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AIMING HIGH

by / Comments Off on AIMING HIGH / 16 View / September 15, 2021

Newcomer Monteperle Wines is already achieving great things.

“I just saw there was an opportunity to do something really interesting,” Carapetis says. “It was a ground-up operation and I thought I could help them mould it to something special, to make their vision a reality.”

NIGEL HOPKINS

THESE days it’s not uncommon for an overseas investor to buy an Australian winery, its existing brands and possibly vineyards, and with any luck pour in a bit more money to develop all of the above.
That’s a pretty straightforward process. What’s less common, and it’s true of newcomer Monteperle Wines in the Barossa Valley, is to start from scratch: buy a vineyard, find a winemaker, create a brand and enter the market as an unknown quantity. What Monteperle then did to make it even more challenging was to aim at the top, with wines priced from $65 to $185.
Monteperle Wines is owned by Jia Yuan Hua Wines based in Shenzhen, China, whose key investor is a businessman with extensive business interests, including international sea freight. He, his colleagues and friends are all passionate about Australian wine.
Among those colleagues are Vivian Zhang and her husband Louis, both with business interests in China. They, too, became passionate lovers of Australian wine and when they came to Australia in 2006 – basically as part of their plan to “see the world” as China opened up to international travel – Vivian saw an opportunity to start a business exporting Australian wine to China, using their existing distribution and sales networks.
Over the next decade or so several things happened: they expanded their distribution network, they developed a clientele of loyal customers in China, and built a high degree of trust with the Australian wine companies with whom they dealt, who naturally welcomed the safe export path that Vivian provided.
Perhaps almost inevitably the question was eventually asked: why aren’t you making your own wine? Why not start a winery of your own? Vivian and her partners decided to do just that, but they opted to take the harder road of starting just with a vineyard. One of their export clients was the Barossa family-owned Sieber Wines, whose winemaker, the very experienced Tony Carapetis, providing advice.
In 2017 Jia Yuan Hua Wines bought the 24.3ha Max’s Vineyard in Gods Hill Road, Lyndoch. No winery, just a large shed, and despite being planted as recently as 2001, had a reputation for growing top grade fruit, including shiraz from its 2.6ha Block 6 that on occasion was bought by Treasury Wine Estates for potential inclusion in Penfolds Grange.
Carapetis, who still makes Sieber wines under contract, moved across to Monteperle as chief winemaker and has been pivotal in developing the brand since its first vintage with a GSM released in 2018. Since then there have been four reserve wines – shiraz, mataro, grenache and cabernet sauvignon – that were released towards the end of 2019.
As a winemaker, Carapetis was no stranger to start-ups. Having trained at Roseworthy, his first definitive experience was at Tahbilk Wines in Victoria followed by 18 months with Tim Knappstein and Steve Pannel at Knappstein Wines in the Clare Valley, a brief return to Tahbilk then to Western Australia to set up Palandri Wines in 2000, a major challenge.
Five years later he moved to Voyager Wines as winemaker for a year before returning to South Australia to set up production for the family-owned Virgara Winery at Angle Vale, on the Adelaide Plains. He stayed there until 2010 until leaving to continue contract winemaking for a number of clients, including Sieber Wines through whom he met Vivian Zhang.
“I just saw there was an opportunity to do something really interesting,” Carapetis says. “It was a ground-up operation and I thought I could help them mould it to something special, to make their vision a reality.”
He advised them to put all their resources into Max’s Vineyard, which they’d bought for $3 million, and rather than spend a lot of money building a winery, to let him go on using Moppa Vineyards winery at Nuriootpa, where he once worked and had a good relationship.
As a boutique winery, Monteperle has capped its output to 5000 cases, with a yield in 2021 of just over 100 tonnes from Max’s Vineyard, whose plantings include 9.89ha of shiraz, 3.1ha grenache, 1.66ha mataro and 1.2ha of cabernet sauvignon.
Vivian Zhang has taken on the role of general manager while hospitality professional Ching Ling, who fell in love with wine whilst training at a Swiss hotel school, is sales director, underpinned by his extensive experience in Adelaide restaurants, including a decade with the Sparr Group, Magill Estate restaurant and the Blanco Catering Group.
Ching says their initial plan was for half of their production to go to China, which was achieved with the 2019 vintage, but now the focus must be almost entirely on the Australian domestic market – and those top prices will set a challenge for the national distributor they’re still to appoint.
“But we have found that this vineyard can produce wines at this level – and the show results are starting to prove that,” Ching says, pointing to a Gold medal for the 2018 Reserve Shiraz at the last Royal Adelaide Wine Show and a Gold medal for the same wine in Decanter’s 2021 World Wine Awards. That shiraz and the 2018 GSM both scored 4½ stars and 96 points from Winestate judges.
“It’s always had a reputation as an exceptionally good vineyard,” Carapetis adds. “It’s just a beautiful site, so it’s not all that hard to make really good wine from it. It has the right clones, the right soil. To make good wine you don’t have to do crazy things, so there’s nothing amazing about what we do. You just need really good grapes.”
He admits he was a little surprised by the price points that were chosen, “but they were never part of the original plan. They just evolved as we realised how good the wine was.”
What has impressed Carapetis the most, however, is the passion and commitment of Monteperle’s owners: “The good thing is there’s never really any budget,” he says. “If you say this is what we need to be the best, they’ll do that. And the best thing about them is their commitment. Everything is a long-term proposition for them.
“They’re engaged but not intrusive, they just let me get on with what I have to do. The commitment’s there, the engagement’s there, the money’s there – and all the money goes back into the local community. And we’re delivering the results.”