September 30, 2020

Elderton Wines, Family Vines

By Angela Oemcke

This week Cellr was lucky enough to chat with Elderton Wines’ own Cameron & Allister Ashmead, and winemakers Jules Ashmead and Brock Harrison. As many know, Elderton Wines is one of Australia’s highly recognised wine labels globally, with its success being a reflection of 40 years of hard work and dedication by the Ashmead family. Built from the ground up in the Barossa Valley by the Ashmeads, Elderton Wines consistently delivers world class wines across the board. So let’s get acquainted with the driving forces behind your favourite label…

To follow Elderton Wines’ story check them out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter! Also, check out their website to find out more about their story and head over to their online shop to see their entire range. 

A special thank you for Karli Currie, Sales and Marketing at Elderton Wines, for her assistance in putting this article together. 

First things first, does Elderton Wines have a winery cat or dog? 

Tigerpuss, the Elderton winery cat. Whilst she can be quite elusive she is much loved by customers and staff alike.

What do you think the future for engaging consumers with wine looks like for Elderton Wines, and the industry as a whole?

Cam: 
It will definitely be more online, especially post Covid, but eventually will go back to how it was as wine should be enjoyed with great food and people. 

Co-managing directors, Cameron & Allister Ashmead 

Elderton Wines is the result of your mother and father, Neil and Lorraine Ashmead, being given the derelict vineyards next to the homestead they purchased in Nuriootpa in the 80’s as a bonus by the realtor. What is it like experiencing the Elderton Wines brand grow from a vineyard in dire straits to one of the most globally recognised Australian wine labels?

Cam:
I don’t think about it like that.  I think about our 40 year journey and about all the hard work that was put in along the way, and maybe that has led to the recognition. We have striven to do our business authentically and sustainably, you have to be in this business to make great wine – that should be your #1 goal.

Al:
The story of the Ashmead’s creating Elderton is pretty remarkable. We often joke that it takes being in the industry for 40 years of back breaking work to become an overnight success! The reality though is that getting recognition for making great wine requires constant hard work, determination and an ability to roll with the punches. Both Cam and I dream for this recognition to continue into the third generation of Ashmeads and know there will be a lot more hurdles to jump in the short and long term future.

Prior to taking on roles in Elderton, you both spent some time working outside the family business, including time spent abroad. What was it that made you both, individually, decide to return to Elderton Wines and carry on your family’s legacy? 

Cam:
The lure for me was that I wanted to return home from being in Europe for 7 years, and in Sydney for 5 years before that.  The Barossa is an incredible place. It marries country living with big city sophistication.  Being lucky enough to have been born into wine country was a pretty big lure when you think about it.

Al: 
I had always known that I wanted to come home. The concept of the lifestyle is one that always appealed to me. Mum and Dad were resolute that we could only come home into the business if we had something to add to the winery. Studying, working in other wineries and also in distribution, as well as working and travelling abroad were integral in giving me an appreciation and understanding of what it takes to succeed in this game.

Both being heavily involved in the Barossa wine community, and Allister even being a previous Barossa Wine Auction chairman, what are you most excited about for this year’s Wine Auction? In what ways has the event changed over the years and what do you think the future holds for the auction? 

Cam: 
For the first time there will be one held in the Barossa and also in Sydney. That Sydney event will be exciting.

Al:
I love the auction for the excitement and anticipation that surrounds it. The competition to attain some of the Barossa’s greatest and rarest wines is great to watch. Historically, it has also been a pretty good lunch, but next year there will be some pretty good dinners!

The Cellr Founder, Chris Braine was able to turn a beer drinking Geordie into a wine lover after serving him your 2006 Ashmead Cabernet. Your wines seem to have a quality about them that many fall in love with quickly, what do you put that down to? 

Cam: 
For me it is balance, which is a term that is overused in the world of wine, but being Barossan we have a full-bodied style but it is paired with restraint and elegance.

Winemakers, Julie Ashmead and Brock Harrison 

As two exceptionally talented winemakers in your own right, where did your journey as a winemaker begin and what was the path that led each of you to Elderton Wines? 

Jules: 
I grew up in Rutherglen, and for as long as I recall I wanted to follow my Dad’s lead and study winemaking. I worked the school holidays at our winery, Campbells, and prior to studying winemaking I went to France on a student exchange and landed in St Emilion with a very passionate winemaking family. Post Uni I headed off to gain experience in Marlborough (NZ), Priorat (Spain), Maipo (Chile), Napa (CA) and in a few spots in my beloved Rhone, before returning to a permanent job based in the Barossa working with Shiraz from different regions.  My plan was always to head home to Rutherglen… and then I met Cam – and I’m still here! Eventually I began working with Eldy in 2016 in the winery and increasingly looking at vineyard operations also.

Brock:
My journey began at the age of 16 at Nuriootpa High School in the Barossa Valley. I was involved in the Wine Program that was offered to students in Year 10. They were the first High School in Australia to offer a wine program as part of secondary school education. During vintage a large majority of my time was spent learning the winemaking process, which back then was in a small tin shed on the school grounds. I was inspired by not only the science behind the process, but the hands on nature of it. From there my future pathway was set and I would then go on and study Oenology at the University of Adelaide. I was fortunate enough to complete my first vintage with Elderton back in 2005, which was part of my 4th year studies. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the winery during vintage and would also assist casually in the cellar throughout the year when not studying. After spending the best part of 14 years working for Pernod Ricard Winemakers in numerous Winemaking roles, the timing was perfect for me to head back to where it all started for me and I couldn’t be happier.

