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We aim to send out an annual letter with an offer of our latest wines in early Spring. Here is a copy of our last newsletter, as we didn’t release any wines in 2020.
There goes the first ten years of Ruggabellus. We’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time now. It almost feels like it was in another lifetime that Emma and I bravely committed to buying our first few tonnes of grapes. We were excited to explore the wine-making techniques learnt in local cellars and others we’d imagined whilst reading about this beautiful and ancient craft. The reason we’ve been looking forward to this is because a decade feels like a significant period of time … enough time to settle in to our craft, accrue some meaningful knowledge and most importantly, enough time for the knowledge to manifest itself in our work. We are privileged to still be in business and grateful for the opportunity to be able to reflect on these foundation years!
In early 2009, Emma and I made our first wines. I was working for Pete and Magali at their Spinifex winery here in the Barossa. Their encouragement to begin our own small wine business was crucial. As we sit looking out over the 80 year old vines next to our rustic farmhouse, we are eternally grateful for their advice to ‘just start’.
In these first ten years we’ve explored fruit from many different elevations, aspects, soil matrices, from different aged vines, harvested at different times. We have stuck with our interest in the core varieties of our region, Shiraz, Mataro, Grenache, Riesling and Semillon. Along the way we have found, and fallen in love with, some remnant Cinsault and the ancient Muscat au petit grains. We’ve evolved the techniques we use for the wine-making. Among them, varying the percentage of whole bunch in each ferment. Varying the time on skins, the mix of varieties, the quantity and vigour of pigeage (pushing down of the skins during fermentation). We’ve carefully assessed the influence of air on each wine, observed the effect of time spent on lees, even shared the lees around when we liked it, and we’ve had to develop an instinct for how much racking (careful removal of the wine from its lees/sediment) best suited each wine prior to bottling. The majority of this happened in the first five years!
Then we bought a beautiful old farm and the exploring started all over again! We varied the time of pruning, trialled different techniques of pruning, we considered, and varied the height of the trellis and catch wires. We have spent many hours thinking about the application of copper, sulphur, seaweed brew and compost tea, we’ve learnt to respect the value of shoot thinning ……..and then there is the soil! Soil is always at the heart of any good conversation about wine. We feel like we are only just getting started on that one – a life’s work in the making I predict! A variety of methods have been used to manage our soil under the vines – to leave, mow, knife or silly plough and return with the disc? Yes, there is such a thing as a ‘silly plough’. Similar in the mid-rows – to leave, to plough, to cover crop, graze with sheep or geese, chop, roll or slash? And the timing of each of these – just like that of harvest, is arguably the most critical bit, the bit that has the greatest impact on what ultimately ends up in those neat little lightweight and environmentally conscious bottles of ours.
Each year the Spring period is incredibly important for our old dry grown vines. We don’t have an irrigation system so the ability of our soil to hold the Winter rains is critical. Quite simply, life and moisture go hand in hand in. It seems logical that in order to retain more moisture in our soil we must retain more life in our soil. We are working hard on that. Here in the Barossa it is a balancing act between regeneration/preservation and damage/depletion. Each season has its unique peculiarities outside of the more predictable annual rhythm of cold (and hopefully wet) Winters and warm and dry Summers. We are working on our instinct for responding to the seasons and are committed to building more resilience in our farm – these beautiful old vines have survived the best part of eighty years. We are enjoying the responsibility of giving them the best chance to survive the same again.
Gee, we have been busy! We are proud of what we have learnt. We’ve endured some tough lessons along the way. We now have a better understanding of a parcel of fruit’s potential as well as its limitations. More importantly we know how to look for limitations. It has been rewarding to develop this understanding. It has led us to acquire an instinct for what to pay attention to, how to make choices to maximise the quality from our effort. There is value in all those mistakes after all!
We even made it into the New York times this year! I must admit, I was a bit bemused at how much that meant to some people? But there were some lovely words about us in a thoughtful piece of writing by Eric Asimov. If you would like to read it we have provided a link here:
We remain open and ready for the lessons ahead. Many layers have been added to that original foundation for Ruggabellus. It has been a complex, challenging, heartbreaking, thrilling, mind bending and rewarding experience. We are attempting to pace ourselves a little better now, aware that there is no such thing as a ‘finish line’ when it comes to something so creative. We are even entertaining the idea of maintenance, maintenance for our soil, maintenance for the equipment we use and to be frank, maintenance for the mental and physical health of ourselves and our children! Please wish us luck with that, we welcome any tips – we are well aware that ‘busyness’ is becoming a bit of a pandemic. Perhaps some fine wine could help…..
All the best from Abel, Emma, Bailin, Rouille – Kirra, Banksy and Wolfhagen