By James Wells
McLaren Vale certified organic and biodynamic winery, Gemtree Wines, says its $180 natural wine – Subterra – that sold out globally in 48 hours is made using a world-first winemaking technique.
Gemtree Wines chief winemaker and managing director, Mike Brown, told TheShout that Subterra – which is aged in a barrel by returning the wine back to the earth from where it was created – is among the most exciting experiments that he has conducted and represents a technique that he believes has not been undertaken before.
The 2016 Subterra, representing just 240 bottles priced at $180 each, was released in late 2017 and was sold out 48 hours later with some wine consumers describing it as the best natural wine on the Australian market.
In an exclusive interview with TheShout, Brown described the process that created Subterra.
“In 2016, we handpicked grapes from 20 vines in our most easterly vineyard and brought the fruit into the cellar and let it ferment on its own. We then drained the free run off, so it was a very very low extraction – around 200 litres per tonne. We then put that into a one year-old barrel coated in a thin layer of beeswax and let it go through malolactic fermentation and put the wooden chive back into the barrel. We then dug a hole two metres deep and put the barrel in the hole and aged it there for 8 months. We then excavated the barrel and tasted the wine and thought – ‘you have got to be kidding me.’ This was the 2016 Subterra Shiraz with absolutely nothing added – a completely natural wine,” Brown said.
“While the wine was in the ground, the soil temperature was between 12-14 degrees for eight months and it preserved the wine completely. It shows you don’t need anything else added or subtracted or put in when you have preservation through temperature. It is 100 per cent Shiraz from a single site and there was no intervention – we didn’t touch it. No man, other than assisting it through the process, has touched this wine. Hand bottled in November 2016 and released November 2017 and we will do the same in 2017 and again in 2018. This is about as pure as you can get and there is so much natural sweetness as the tannins are just beautifully integrated,” he said.
Brown also revealed details of how the wine was conceived by his team over a beer at the end of vintage.
“With the heat of the day still lingering as the sun dipped lower in the sky, tired and worn hands clasped cold beers and discussion inevitably turned to winemaking. It is a tight-knit team at Gemtree, with a proven never-say-die attitude, constantly seeking ways to be more innovative and disrupt the status-quo. A question was asked… ‘what would happen if we buried a barrel of wine’ – Subterra was born”.
TheShout understands that some stock of the wine is available through the Qantas EpiQure site.
To see more about the Subterra winemaking process – view this video posted by Gemtree Wines: