Ditching a career as one of this country’s most decorated sommeliers, James Erskine began crafting pithy, natural-leaning McLaren Vale Grenache in 2010. Since then, his Jauma label has become something of a touchstone for natural wines done well, and his soon to be planted Adelaide Hills vineyard promises to be profoundly exciting in the years…
Rob Mack Aphelion Wine Co.
Rob Mack, inspired by a bottle of wine on an ocean cruise (true), sidestepped a promising business career to immerse himself in the far less reliably rewarding (financially, that is) world of wine. A shared obsession with food and wine with his wife Louise got the idea over the line, and their McLaren Vale brand, Aphelion, was born in 2014. Mack crafts wines, with grenache as the centerpiece, that are at once familiar and also surprisingly different, picking earlier and employing various winemaking techniques to show light and shade without distracting from the core message of variety and place. Mack was the Young Gun of Wine for 2018.
Rob Mack’s vinous epiphany was over a bottle of Barolo. Nothing surprising there. Barolo is a life-changing wine after all. That it revealed its mysteries in a floating Italian restaurant is somewhat less predictable. And the reason why the restaurant was floating was because Mack was aboard the P&O ‘Love Boat’ Pacific Princess is perhaps even more unusual. And no, he wasn’t working. That’s also where Mack met his future partner in life and wine, Louise Rhodes. She wasn’t working on the ship either. And they were both with their mothers. Just saying.
That was in 2005, and it was the tipping point that set Mack on the path to making wine his life. Until then, a very sensible career path in accounting stretched before him. Armed with a Business Degree from the University of Technology Sydney he landed a plum job at Deloitte, but the lure of wine fostered in Sydney at the time always nagged at him. Mack had worked vintage at Kilikanoon, in the Clare Valley, between graduation and Deloitte, and then there was the Pacific Princess moment…
Laithwaites, a transplanted UK wine merchant, were accepting enough of the reformed accountant and gave Mack a job in their merchandising and buying department, which in turn eventually led to a position on the ground in McLaren Vale, assisting in the blending and bottling of their own-brand wines. Mack actually spent his early childhood next to the Vale, on the outer rim of Adelaide’s suburbs in Seafood, in the City of Onkaparinga. High school took him deeper into Adelaide, and then university took him to Sydney, but this was always a homecoming of sorts.
By this time, Mack was well into a Wine Science Degree at Charles Sturt, by distance, and the first toe in the water of his own brand, Aphelion, was dipped not long after, in 2014. With a single tonne of grenaches berries, Mack unusually divided the meagre harvest into thirds, making a barrel of each, highlighting different winemaking techniques – whole berry, whole bunch, pressings. That first foray was about experimentation, but the principle has stuck, with subtle method differences underscoring the grenache expressions.
Favouring the cooler, more elevated sandy soils of Blewett Springs, Mack believes that the berries ripen flavour components apace with tannin maturity and sugar development, making for naturally more balanced wines. In addition to multiple grenache bottlings, as varietal expressions as well as across blends of techniques and varieties, Aphelion have taken a strong interest in the Italian variety sagrantino (from Umbria), and they have recently released a pair of chenin blancs.