Saltfleet is a collaboration of two McLaren Vale winemakers, Kyle Egel and Jonny Cook. Both have solid day jobs, working at Rycroft and Wirra Wirra respectively, with Saltfleet founded in 2021 as their creative outlet. They debuted with an old vine grenache and a touriga nacional made from the 2021 vintage, both in neutral, large-format oak and both with no additions bar a low dose of sulphur.
“Our Wines are made with a balance of minimal intervention and modern winemaking techniques,” says Egel. “Our first release is two medium-bodied red wines from single vineyards that are stylistically different. There’s a fine line between expressing a wine’s best quality and ruining a parcel of fruit. Our job is to promote the vineyard and the region in the best way possible, and we would like to think that’s what we have achieved.”
Egel took a job at Serafino Wines in late 2013, straight from school. Working with senior winemaker Charles Whish, he knew this was his career trajectory from early on, and stayed there for five years, commencing wine science at Charles Sturt University in 2016. In 2018, he took a job with a wine filtration company, which gave him a unique overview of many of Australia’s wine regions. In 2020, Egel took on an assistant winemaker role with Paul Carpenter and Charlie Seppelt at Ryecroft Winery, which is where the Saltfleet wines are made.
Working his first vintage in 2014 at Rosemount Estate to fund a surf trip to Indonesia, Cook loved working in wine as much as Egel. He went on to Coriole in 2015, then Serafino in 2016. Since 2017, he has been at Wirra Wirra. Cook is currently studying winemaking at CSU.
“We have created this wine label as we were both searching for a creative outlet outside of our full-time jobs where we could have full control of a small amount of premium fruit,” says Egel. “We both have a love affair with McLaren Vale grenache and were lucky to be given the opportunity to purchase 120-year-old bush vine grenache. We also wanted to make a wine from an alternative variety that suits our region and decided to make a touriga nacional. This is our way of applying the knowledge and skills we have learnt over the years from working with some amazing people in our industry and creating a style of wine that we love to drink.”
While Saltfleet was started as a means of applying their combined collective knowledge and test their ideas, the pair hope to grow it into a successful business. “We have enjoyed being in a community that is driven by passion and the opportunity to learn from those who have achieved so much before us,” says Cook. “We are motivated to be a part of a region that’s at the forefront of promoting modern sustainable winemaking. We hope that we can contribute to the sustainability and increase the focus on organic farming techniques.”
Cook says that while the winemaking side of things was comfortable for the pair, the packaging, marketing and sales side was very much new territory. “This was a massive learning curve for us but something that we thoroughly enjoyed. As any business would know, lessons are learned daily, and it’s been no different for us. There have been many speed humps along the way, from website building and label design to bottling decisions, and we have relied on our friends in the McLaren vale community for guidance.”
Attention to detail is something that has been drummed into both of them since joining the industry, notes Egel. “For the style of wine that we make, fruit quality is the most important thing. It is then up to us to look after that fruit when it enters the winery. Close monitoring during fermentation allowed us to be proactive rather than reactive. A lot of winemaking is problem solving and the more information you have the easier it is to make intelligent decisions. We try to balance science with creative freedom.”
“Balanced minimal intervention has been the key to both wines,” Cook adds. “No additions bar minimal sulphites to protect the wine. The key for us was expressing the vineyard and particular parcel of fruit. We wanted to portray each parcel for what they are and by using older, large-format oak, it allowed for integrated maturation without hefty oak influence.”
While Egel says the future certainly holds an expansion of the label, that won’t come at the expense of integrity. “We look forward to continuing working with our growers and future growers, exploring new varieties and vineyards. We hope to be a part of McLaren Vale’s future in the wine industry but most importantly have fun. We want to make better wine next year than we did last year. We are always wanting to learn more and never stop experimenting.”