Meet Cellr’s Weekly Crush: Judy Kelly from the Adelaide Hills based winery paving the way for alternate varieties, Artwine Estate. The multi-award winning Artwine Estate is owned and run by Judy and Glen Kelly, with a focus around Mediterranean varieties that are easily paired with food, as well as sustainable to grow in the Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills. Among the first to explore growing and producing such styles in these regions, they now showcase an impressive 16 varieties across their vineyards. We were lucky to catch Judy between wine making and their recently reopened Artwine Cellar Door to talk to her about her journey to wine, how Artwine became what it is, varieties galore, sustainability, high ceilings, growing grapes against the odds, awards, gorgeous dogs and much more!
So Judy, tell us a bit about yourself and what led you and your partner Glen to vineyard production, going the alternate route with Mediterranean varieties and eventually starting Artwine in 2008.
I was born in the UK and then spent some time travelling before I arrived in Australia… and never left! Before coming to Australia I had worked as a purser on a cross channel car ferry to France almost daily. It was here that I was introduced to amazing wines, that at the time in my youth I did not realise the importance of. However, this whetted my appetite to experience more. The wine interest has always been a part of my life, with the European food friendly styles of most interest. This was also where I discovered I had a good palate.
After a marketing career for several years in Sydney and New York, I accepted a position as Director of Sales and Marketing for Hyatt in Adelaide. This also allowed my wine interest to develop further. I also wrote in conjunction with an illustrator and cartoonist a humorous book called “Vine Lines” that was published both here, the UK and USA.
When Glen and I met we had a shared passion for alternative varieties, which we decided to capitalise on and grow. Glen had already started to plant some on his vineyard, where we have now expanded dramatically. Against the region’s advice we continued planting new varieties, which we were told we would never sell. Yes, it was tough in the beginning as growers, but we kept our day jobs and spent every weekend in Clare working on our passion. Then in 2008 we bit the bullet and I concentrated on starting our Artwine brand.
Finally we purchased the Adelaide Hills vineyard where our Cellar Door is situated. This allowed us to plant cooler climate varieties that we had had a long obsession with, mainly Albarino and Prosecco. We both wish we had started earlier with this wine passion, but c’est la vie we are not done yet!
Artwine has a strong focus on sustainability in wine. While it is beginning to become more and more the topic of discussion within the wine industry, how do you go about engaging consumers in conversations around this? Which of your wines is it that gets people most interested in your new world approach to wine making in Australia?
Our vision and passion has and will continue to be making wines from alternative varieties that are ideally suited and climatically appropriate to the Mediterranean climates of both the Clare Valley and the cooler Adelaide Hills.
We will leave a legacy of beautifully managed and sustainable vineyards with one of the largest plantings in the country of alternative varieties. We invest heavily back into the land and the wine industry to create vineyards that produce effectively and with minimal intervention.
We have two new varieties being planted in Clare late this year and we are grafting over to another variety that is more appropriate on our Adelaide Hills vineyard. This will give us 16 varieties in total which is no mean feat. It’s one of the stories we tell our customers as to why we started planting the varieties we have – it’s simply that they grow superbly in the right place and then happily go on to produce great fruit.
We spend a lot of time researching each variety as to its climatic suitability, as that is our main requisite. We pick more on flavour as that is what drives the popularity of our wines.
Wine starts in the vineyard and we know so many vignerons that struggle with the wrong varieties in the wrong spot!
So tell us, do you have any #winedogs?
Our beautiful wine dogs, who feature in the Wine Dogs book, are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers called Coco and Billie. They love running in the vineyard or sitting at my feet when I am in my office. They are both loving and loyal companions who are totally spoilt and dearly loved. We also have three other children with two legs to whom I am a proud stepmother!
Your cellar door is stunning, what inspired the almost glass house design? What is your strategy to cellar door visitation, and how important is it for Artwine?
