Amongst the mushroom speckled forests of the Adelaide Hills reside a troupe of artists and free spirits who walk to the beat of their own drum. The Basket Range, a small, circular collection of hills twenty minutes from the heart of Adelaide, has become over the last decade, a crucible of vignerons and winemakers in search of like minded people. It’s become the Australian Mecca for those who want to grow and make natural wine.
The wines that are flowing down the hillsides of this region are some of the most raw and honest amongst the Australian wine landscape. The collective mission of producers like Anton Van Klopper (Lucy Margaux) Jasper and Sophie Button (Commune of Buttons), Taras and Amber Ochota (Ochota Barrels) and others, is to take the natural wine movement to the world. And their message is being heard. As Tim Wildman MW wrote in his recent think piece on the most disruptive forces in Australian wine:
“The natural wine movement, as small as it may be in terms of volume, is shaking up the entire Australian wine industry, from top to bottom, from big brands to the corporates.”
Natural wines are an integral part of life for these producers. As Anton says, “Natural wines are for tables where discussions of life, love and beauty evolve, where your soul is bared and future dreams are captured.”Now, while these wines are being poured in all the trendy wine bars, catching people's eyes for their funky labels and wax sealed corks - this is not just marketing spin as the most cynical observers of this movement have said. To these producers, making natural wine comes naturally and fits into a greater philosophy of life. As Taras Ochota told Wildman, in the Basket Range, “Organics, biodynamics and a holistic approach to life is rife.”
The creation of these wines starts from the ground up. Anton and Jasper farm their vineyards organically and the growers in the area who contribute fruit to their labels have gotten on board. Jasper told us that it’s been a slow process and while his family owned vineyard is technically still ‘in conversion’, the ultimate goal for he and Sophie is “having a farm that allows the vines to cope with the environmental ebbs and flows.”
In the winery there are no additions, no subtractions, no fining or filtration, letting ferments happen in their own time at their own speed. There is a freedom amongst this crew to experiment with things such as extended time on skins, whole bunch ferments and unconventional blends.
It’s that freedom in their approach which makes these wines so thrilling and divisive. They’re unique, not hewn into some idea of variety and style. They can be cloudy or clean, gentle or bombastic but the common thread is originality. On the new release of the Commune of Buttons Chardonnay which spent 90 days on skins, Jasper says “it’s all about the texture, structure and minerality - it doesn’t necessarily look like Chardonnay as we know it but I love it”.
What’s coming out of the Basket Range is a feeling of collective exploration, a daring to be curious and take risks. These rogue winemakers are making a statement about their home and challenging the status quo. Gareth Belton from Gentle Folk, I think sums up the sentiments of this region nicely, “... we just make wine in the way we feel is right for the grapes and season and most importantly, with maximum drinkability and enjoyment in mind. We hope you enjoy.”
In the same way that the wines of Piedmont or the Loire Valley speak of a place and a culture, the wines of the Basket range speak of the special sites of the area and the people that make them. If you want to see why natural wines are one of the hottest topics in wine at present, exploring the Basket Range and the counterculture springing from there is the only place to start.