From a winemaking and viticulture point of view, which style of Elderton Wine do you find the most interesting, and which style are you most excited about from this year’s vintage? 

Jules: 
I love all the Rhone reds, but I would have to say Shiraz- with our three sites and scope in vine age and clonal variation there are so many expressions of this wonderful grape to work with.

Brock:
I would have to say our Old Vine Shiraz, specifically our 1915 planted Shiraz in Greenock that produces the Helbig 1915, and our 1894 planted Shiraz in Nuriootpa that produces the Command. Both of these vineyards have quite unique traits and thus viticulturally it requires quite detailed consideration of pruning requirements. This is not only in terms of bud numbers, but also timing of pruning, soil management, irrigation regimes and canopy structure to ensure the vines reach their full potential. 

From a winemaking perspective, both blocks present us interesting challenges in the winery, where it is our job to not only nurture the fruit through the winemaking process, but to also highlight the unique flavour and tannin profiles of these special blocks. I am super excited by our Command parcels of fruit from this year. A milder ripening period has really encapsulated the freshness, purity and depth of flavour with wonderfully layered and long tannins. Patience was the key this year and it is truly reflected in these wines. We also have a young Shiraz vineyard out at Greenock planted from cuttings taken from the Command block, which I believe has huge potential once the vines mature. The wine shows wonderful vibrancy of fruit, however it is the pedigree of the original 1894 block with its classic power, depth and long tannins that really shines through- which is what I am particularly excited about.

Elderton Wines have been at the forefront of sustainability in wine production, what do you think the future of winemaking will be as this becomes an increasingly important factor of consideration across the industry? 

Jules:
I know we are all going to need to become more accountable, which is an exciting reality.  Sustainable practices create greater awareness of all the required inputs and careful and minimal use of chemicals, together with waste management and ensuring we do everything we can to promote vine health, and hence the best possible quality fruit.

Brock:
From an individual perspective sustainability is something we need to be more than aware of so that we can really understand our environmental impact and how we can make a difference. Whether that be the additives we use in wine, how best to manage the peak energy demands in the winery or how we store and move wine around- these aspects all play a part. 
Thinking more broadly there are already a number of initiatives that are in place here, such as the use of rainwater in the winery and reducing our carbon emissions through the use of solar. Out in the vineyard the focus is definitely on limiting, and where we can eliminating, chemicals that we put out, to ensure the future health and sustainability of our most precious resource (earth).

Brock, as a fresh face on the Elderton team, having only joined August 2019, what are you most excited about joining Elderton Wines?

Brock: 
Where do I start? Firstly, I feel privileged to join such a wonderful and cohesive team, who are all dedicated to making high quality wines year on year. 
Secondly, the Barossa is home to much smaller sub regions, that whilst they may not be all classified officially, are unique in terms of their soil type, climate and ultimately the style of wine they produce. The fact I get to work closely with Estate owned fruit from 3 of these sub regions in Nuriootpa, Greenock and Eden Valley is super exciting and also extremely motivating. 

Finally, we have quite a difference in vine age across the 3 sites anywhere from 2 years through to 125 years, in addition to varietal and clonal differences. Being able to see, smell and taste firsthand the intricacies of each parcel of fruit, and together with Jules put our influence on the wines, whilst respecting tradition, was ultimately the driving force to join the team at Elderton. 

Jules, including yourself there are a few Barons of the Barossa among the Elderton Wines clan. What does it mean to be part of the wine fraternity, and what role does it play in supporting Barossa wine, viticulture, gastronomy, heritage and the arts?

Jules: 
I feel very grateful and very underutilised as a Baron. I was lucky to be asked to be a part of the team based around work I have done in the past and I look forward to contributing a lot more in the future as time permits. The Barons are a wonderful blend of old and younger generations.  They offer a wealth of knowledge and passion for our Barossa.  Being a part of the group to me means respecting our rich and diverse history and ensuring we remain at the top of our game. 

On the Wine Market…We asked the Elderton team to shed some light on their experience in the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for producers. Find out more here

What do you think makes Elderton Wines such a standout label globally? 

Cam: 
Quality, Tradition, Authenticity, Value and a great family story

Which wine from the Elderton portfolio do you favour or feel most akin to, and why? 

Cam:
You cannot go past Command Shiraz.  A vineyard planted in 1894 and is one of the world’s greatest shirazes.

Jules: 
I love our Neil Ashmead Grand Tourer Shiraz- so expressive and a little bit different- allowing for vintage variation to play its part.

On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Cam about his views on authentication and his current supply chain management. At Cellr we want to understand how producers feel about the current systems in place and make a packaging solution that is consistent with what they need. Find out what we do for brand protection and supply chain track and trace.

With the global explosion of wine fraud pushing into the mid/premium brackets due to sheer volume, how important is it for wine consumers to be able to identify your (legitimate) products via anti-counterfeit measures?

Cam: 
Very, but we have not experienced this issue with Elderton as yet.

In what ways do you currently have visibility of your products after they leave the winery? What impact would having detailed data showing you where (in the world) and when your wine is being opened by the consumer?

Cam: 
We use Google Analytics, Vivino and Wine-Searcher to get a gauge on where and whom is drinking our wine.  

To follow Elderton Wines’ story check them out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter! Also, check out their website to find out more about their story and head over to their online shop to see their entire range. 

A special thank you for Karli Currie, Sales and Marketing at Elderton Wines, for her assistance in putting this article together. 

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