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Yangarra: Peter Fraser

Welcome to boundbywine's behind the vineyard! Today, our guest is a veteran in and around McLaren Vale. We are very honored and privileged to be introducing Peter Fraser with us today. 

How's it going over there Peter? It's just after harvest season isn't it?

It's great. Where we've been doing a bit of tasting and a bit of blending and so it's a good day. We finished harvest at kind of mid April. And it's always kind of busy with a bit of all the wines finishing fermentation and malolactic fermentation. And now just kind of a little bit more laid back time of just looking after all the wines.

Well, Peter is of course the driving force behind the wines of Yangarra Estate. You've been in Yangarra for about 20 years now. Is that right?

Yeah, 21 years. So since the beginning of 2001 and so yeah, 20 years. And I've worked with this property since 1999. I started probably in the early nineties in terms of my studies and my first official harvest was at the university where we all made wine. And then in '96, I worked at St Hallet wines and the Barossa valley both 96 and 97. And then I came to Clarendon, working for a company called Norman's wines and three (years) to 2000 and then 2001 onwards with Yangarra. And in between some of that time, I did a harvest in Spain in 1999 and and about six or seven harvests in California, making Shiraz through the central coast of California.  

In 2005 and '06, Yangarra actually won International winery of the year from Wine & spirits, along with a couple of awards in 17 - Iron heart Shiraz, and Whole bunch Shiraz. How do you guys feel about that?

Look, we've been very fortunate. We have an amazing vineyard. We've, been very fortunate that the wines are being recognized by some of the leading wine writers around the world for their quality and I think their varietal character, their representation of the region. We'd like to hope that our wines are being recognized as some of the best of our our region, McLaren Vale. And in amongst that,, for example, our Grenache which won James Halliday, wine companion- Wine of the year. That, can represent some of the best grenades in the world. So yeah, I think it stems from, having a wonderful vineyard. We also have a really amazing team that are all very detail focused. And when it comes from the winery perspective, there's a kind of, a lot of attention to detail, and the same goes for the management of the vineyard. So it's, very much everybody being on the same page in having a perfectionist, like kind of mentality the way we grow and make our wines.

Well, what got you hooked in this industry to start with?

I always kind of had a fascination with agriculture and I love kind of..I suppose, the production side. And I knew that I would kind of go into agriculture and in amongst that. I kind of fell in love with wine. And you know, I suppose for a young person, the very exciting thing about wine is that you one, you get to grow it. But then you actually get to kind of make something that people get to enjoy. And, I suppose I'm like, if you're growing food, it's something that also lasts for a very long time. So, it's incredibly rewarding to be seeing somebody drinking a wine that you maybe made 20 years ago. So yeah, it's, it's a very kind of once you get the bug it's incredibly rewarding and becomes very much part of your lifestyle.

Well, can you share a little bit about how you stumbled into Yangarra.

So I've been involved in this property since 1998. The company I worked for, bought the property in '98 and I actually moved there. Working with our vineyard manager here since 98 as well. And so we've worked together for you know, 20, nearly 23 years. And then I met the Jackson family and based in California and they were very keen to develop something in Australia and the rest is history. They employed me and we began a search to buy a property that would kind of fit their values of quality, et cetera. And then I think it was probably six to nine months later. So December, 2001 that we purchased, the estate that is now known as Yangarra.

Awesome. Well, just for our listeners here to visualize, could you describe the area around McLaren Vale? I must think it's a sight.

The McLaren Vale is very coastal, it's kind of described as a Mediterranean climate. And it's you know, our vineyard is probably only maybe 15 kilometers from that, from the beach. We are one of the further vineyards from the coast in McLaren Vale. We're actually up in the Hills area, about 210 meters above sea level. So there's a wonderful kind of influences of both elevation and also the coastal climate warm enough to ripen varietals, such as Grenache and Shiraz. But cool enough to allow kind of a longer slower ripening period so that they have kind of the wines that retain a lovely freshness.

Mm. So is that why, Yangarra decide to introduce grape varietals that are commonly seen in the Southern Rhone, where bush vine Grenache is, you know, common.

So if you look back in the history of McLaren Grenache and Shiraz always had a long history in this, in this region. And I think our climate is relatively similar to the Southern Rhone, especially. While I would say that Grenache and Shiraz are probably the main kind of attraction to the McLaren vale, Grenache is actually only a small(part), its quite a lot of the old vines were pulled out in the eighties, unfortunately, just through that time. And So Grenache is only actually 6% of McLaren Vale. So it's actually in relatively small production. But I suppose since that time, you know, 25 years later people have realized how great Grenache is. And what's such a beautiful, it's having a lot of popularity and because of its scarcity, is really growing in popularity and somewhat in price. And McLaren has great opportunity to some of the other Mediterranean varieties. So maybe some of the Italian varieties Fiano and Vermentino, but we've kind of chosen to grow varieties that are probably more native to the, Southern Rhone area.

Would You consider growing Fiano etc?

No. Only because I think it's very important to be a specialist and, and for people to associate what you do. And, to clearly understand what you're good at. And I think there's some wonderful, you know, Italian varieties grown in Mclaren Vale by certain producers. And I think if everybody is all doing the same thing or you also do lots of different things it becomes very hard for people to understand, you know, what you do. So we've kind of kept it very focused around the Southern Rhone varietals. We want to keep it really simple for, for the people that follow Yangarra and they, they know exactly kind of what we are about.

Right. Well, you guys are actually the first in Australia to commercially plant Grenache Blanc. I mean, how did you guys do it and you know, what spurred it on?

Well, I wouldn't say we were necessarily the first, we were one of the first. We've been working, we were trying to be the first, well, we actually started well before we actually planted it to bring in some of those Southern Rhone varieties. The quarantine process of bringing in new grape vines is very slow. And we're very fortunate that a local nursery in the Barossa valley were able to bring in some of the Southern Rhone varieties for us that have never, not in recent years ever been in Australia. I'm trying to think our first release was 2018, and so we probably, our fifth plantings maybe started in 2014. So you know, vineyards are a long slow process. but what we have done, and as far as I'm aware, we are the kind of, the first producer to kind of produce a full Southern Rhone blend using the majority of the, the Southern Rhone or Chateauneuf-du-pape varieties. So Grenache Blanc, Picpoul (Noir), Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne. And so we are very proud of that. We think these varieties are very well suited to our region. They ripen quite late. So they're actually, ripening in the cooler part of the ripening season. And so far, we've, we've had a few vintages of it now, and where they're, they're really proving to be very popular.

Well, I just want to touch a little bit about biodynamic farming, you know, in recent years, it's come up a lot. For our listeners who don't know what that is. Can you briefly explain what exactly is biodynamic farming? 

We started in 2009, so we were certified in 2012. And in its simplicity, biodynamic starts with organic farming. So it starts with not using any synthetic chemicals, so not using herbicide not using synthetic fertilizers and basically biodynamic adds an extra dimension. So there's a couple of things that are really important and it's, it's encouraging the biodiversity of plants, biodiversity of microbiology in the soil. So you're, you're really trying to enhance the natural life cycles that go on within the soil and the relationship and really trying to encourage the relationship between the plants you're growing in the soil. And so that's in that simplicity. And then there's other things like you know, there's some biodynamic preparations that are spread out in the vineyard that encourage more biological activity in the soil. And also, you know, some of the more energy forces - and that's a complex thing to explain. But I would say that, you know, the analogy I would give is that if you walk into a room and there's somebody in the ring that's hosting, you, that's full of life and energy and excited everybody else around them, she has that energy. But if, you know, you walk into a room where somebody sad and moppy and you know, everybody else starts to get affected by that, that, that energy. And it's one of the simplest way I can describe, you know, how biodynamics connects the, all the living forms and enhances the energy. So it's really ultimately about looking after your soil and making it gain more by diversity, and a healthier, more natural system for growing our grapes. Ultimately, we want to grow grapes that reflect the soil that they grow in. And so all those biological cycles allow the minds to take up the natural mineral elements that are in the soil, which ultimately go into the grapes and hopefully add the unique taste to our special site. So, that's our ultimate end goal and why we do such farming, And the spinoff is it's good for the environment. And, you're also drinking a wine that, you know, has not had any harmful synthetic chemicals used to grow it or make it.   

