Over the past 175 years, the Barossa has quietly forged an international reputation as one of the world’s great wine regions, its name now standing comfortably alongside those of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Napa and the like. Home to the world’s oldest vines, arguably its greatest Shiraz and some of the best known names in wine, there is little doubt Barossa is Australia’s most famous wine region.
Names such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Peter Lehmann, Rockford, Torbreck, Henschke etc are very familiar to Singaporean wine drinkers, and have been the bedrock of Barossa’s international fame for many years. But over the past 20 years or so, many new independent wineries have emerged, swelling the ranks of Barossa winemakers to over 170. This incredible expanse of winemaking talent, combined with an immensely diverse vineyard landscape, now produces a dazzling array of wine styles from both heritage varieties, and also intriguing alternates. Perhaps to the title of Australia’s most famous wine region, the Barossa can add the world’s most exciting wine region? For the quality of wine is universally outstanding, and the number of winemakers and the range of wine expression seemingly ever expanding.
One amongst many of this new generation of Barossa winemakers is Brothers at War, whose first shipment to Singapore landed recently. I caught up with winemaker Angus Wardlaw last week to learn more about his story and approach to Barossa wine, with the inevitable first question being who are the brothers, and why are they at war?
“It would be an understatement to say that my brother Sam and I didn’t really get along when we were growing up together in the Barossa. The sibling rivalry was intense, with plenty of bruises plus the occasional stitches. We could not have been any different if we’d tried, opposites in every possible way – that was of course until wine came into our lives when we finished school.”
The Wardlaw name is not new to Barossa wine, with the brothers’ father David spending time over his winemaking career with luminaries such as Peter Lehmann, Wolf Blass, John Glaetzer and Jim Irvine. “Growing up in Barossa, wine wasn’t strange to us, and when I left school I didn’t consider any other career than being a winemaker. Sam was also interested, and we made our first wine together in 2011. And whilst it was the first time we’d agreed on anything in our lives, it seemed right to defer to the story of our lives together and adopt the name ‘Brothers at War’ for our new label. Our lives together as brothers has since supplied plenty of inspiration for naming our wines.”
The brothers are living proof of the remarkable compatibility of contrasting characters, and like many sibling partnerships they have found a way to work with each other….without actually working with each other! “There’s no doubt the rivalry is still there, but we’ve each found our own place in the business and we make it work. I’m in charge of the winemaking and do most of the heavy lifting on the PR side. As for Sam, he’s his own man and does what he wants to do. The good thing is he does what I don’t want to do! He’s in a state of constant motion back at the winery looking after the nuts and bolts of our operation, making everything work and ensuring the wines I make find their way into bottles with labels, corks, cartons and screwcaps along the way. It’s a great partnership in that way – each to their own, but together making it work famously.”
In less than 10 years, the quality of their wines has pushed Brothers at War to the fore of Barossa wine. The awards started early on, with trophy for the Best Small Producer at the 2016 Barossa Wine Show an indication of the talent at play in this new winery. The winery was fast tracked to 5 star status in James Halliday’s Wine Companion on the back of a string of strong reviews, and this year their Single Vineyard Grenache was rated Halliday’s Best Grenache with a remarkable 99 points for the 2018 vintage.
“There’s no doubt that award had the phone at the winery ringing hot, and it’s nice to be acknowledged amongst the great names in Australian wine. Especially when you’re a young winemaker with a new winery. But how can I not make great wine when I’m making it in the most remarkable place – maybe the only wine region in the world than can claim to be both a warm climate and a cool climate. The old vines, the diversity of terroir, the great names around this place that have paved the way for guys like me are all sources of inspiration. We’re just so lucky to be able to source fruit from these amazing vineyards to make our wine.”
In many ways, the wines from Brothers of War reflect where Barossa wine is now at. Far from the days of ponderous, heavily oaked and uber ripe reds, these wines display exceptional balance and purity of fruit flavour, with the influence of the winemaker more a guided, than a heavy, hand. They are also serve as valued proponents for the Eden Valley’s case to be considered independently of the Barossa Valley as a great wine region. “The origins of quality for Barossa wine lie very much in the vineyard these days, with my generation adopting a minimal intervention approach in the winery. We’re fortunate to now have growers just as committed to growing top quality fruit, as we winemakers are obsessed with making world class wine. It’s a powerful partnership, and has elevated the overall standard of Barossa wine to an entirely new level over the past few decades.”
As a young bloke with a long career ahead, Angus is hugely excited about the future of the Barossa. “For an old wine region with plenty of established and famous names, this place defies expectations, and is in a state of constant evolution as collectively we aim to continue to make ever better wine. I’m hugely respectful of those that have gone before, and very thankful for the vineyard resources we can access to make our wines. None of what I do today would be possible without the commitment and endeavour of previous generations. There are no rules to making Barossa wine, and the spirit of experimenting, of trying something new, runs deep through the DNA of Brothers at War. We’re fascinated with the possibilities that come from exploring the influence of the landscape on individual vineyards and how we can convey that in the wines we make. And we definitely want to see the Eden Valley better known as a wine region, and acknowledged for its role in the larger Barossa wine story.”
For the older members of the Barossa wine community, the energy and drive of this generation combined with the respect for the history and traditions of the region must be of great comfort. Then there’s also the supreme quality of the wines. With the likes of Angus and Sam Wardlaw from Brothers At War, the future of Barossa is in very good hands. From Australia’s most famous, to the world’s most exciting region is a big step, but one you sense will inevitably be made.
Written by Howard Duncan, Barossa Valley.
Howard lives in Tanunda in Barossa Valley.
He knows that Barossa Shiraz is the most delicious and satisfying wine on the planet, and that Eden Valley Riesling contains magic restorative powers.
He is now hell bent on keeping the world's best kept wine secret - Barossa Grenache - a secret, and it's failing badly.
All photos from @brothers_at_wa IG and Bottles & Bottles.