If grapes could speak they would be thanking Jason Schwarz, winemaker and owner of Schwarz Wine Company. Based in the Barossa Valley, Jason lends a lot of the credit for his bright and delicious wines to the fruit, natural yeast and growers. We recently spoke to Jason about life as a “hands-off” winemaker in the Barossa Valley, and it’s a life certainly well lived!
You started off with a degree in wine marketing, what was it that made you switch into winemaking?
I never had any intention of becoming a winemaker and even though I worked for several local vineyards and wineries, I decided to study wine marketing at Roseworthy Agricultural College with a view to avoid grape-growing or winemaking! After studying I decided to broaden my horizons and headed off to Europe to tour vineyards and work in wineries and that is where I discovered my passion for winemaking. I found I really enjoyed the hands-on, practical side of making wine and my experiences overseas and the knowledge and skills I learnt during this time, inspired me to pursue my new-found passion.
Jason and Nikia Schwarz with children
Talk to us about your hands-off, intuitive approach in the winery?
My aim is to have a portfolio of fresh and vibrant wines and to always showcase the fruit and the vineyards they were grown in. My growers are the backbone to my wines and they are the ones who do the hard work. I purely take the fruit they have grown and let it do its magic. I have forged long-term relationships with all of my growers and am fortunate to be able to purchase some of the Barossa’s best old-vine fruit. I don’t add yeast, instead allowing the yeast from the vineyard to start the fermentation process giving a true site character. I also enjoy using whole bunch fruit in the ferments to give a brightness and tannin structure that isn’t always seen in Barossa wines.
Tell us about Schwarz Wine Co., what motivated you to start your own label, what’s the journey been like so far and what can we look forward to in the future?
My parents planted their first vineyard in 1968, the year they were married, and used to sell the fruit from this vineyard to local wineries. When I made the decision to start making wine in 2001, I asked my parents if I could purchase a small parcel of fruit from their Nitschke Block Shiraz vineyard. They agreed and Schwarz Wine Company was born. In 2002, I also then purchased half a tonne of fruit from their Thiele Road Grenache vineyard. In 2005 my parents withdrew their contracts with other wineries and allowed me to use both vineyards to grow my production. In honour of their commitment to my craft, I named these wines after the vineyards (Nitschke Block Shiraz and Thiele Road Grenache) and have continued to make both wines ever since (with the exception of 2011 vintage) I now have my own facility located on my parent’s property just down the road from where I grew up, which brings me full circle back to my roots.
My number #1 goal has always been to make great wine that people enjoy. Wine is so open to interpretation and can at times spark some pretty interesting conversations – it evokes passion! I really enjoy watching people get enjoyment
Moving forward there will be some exciting things to come from Schwarz Wine Co. In 2019 I planted some Grenache Blanc vines on my family’s property and we will hopefully have our first vintage of these next year, if not the year after. I enjoy stepping away from the norm and look forward to adding this wine to my portfolio. Our distribution is ever increasing and we encourage people to connect with us on socials so they can share with us their Schwarz Wine Co finds.
What gets people excited about Schwarz Wine Co.?
I think when people think of Barossa Valley red wines they are still quick to think of the classic bold style of wine. So when they try my wines they are pleasantly surprised to find a style that is so approachable, yet still offers them everything they are looking for in the glass. I love seeing people’s reactions to my wines and enjoy doing tastings and talking to the consumers.
If a bottle of your wine could talk, what would it say?
I would hope it says ‘drink me now!’
How do you engage your consumers, and in what ways can this be challenging?
It’s always hard to find the time to balance customer interaction with time in the winery and with COVID we’ve not been able to do as many trade events as we would normally like to. We try to maintain a face-to-face presence with our customer base as we understand how important this is in engaging effectively with them! It’s a great opportunity to really showcase the Schwarz brand and our story and relate to them individually as well.
We’ve seen a definite growth in online connections, largely due to Covid and this will be a trend that will continue to grow. We engage through our social media channels, an email newsletter and also through trade events, although with Covid putting a halt to these we have found that we need to work harder online to ensure we maintain the brand presence with our consumers. I’d say that’s been our biggest challenge this year, is learning how to effectively engage online!
How do you see yourself connecting your brand with the market in the future?
As above, we’ve definitely seen a shift in the online space and this will continue post Covid. We will continue to increase our online engagement as a result and be more active with our email newsletters etc. We try to keep it light and fun whilst keeping people up to date with our happenings.
We will continue to grow our direct to consumer sales and will therefore find relevant trade events to ensure we maintain this opportunity to be directly connecting with the public. Our quarterly wine club, Black, is also a great way for us to show value to our customers and connect with them on a more intimate level.
We are fortunate to have fantastic distributors placed nationally and they put in a great effort at ensuring that our brand is well represented in their states.
If there is one story people should know about Schwarz Wine Co. what would it be?
I hated working in the family vineyards when I was young, just wanting to go and kick the footy or ride my bike instead. Now I really enjoy working with my growers to get the most from the fruit in their vineyards
How do you keep the Schwarz Wine Co. story consistent as it passes hands throughout the supply chain?
Its not always easy but we try and keep it fairly simple and honest. I don’t complicate my story or my wines.
When you’re not in the winery what are you up to? Any interesting hobbies?
When I started my own business, I thought I would have time to play golf and go fishing. I think I have played golf once since then….. now that I have three children I enjoy spending time with them at sports. Family holidays are usually to a beach side town where we all fish, it’s not always relaxing but great to be away from everyday business. My kids would probably say my hobby is sleeping in front of the TV!