There’s a magnetism to the wines of Tonic. A thing you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s a sum-of-the-parts scenario. A perfect storm of sensational juice, sexed-up packaging, scarcity and exceptional value which has sent the rare bird hunters of Australian wine into a tailspin over the last few years.
Tonic is but a few vintages old, but anticipation around each new release has become palpable amongst those in the know. But this was never the intent for the creators, they were just a little thirsty and needed something good to drink.
“We got to chatting one day and Glenn said we should make a barrel of Mataro…drink a bit and sell a bit to friends and family and it all just started from there. Mataro…the vinous anti-hero; the gumshoe grape… So we had our nervy, unshaven central character and we gave it a coat, a hat and a gun.”
Mataro has been historically overlooked in Australian wine - a bridesmaid, rarely a bride. But it was the perfect left-of-centre variety to kick off the Tonic story.
The ethos of the brand from the beginning was clear, “We had a one word winemaking brief: Delicious. That’s it. Simple. Make it for a reason, make it distinctive, ensure it feels like a Tonic wine each year…but most of all, make it delicious.” says Dan.
Since then, a mercurial, thirst-crushing Chardonnay from the Hills has been added to the range. A punk rock Grenache with crystal clear fruit also found its way into the fold. A pixie-like Nebbiolo and Rose followed not far behind.
The winemaking is set firmly to hands off mode. “...the winemaking style is one of benign neglect. Work with growers that we like and respect, who grow grapes in a sustainable way, get them into the winery, foot stomp and basket press, natural ferments, long macerations on skins and then into old oak and…nothing…don’t add anything, don’t take anything away. It’s a loose philosophy that works for us. The one exception to this rule is to add a little sulphur before bottling unfined and unfiltered.”
The wines released from 2016 so far: Grenache, Mataro and Chardonnay are blistering. The Grenache comes from old vines in the Clare Valley - picked on the early side for freshness as well as flavour. A Chardonnay which has a touch of the ‘Jura’ to it is about as more-ish as Chardonnay from this country gets. And the faithful Mataro, moody, broody and mysterious - just they way they want it.
As usual, the makes are minuscule: the demand far outstripping the supply. It has been an organic process for the wines to become so sought-after. The two blokes behind it more than happy stand back and let the wines do the talking.
In an era where winemakers are rockstars and marketing teams spin tales and court the wine media, that approach from Tonic is refreshing: “Tonic has never been about us. Most people don’t know we have anything to do with it. There’s not too much talking…we let the wines do that quietly and in their own way. People discover them in strange places and slowly over time. We don’t force feed tasting notes, rather let people make of it what they will.”