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Chad Connolly White Gate Wine Co.

Top Winemakers

White Gate Wine Co. was founded by Chad and Georgia Connolly, who set out to frame the Barossa in a more elegant light, with earlier picking, plenty of whole bunch for reds and a minimal intervention approach. Working loosely with growers or leasing vineyards, the Connollys aim is to make wines they love to drink, elegant, balanced and light on their feet.

Chad and Georgia Connolly both grew up near to the Barossa Valley, and are now married and settled down in its midst. “My wife, Georgia – Gee – and I went along to a small gathering of local producers called Little & Local at El Estanco a few years ago. We had a great afternoon, sat in the car after, looked at each other with the same vision, and White Gate was born. We have been riding the rollercoaster ever since!”

“I found winemaking styles from Beaujolais and Burgundy interesting, so I began to explore these regions and their winemaking styles. I wanted to create delicate wines but was surrounded by a region famous for big bold shiraz.”

Chad Connolly had studied winemaking, but unlike so many young makers, he has not roamed far. “I feel I am able to look at the world of wine through an unbiased lens,” he says. “While studying winemaking at Charles Sturt University, I hadn’t worked at another winery or been trained to follow a certain winemaking approach. Working fulltime and happy with my employment, I decided to take on a small parcel of fruit from a friend to experiment in 2018.”

And while Connolly may not have indulged his wine wanderlust, his inspirations are certainly from far and wide. “I found winemaking styles from Beaujolais and Burgundy interesting, so I began to explore these regions and their winemaking styles. I wanted to create delicate wines but was surrounded by a region famous for big bold shiraz.”

That approach led to him picking fruit early, inspired in part by the wines of Tom Shobbrook and Taras Ochota, as well as Burgundy luminaries Christophe Roumier of Domaine Georges Roumier, and Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac. “I found their precision and decision making based on variances in vintage fascinating,” says Connolly. “The great positive for my winemaking approach is I feel I can take parts I’ve learnt from each of these influences, and then apply what practices I think best suit our style.”

Connolly regards the first great success was when they decided to pick some durif (petite sirah) early for their first vintage, then fermented it cab-mac. “This was a little idea I drummed up one night on my way to sleep – sometimes where the best ideas are formed. In the Barossa, this variety is usually picked relatively late, is super astringent and tannin heavy. Cab-mac and picking early kept acid in check, and the intracellular fermentation also kept tannin and astringency to a balance.”

“In the winery, we hand-tend to every ferment. Every ferment is small. We basket press all wines. We use old oak and let our red wines go through a natural malolactic fermentation. All of our red wines stay on lees until just prior to bottling, usually just prior to summer in the same year. We bottle, cork, hand label and wax every bottle ourselves. True control from vine to glass and a true labour of love. We do not add sulphur, bar a touch pre bottling. The resulting wines are light, naturally balanced and what we love to drink.”

That early picking approach underpins all the White Gate wines, with an express desire to reflect a lighter, more elegant side of the Barossa. “We let taste and natural acidity define our pick times. As concentration and flavour profile build to a sweet spot in tune with a zippy natural acidity, we tend to pick,” says Connolly. “In the winery, we hand-tend to every ferment. Every ferment is small. We basket press all wines. We use old oak and let our red wines go through a natural malolactic fermentation. All of our red wines stay on lees until just prior to bottling, usually just prior to summer in the same year. We bottle, cork, hand label and wax every bottle ourselves. True control from vine to glass and a true labour of love. We do not add sulphur, bar a touch pre bottling. The resulting wines are light, naturally balanced and what we love to drink.”

And while that winemaking process, typically with plenty of whole bunch for reds, is generally true for the White Gate wines thus far, Connolly stresses that they will never apply a recipe. “We would rather make a decision based on the growing season and be flexible to implement changes to suit,” he says. “We want to make wines that have the quirks from the character blocks we pick our fruit from. Making wines with a hands-off approach is what drives us to produce the wines we are passionate about – giving fruit care from hand-picking to bottling just makes sense.”

Connolly notes that their long-term dream is to have a small block of their own, which they would manage organically, but this ambition is no more important than their focus on grower sites. “Our goal is to try and find small vineyards that we can maintain and make terroir-expressive, hands-off wines from.”

Currently they manage riesling, old vine semillon and old vine grenache vines, “all of which are farmed using organic practices”. The semillon and grenache block joined their roster of sites in the 2021 season. “It is a small 90-year-old planting in Nuriootpa,” says Connolly. “We have been busy pruning this block, shoot thinning and retraining some areas. The fruit quality is looking exceptional and consistent through the block.”

Fruit for their 2020 Syrah and 2020 Cabernet Syrah both come off dark clay soils from a site in Tanunda, which Connolly says they pick at least a week or two earlier than others who source from the vineyard. “We are in control from the vineyard to filling the bottle,” he says. “Wines in our range come from some small character vineyards we look after, and in the cases we don’t, we work closely with the grower. We truly want to showcase these amazing Barossa blocks and make wines that allow the fruit to do the talking, with minimal intervention.”