THE SUCCESS STORY OF 919 WINES
"Over the past thirteen years Eric and Jenny Semmler have rolled up their sleeves and shown that the Riverland can produce small volume, specialist table wines of outstanding quality that regularly steal the golda from the nation’s wine shows and proudly display, on their labels, that their wines are made in South Australia’s Riverland."
“MUM’S the word,” I was told before I interviewed Eric Semmler for this article. You see Eric hadn’t yet been told that he had won the 2021 Best Fortified of the Year Category for his Classic Muscat. He only knew that two of his wines had made it into the top five finalists for that category [yet again] and that he was also a nominee for the Australian Winemaker of the Year [for a second time in a row]. Although he did get pipped at the post this year for the winemaker award, he isn’t new to that honour. Eric was named Australian Winemaker of the Year in 2013 – news that actually made it into the government’s Hansard records – surely that must be a first!
At a meeting of the Senate on the 3rd of December 2013 Senator The Honourable Anne Ruston wanted it recorded in Hansard that Eric Semmler of 919 Wines had been named Australian Winemaker of the Year by Winestate magazine.
“It is probably not terribly exceptional that a winemaker will be named winemaker of the year,” noted Senator Ruston. “But over many years the Riverland has been regarded as an area that produces only bulk wine. For Mr Eric Semmler, from 919 Wines in Monash, to be named Australian Winemaker of the Year is extraordinarily exceptional. It sets the tone for where some of our warmer-climate wines and their makers are going to in the future… It is absolutely fantastic that Mr Semmler has been acknowledged for making wines to suit his climate and growing grapes that suit the climate and that he has now been acknowledged for excellence in achieving the great wines he produces. I put on the record the fantastic result that Eric and Jenny Semmler have achieved for the Riverland, for the South Australian wine industry and for tourism in our area…”
The Riverland is the largest wine growing and producing region in Australia; hailed as the backbone of the national wine industry because it contributes more than 30% to Australia’s total grape crush. But it has an erroneous image of being an area only capable of producing bulk wines; quantity rather than quality.
Not so! Over the past thirteen years Eric and Jenny Semmler have rolled up their sleeves and shown that the Riverland can produce small volume, specialist table wines of outstanding quality that regularly steal the gold from the Nation’s wine shows and proudly display, on their labels, that their wines are made in South Australia’s Riverland.
Obviously the Semmler’s knew there was nothing they could do about the Riverland’s hot, semi-arid, climate but they could do something about what they planted there. They extensively researched grape varieties that grew well in the Mediterranean’s hot dry wine regions and eventually settled on a handful of whites and reds that would not only thrive in the Riverland but would also produce really good wines and give them a point of difference in the marketplace.
Eric was the first to produce a varietal durif in south Australian but not the first to plant it (there was a small amount around but it was used for blending). The big bold red from France’s Mediterranean wine region of Languedoc and it has now become the winery’s most popular drop. They recently released a sparkling version of it [I’m thinking served with steak of Mastodon perhaps?]
Portugal’s touriga nacional, is the dominant variety for that country’s fortified wine industry but it also produces a flavoursome full bodied red table wine and 919 Wines received top marks from the judges in a recent tasting of their touriga nacional. Wines made from Spain’s tempranillo and Tuscany’s sangiovese add to the Semmler’s ever increasing list of awards, as do the full-bodied whites they make from varieties important to southern France and the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia; petit manseng and vermentino.
“It is a simple formula really,” said Eric. “Get it right in the vineyard – produce high quality fruit, in a sustainable way and it doesn’t take too much to turn that fruit into good wine. And, in keeping with the Semmler’s philosophy of living sustainably within the environment, their vineyards and winery have been certified organic since 2011. In 2019 they won the Australian Organic Wine of the Year with their 2017 Shiraz.
Eric spent 10 years with BRL Hardy as their fortified winemaker, probably why 919 are particularly well known for their superb range of fortifieds that regularly dominate Winestate’s Sweet White and Fortified tastings.
Australian fortifieds are world class, no one can argue with that. “They are the unsung heroes of the wine industry,” agreed Eric. And he is pleased to report that there is a definite resurgence for fortified wines particularly amongst the younger generation. “They come with no preconceptions so just enjoy what they are tasting,” he said.
I haven’t been allocated enough words for this article to list all the awards this winery has received, suffice to say in last year’s Winestate Annual the Best of Style section saw ten of 919 wines feature in eight different categories. By the time you read this the 2021 results will have been published; my money is on 919 for another stellar performance.
So why the name 919?
“We had a couple of names we were looking at to call our winery,” explained Eric. “But they were already registered so we decided to use the section number of our property on Hodges Road – 919.
“As it has turned out the name has worked very well for us, it stands out, is easy to remember, which is vital for marketing your wines and also puts us at the top of any listings.”
There is much drinking to look forward to in the near future because according to Eric, the 2021 vintage will be one to watch out for. “It has been a marvellous one, best since 2002 especially for giving excellent varietal expression.” Something Eric is particularly passionate about.
Let’s finish off with more of Anne Ruston’s words from back in 2013. “I recommend to everybody in this place that if you are looking for an alternative drop of wine …you look up the brand 919 Wine from Monash and learn for yourself what a wonderful job he [Eric] does of using alternative grape varieties to make some fantastic wines.”