McLaren Vale


You'll recollect the beginnings: young Flying Winemakers doing the European Vintage, whinging that, back home in Oz, they had no freedom to make the wines they wanted to. Wineries there just kept getting bigger and fewer and being junior winemaker on a big team making a mega-brand was just plain...f-ing boring.

Justin Lane was the ringleader of these crazed marauders, he made just four barrels of his own in his garage. But also had a mate, 'Philbo', who made rather more in a bigger tin shack on Chalk Hill that he'd kitted out for bugger-all with cheap rainwater butts, garden hose, a converted milk chiller, clapped old pumps and casks scavenged from behind Hardy's.

So they all spent a day one day looking at any more sheds for sale in McLaren Vale but didn't find any. Then, the man serving coffee said "you can have this place if you want, I've had enough of this, I'm buying a camper and going right round Oz". And so they bought his café on the spot; 'Red Heads' it was called; on the corner of Kangarilla and Foggo roads.

Kitted out the same grunge-garage way but with the most splendid bar you've ever seen (made from a whole tree!) plus a pinball machine and powerful amps … Red Heads Studio made its first wines in 2002.

The project was all over the place … of course; still run by anarchists. One too many late night benders and a few experimental wines later...immense growth and the shed was a bit like making wines with a little kangaroo in your bathtub. So with the assistance of one, Steve Grimley...Red Heads moved from the garage to a bit larger operation.

More sheds than before. New too. Same signs. Plus one in neon over the 'Cellar Door' shed. Wow! The guys take turns opening the shop. When they feel like it. They still refuse to be 'corporate'!!! An unsual tasting room feature is the big glass-fronted fridge full of hams, saussices, salami, black puddings – basically ex-pig in every known format.

Of course, over ten years some studio members dropped by the wayside but the stalwarts remained and then did what we hoped they would; they kitted out sheds of their own and developed their wine offerings further.

Adam 'Hoops' Hooper bought the original Red Heads place in addition to currently running the current version of Red Heads. He now makes his 'Curio' wines in the old back shed and has let out the original building – as a restaurant again. A good one too.

'Philbo' Christiansen – christened 'The Godfather of Garage' because he invented it, has been hugely successful. He now has a very big smart new shed and contract-makes wines for many growers – and a few wine merchants – as well as his own 'Longwood.'

Andrew Pieri, next door, makes his own Italian styles – eg 'Azzardo' drying grapes on big tin sheets in the manner perfected by his late – very much missed – father.

Nat McMurtrie (no relation, apparently) down on McMurtrie Road has many sheds next to the 'Old Salopian Inn' where he was born. Only one shed is a winery – the rest house Nat's extensive collection of Australiana or junk … depending on you being male or female. The junk is gradually being cleared … but the winery shed is expanding.

Henry Laithwaite (yes, relation) was there this trip. He produces his Wilson Gunn most years working with his old mentor; Philbo. He was the original barrel monkey at Red Heads (doing the chores) but now with his Bordeaux and UK vineyards to prune it’s hard to get away. Misses the fun. Made up for it Saturday night though!

Then there's King Steve, a very busy winemaker, on a big scale, now, but who really likes to make a small tub or two Red Heads style.

Suffice to say, people come and people go...the mantra of Red Heads still rings aloud, 'Drink more wine!' The collective garagistes are still pushing it hard and producing some crazy juice.

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