Syd Bradford’s Thick as Thieves label is just a decade old, but it is a firm star of the new wave of Yarra Valley makers. Somewhat tirelessly, Bradford has sourced the fruit from across the Yarra and North east Victoria, made the wines, bottled, marketed, sold and delivered them himself. And when he hasn’t been also holding down a day job, he’s been tending to a vineyard, while building a new hose, cellar door and winery. Bradford’s wines are made with minimal intervention, but with an eye to purity and drinking pleasure, with pinot noir, gamay, chardonnay, nebbiolo and arneis leading the way. Bradford was a Young Gun finalist in 2012 and 2013.
Bradford completed his degree in horticulture at the University of Technology Sydney in 1995. That led him to move from “Bondi to Beechworth” where he worked vintage at Pfeiffer wines in Rutherglen. Inching further south, and deeper into a career in wine, he worked at Coldstream Hills, Rochford and Domaine Chandon before landing more permanently at Giant Steps alongside the highly respected Steve Flamsteed.
Along the way, Bradford studied a wine science degree at Charles Sturt, graduating in 2008 (he even won the Dean’s Award of Academic Excellence). The 2009 vintage, while still at Giant Steps, saw Bradford’s first furtive steps in developing his own label. That first wine was ‘The Aloof Alpaca’, an arneis sourced from Hoddles Creek, and the first Thick as Thieves wine. It has remained central to the range. “Brief whole bunch skin contact, followed by full solids, wild yeast barrel ferment – the same technique I use 10 years on!”
That range grew, with Bradford making varietal pinot noir and chardonnay, as well as an early drinking gamay, a blend of gamay and pinot, a King Valley nebbiolo and a field blend co-ferment of sylvaner and gewürztraminer called ‘Leftfield Blend’. And though he was sourcing fruit from North East Victoria, the Yarra Valley was where his main focus would stay.
“The Yarra Valley is blessed with many microclimates and three to four distinct soil types that allow us to make world class expressions of classic varieties such as chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and cabernet,” Bradford says. “The collaborative and experimental mindset of its winemakers and viticulturists makes it Australia’s most exciting wine region”
Settling down for keeps in 2012, he and his wife, Anna, purchased a mature, dry-grown vineyard near Healesville. The site had a bit over a hectare of pinot noir in the ground, but Bradford has planted gamay, too, as well as increasing the pinot plantings with a variety of clones, including Abel – New Zealand’s most famous clone (supposedly illicitly taken as a cutting from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) – which will yield its first harvest in 2021. Bradford is also diversifying further, with plantings of nebbiolo, mencia and more gamay happening soon.
Since buying the vineyard, Bradford has rebuilt a house, expanding it significantly, digging the new winery underneath with a cellar door attached (a very personal, appointment-only affair with an expansive collection of vinyl and a turntable). And those home vines have started to supply some more serious layers to the bright and vibrant offerings first made under the TaT label. While the home block now contributes to Bradford’s blend of pinot noir and gamay (King Valley), ‘Driftwood’, as well as a single-barrel selection of that blend, the most distinctive fruit is bottled as a reserve wine, named ‘Levings’ after the vineyard’s previous owner.
Ever busy, Bradford is on the crest of building a new wing to the TaT portfolio. “Thick as Thieves has always been about minimal intervention wines that are great value and super drinkable, and after 10 years we’re about to launch our second label… Vicious Vino… fun, fruit driven wines for everyday drinking (Sid Vicious reference if you’re wondering).”