So, well, to touch a little bit about, you know, climate change, I mean, we've heard this for the last few years, you know, how the weather it's changing, especially Europe, and I'm sure the rest of the world. Are you guys geared up and ready and how do you foresee changes down the road for Yangarra?

Look, I think one, we are in a cooler kind of part of McLaren Vale, and the type of varieties we grow relatively resilient to warmer vintages. Some of the cooler vintages we make, slightly more elegant wine and in the slightly warmer ones, they're a little bit more full of bodied and robust. There's not a huge amount you can do to combat mother nature in a way, you know, what gets thrown at you other than have the kind of varieties, that have some form of resilience, you know, and I think based Southern Rhone varieties really have some of that resilience. And the other part is our location is, is being coastal. We get relatively consistent rainfall. We get relatively consistent vintages of, of reasonable, moderate weather. So in many ways we haven't felt the effects of too much extremes and we've had relatively very reliable harvest over the 20 years that I've been here, but it's not to say that might not change, but we feel that we're in, in good shape moving forward.

That's great. Well, down the line, is there anything new that we can or should look out for in terms of wines?

I think some of the wines that we talked about some of these new varieties we've, we've got two exciting wines that are a blend of the white blend and the red blend. They're simply called blanc and noir, lovely, easy drinking wines. And they've, they've been incredibly successful in their early releases and were just starting to get enough of them to be able to actually export. So something to look out in the future, I think they've, they've got a great future and also have a relative affordability. And then I think, you know, we've just released all our single block wines and they're probably some of the most fastidious wines that we make of little single patches that, really showcase the best of. So for example, the Roux Beaute Rousanne or the High Sands Grenache or Shiraz and yeah, it's always really fun releasing kind of our top wines from the estate.

The wine in Singapore is definitely on the rise, you know, gen Y millennials they are exploring wine, but the tricky part is actually having them, you know, get out of their comfort zone, try something else other than Caberenet Sauvignon, Merlot, you know, the usual. Do you have any tips on, you know, pushing their boundaries?

Look, I think it's about having an open mind trusting you know, the wonderful thing of wine is that you don't actually need to be an expert to enjoy it. There's always, you know, people like yourself or people that are in the wine business, it might be a Sommelier, it might be a favourite wine shop. These people, they've got a wonderful kind of knowledge of wine. And so I would urge those people to just kind of try new things, be experimental and and, build trust with somebody that's very knowledgeable. Whether that be at a restaurant or at your favorite wine store to introduce you to new wines and amazing new flavors. But the one thing I say is that the younger generation especially are so interested in different flavors and in generally trying new things. So it's an exciting time and its great & gives producers like us to kind of bring wines to the table that, they might not have normally had a look at.

Well, a last take away for all listeners. What do you think keeps you motivated for the job and you know, what frame of mind do you wake up going into this job?

I would, I would say probably fear of failure. I think, you know, when you take such pride in the ones that you might you being somewhat of a perfectionist and what actually can sometimes add more kind of expectation when you start to get some success. There's an expectation that you will deliver that, that amazingness every year. with that drives you to want to make it even better. And look, the rewards of people, talking about our wines that are enjoying our wines. It's incredibly, satisfying so, it does drive you to, continue to strive to make the best wine that you can.

That is a great insight! Well, that's it for today. Thank you, Peter, for your time, and I hope you guys enjoy listening to Peter explain about Yangarra.

And I hope in the near future, when travel opens up a bit more, maybe we can all be traveling and culminate a visit, or we will Come and see you.