The inspiration for our cellar door came from the incredible views we are blessed with that are a major feature we did not want to block in any way. We found our incredible front doors before we found the architect to build around them! I have a love of high ceilings and space so the design was largely influenced by what we wanted and it has worked incredibly well.
Cellar door visitation is crucial to us. We have created a beautiful seated tasting experience that allows us to showcase these wonderful varieties and create a unique tasting for our customers that includes potentially all varieties they might not have tried before.
On the Wine Market… We asked Judy to shed some light on her 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.
What other channels do you use to engage customers to buy your wine outside the cellar door? What do you do in these channels?
We have a large wine club that has been going for years now with a loyal base of customers who have been amazingly supportive of us through both Covid and the bush fires that affected us. We also have representation in Sydney, however the most important part of our business is direct to consumer and that will continue to grow.
How important is it for you to engage customers?
Engaging with our customers is the most important thing we do, they are the soul of our business. Add to this employing the right staff who share our passion for the varieties and our customers is our major priority.
On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Judy about her views on authentication and her 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.
Talk to us about your supply chain, 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?
Supply chain – now here’s an interesting question which I am going to answer honestly. Restaurants and retailers can often be a nightmare and use us a bank, distribution needs to change from its current form. No other industry would allow this to happen and makes for a very difficult time when people do not pay their accounts on time. We do not export at this stage as we can sell our wines to Australians who are engaging with us and these new varieties. Living in such a food and wine loving country it is such a pleasure to concentrate on our Australian consumers.
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?
As we don’t export or have any plans to, we don’t expect this to be an issue for us. But there has to be authenticity and integrity behind all wines sold.
What wine are you most excited about after V20, and why is this?
The 2020 vintage has been a challenge as we lost 100% fruit from our Hills vineyard to smoke taint. The Clare vineyard produced, but with yields down 50-60% – so it’s been a tough year. Having said that the Clare fruit is looking really good and we have just bottled some whites with our fiano, pinot grigio and viognier again looking fantastic. We have also just bottled a fortified which we believe is a first for its variety for a release later this year.
What are some Australian wineries or winemakers that inspire you? In what ways do you want Artwine to inspire others?
We have always been inspired by the King Valley and their concentration and passion of Italian varieties. Wineries such as Coriole and Primo in SA are also inspirational again for their innovation with new alternatives. Another winery that inspires us is Hahndorf Hill, who pioneered Grüner Veltliner in the Adelaide Hills and have a true passion for Austrian varietals. Grüner Veltliner is a variety we have embraced, and one that has done exceedingly well for us by adding some major bling to the trophy cabinet!
We endeavour to be inspirational to both Clare and the Hills regions with our plantings. We were the first to produce Graciano and Fiano in the Clare Valley and are still the only Hills Albariño.
What is your favourite Artwine, and what is your favourite memory that you associate with it?
What is my favourite Artwine – well firstly like all good mothers I love my wine children equally but … if I had to choose it would be Albarino as a white and Graciano for the reds.
The memories associated with both are two incredible trips to Spain and Portugal, where we also researched Alvarinho from the north of Portugal. Beautiful countries and memorable times that inspired us to further develop these two varieties and are ones that we are passionate about. Many wine industry people would recall the fiasco of the CSIRO mix up with Albarino and Savagnin, we nearly got caught up in that debacle but narrowly escaped it and then patiently waited 10 years for our beloved Albarino to be in a bottle –it was worth the wait.
Favourite photo of yourself and Glen?
This was one of the most exciting days for us as we were awarded three trophies, including the wine of show at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. The ultimate dream for us became a reality that day and one we will never forget – it awarded us the goal that we have striven for!
We have been awarded 25 trophies overall, among which are for the best alternatives in Australia by Winestate. These include trophies for fiano and gruner veltliner for the last two consecutive years, and previously for montepulciano and pinot grigio.
Last year we were also awarded best alternative white for our fiano by the Sydney Royal Wine show and the Rutherglen wine show.
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