&noscript=1"/>

Dan Graham Sigurd

Top Winemakers

Dan Graham’s Sigurd has been helping to redefine the Barossa Valley since 2012, with fruit picked earlier to capture freshness, then made with a minimal-intervention approach and no additions bar sulphur at bottling. Now also working with grapes from the Riverland, Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley, Graham makes varietal wines – chardonnay, riesling, chenin blanc, carignan and syrah – as well as complex white, rosé and red blends, with judicious amounts of whole bunch and skin contact employed to create complex, complete wines that are as focused on elegant flavour as they are on texture and structural detail.

“The wines I make are a culmination of the years spent travelling around the world with a focus on minimal-intervention winemaking,” says Graham. “I think at the time when I started making wine there were only a dozen or so winemakers focusing on reducing their influence on winemaking style, but now, minimal-intervention winemaking has grown a lot, which is great to see.”

Graham comes from winemaking stock. His father is a winemaker, with the family based in the largely bulk winegrowing area of Yenda, in New South Wales’ Riverina. While working for some larger players in his home region, Graham completed a double degree in viticulture and winemaking at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga.

With vintages spent in Central Otago, Canada, Portugal, Hermitage in France’s Rhône Valley and in Barolo, Italy, Graham returned to work at a larger concern in the Barossa before joining RedHeads Wines in 2014, helping to reinvigorate the winemaking and brand. In 2017, he left to dedicate himself to his Sigurd label fulltime, which he had launched in 2012.

“In the Barossa, we are steeped in tradition and a way to do things and a style to follow. I think over the past five to ten years that has changed quite a bit, and also the people who drink the wines has changed as well. I work in the same shed as a few fellow minimal-intervention and organic-focused winemakers – it’s a hive of exploration and experimentation.”

Although Graham landed in the Barossa after his travels, it wasn’t his first choice as a region, confessing that he actually drove a parcel of grenache fruit up from McLaren Vale to make the first Sigurd wine. “But after slowly making contacts through winemaking and being able to source fruit, the experimentation of trying a different style to the traditions of the Barossa gained traction. I still source fruit from other regions, like the Clare Valley for chenin blanc and high in the Adelaide hills for pinot noir and chardonnay, where these varieties work best, in my mind.”

This approach of rethinking the Barossa that began to resonate with Graham saw him tweak winemaking away from what was seen as the Barossa norm, moving from a more-is-more ethos to a more refined take. That’s not to say that he pushed aggressively in the other direction, but rather finessed the process. Graham picked earlier, but not alarmingly so, he introduced whole bunches, but typically a smaller portion (except for his carignan, which is 100 per cent), he used native yeasts, and he preferred to not fine or filter – a traditional winemaking approach, essentially, if not perhaps a traditional Barossa one.

“In the Barossa, we are steeped in tradition and a way to do things and a style to follow. I think over the past five to ten years that has changed quite a bit, and also the people who drink the wines has changed as well. I work in the same shed as a few fellow minimal-intervention and organic-focused winemakers – it’s a hive of exploration and experimentation.”

This exploration has also seen Graham embrace blends, finding that sometimes varietal wines were not as complete as he would like them. “With the Sigurd blended wines, I think having many components has been the golden rule. I use a mixture of whole bunch fermentation, carbonic fermentation and standard destemmed open vat ferments. Also, I use a mixture of élevage in stainless-steel tank and oak, from 2,500-litre foudres to barriques. All these parcels help me to create intriguing wines with depth and complexity.”

“It would be amazing to be able to leave a patch of land that I have bought as good or even better off than when I started to farm it for future generations. This ethos is what I focus on in the winery and try to work with the vineyard owners I buy fruit from. Hopefully, this respect for the fruit that arrives in the winery also translates into great wines. With these adjustments, I can focus on other aspects of packaging, bottling etc. to try to reduce my impacts on the planet, hopefully be able to reduce waste and create a sustainable brand. Not the easiest of tasks but a fight worth fighting.”

That approach sees Graham somewhat classically blend grenache with syrah, malbec and carignan, though nebbiolo has been included before, too, while the white and rosé take a less-common path. The blends are constantly changing, but the 2020 white is made up of semillon, vermentino, chardonnay and muscat, while the 2019 rosé is comprised of grenache, sauvignon blanc, syrah and pinot gris with a splash of gewürztraminer.

Along with sourcing fruit from across the Barossa, including riesling from the High Eden, the Adelaide Hills and the Riverland, Graham has been tending his own plot of vines since 2014, with a long-term lease on a section of vines in Barossa’s south. “I have been trialling using no sprays, cultivation or mowing and reducing the usage of water. It has been tough trying to get a crop from the vineyard the last couple of years, but it has slightly paid off this year with a small crop that I am very happy with the quality, and also the wine.”

This push to sustainability is an important one for Graham, both in the vineyard and the winery. “It would be amazing to be able to leave a patch of land that I have bought as good or even better off than when I started to farm it for future generations. This ethos is what I focus on in the winery and try to work with the vineyard owners I buy fruit from. Hopefully, this respect for the fruit that arrives in the winery also translates into great wines. With these adjustments, I can focus on other aspects of packaging, bottling etc. to try to reduce my impacts on the planet, hopefully be able to reduce waste and create a sustainable brand. Not the easiest of tasks but a fight worth fighting.”