of artworks developed in collaboration with Dan Tomkins to represent each grape variety in an abstract artwork. “Each individual piece has been meticulously designed and painted to reflect the different characters, flavours and colours that can be seen in each wine and is reflected on the canvas,” says Baxter. “This series covers the new alternative/experimental varieties under the New Era label and includes pinot grigio, arneis, grüner veltliner, dolcetto, sangiovese, tempranillo, syrah, touriga nacional and lagrein with nebbiolo, fiano, nero d’avola and saperavi all planted at Woodside and in the pipeline.”

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