Wines by KT was started nearly a decade and a half ago on impulse. An opportunity to buy some excellent Clare Valley fruit saw Kerri Thompson jump from her corporate winemaking role and go it alone. Since then, Thompson has helped to redefine riesling in this country, with a drilling down on specific sites and a focus on sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming methods. Unlike many Clare makers, she also shuns acid additions, instead finding the balance in the vineyard, and plays with natural yeasts and barrel maturation with her more experimental styles. Thompson was a two-time Young Gun finalist in 2007 and 2008.
Completing her winemaking degree at Roseworthy College in 1993 (she enrolled at the tender age of 17), Thompson worked her first full vintage in the same year, with Tim Adams at Quelltaler in the Clare Valley. She then went on to work with the legendary Greg Trott at Wirra Wirra, and with Chianti superstar Paolo di Marchi at Isole e Olena, before taking on a career-defining role at Leasingham, when she took on the role of senior winemaker at age 24.
Although Thompson would make her name at Leasingham, things got off to a rocky start. She ranks her first riesling there, the 1999, as the worst wine she has ever made. Rather than being defeated by it, though, Thompson used it as impetus to examine all her processes and turn that ship around. From getting the lowest points in the class at the Clare Valley Wine Show, her 2000 wine scored the highest the following year, winning the Mick Knappstein Trophy for Best Riesling in Show.
Thompson launched her own label from the 2006 vintage, starting with a riesling from Bunny and Yvonne Peglidis’ Watervale vineyard. That wine was built on circumstance, rather than planning, with the growers anxious to find a buyer for some of their fruit. Thompson enshrined the Pegildis name on that first label, and today it has become one of the Clare Valley’s most famous monikers.
Thompson had worked with the Peglidis fruit at Leasingham, but when the opportunity came to buy the grapes herself, she decided time was up working for a large company and resigned a few days later. That first vintage was made at Skillogalee, with Thompson taking on the winemaking duties at Crabtree Wines not too long after the fact. Wines by KT continued to grow, however, with Thompson adding fruit from the Churinga vineyard, as well as the growers name to the label – making it an equally recognisable moniker for avid riesling drinkers.
And though riesling has been the calling card for Thompson’s Wines by KT, she also makes a multi-regional vermentino and a slew of reds, from the usual suspects – several shiraz, a straight cabernet and a couple of grenache blends – to an early-drinking tempranillo. On the riesling front, she champions her key vineyards with pure, tank-raised styles that never see acid or enzyme additions, while her ‘Melva’ (named after her grandmother) bottling is all wild-fermented in old barrels, then is regularly lees stirred and has a slip of sugar to add even more texture. Her Pazzo (crazy in Italian) label lets Thompson flex those creative muscles even more, with a wild-fermented, un-fined, unfiltered and sulphur-free riesling, and a similarly treated red that also happens to be a multi-vintage blend.