“I’m sorry you’ve finished your last one. Shit happens. I hope you enjoyed it at least.” There’s a genuine note of sympathy in Andrew Wigan’s voice at the news that I disposed of my final bottle of the ‘06 Riesling that bears his name. But he knows as well as anyone that, in the world of wine, another lovely surprise is always around the corner.
That’s what keeps the fire burning for Peter Lehmann’s chief winemaker after 35 years at the company. Wigan’s journey began in Ararat, not far from Victoria’s Great Western wine district. He studied Applied Science at the Ballarat School of Mines, during which he worked holidays at Seppelt – a spot of summer pruning and guided tours of the sparkling wine cellars. “When I graduated from Ballarat in 1973, I thought it might be cool to be a wine chemist. I applied and no one was interested,” he recalls. But a lecturer’s sister was friends with Jim Irvine, then manager and winemaker at Krondorf in the Barossa Valley. So Wigan got a job in the cellar and never turned back. Dalgety Wine Estates, which then owned Krondorf, Stonyfell and Saltram, offered him a scholarship to study Oenology at Roseworthy Agricultural College. Having worked vintages at Krondorf throughout his course, Wigan ended up landing the job of apprentice winemaker at Saltram in 1976.
His boss was the late Peter Lehmann (top picture, on the right), and when Lehmann walked out following his fate-shaping standoff with corporate bosses three years later, Wigan went with him. He counts Lehmann and Irvine as great mentors, and the same goes for “legend and family friend” Colin Preece, who encouraged the young Wigan back in his Ararat days. “I had this in-built passion to become a great winemaker,” Wigan says. “I saw the regard they were held in and the wonderful wine they were making, and that’s what I aimed for.”
Not surprisingly, Lehmann’s influence runs especially deep. “From Peter I learned about integrity, loyalty and passion for making something really good. His attitude was: If you’re making a drink, make it well. Make it with a high drinkability factor, don’t charge the world for it and don’t put it out of the reach of the ordinary wine drinker. Peter also knew before others how special the Barossa was, and he had a very strong connection with the growers. At vintage he’d be on the weighbridge talking to them while we were in cellar making the wine.”
The changes that have swept through the region have kept things fresh for Wigan. “The Barossa’s a lot more vibrant than it was when we came here 40 years ago. We were sort of in awe of it but it was sort of boring. As soon as the sun went down the Barossa went to sleep,” he says. “It was very conservative, with people doing what their grandfathers and great-grandfathers did. Since then there’s been a huge insurgence of youth and young people’s ideas. The big companies are still just as strong, but there are also heaps of interesting producers that make the district exciting, and a lot of really good restaurants.”
Changing tastes have also kept Wigan on his toes. He’s seen fortified demand dry up, replaced by an initial wave of Cabernet, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Riesling. These days southern European migrants Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Vermentino and Viognier are pouring in, and Peter Lehmann’s about to put out its first Verdejo. “Those varieties won’t dominate, but they add to the richness of the tapestry,” he says. “The marketplace continually evolves and we have to evolve with our thinking. We have access to amazing fruit from 140 growers in different parts of the Barossa. We’re teaching them to grow wine, not just grapes.” The ideas keep fizzing between his team of five or so winemakers, all of whom make both reds and whites. “If you only make one thing, you get a bit saddle sore,” says the boss.
Wigan’s Bonnezeaux Gonzo cameo is the latest honour in a career crammed with accolades. He picked up the Jimmy Watson Trophy for the 1989 Stonewell Shiraz, won IWC White Winemaker of the Year in 2006 and was IWSC International Winemaker of the Year in both 2003 and 2006. Such recognition was once unthinkable. “When we started making wine we never dreamed that anyone outside Australia would ever want to drink Australian wine or Barossa wine. We had no idea we’d one day be standing up in the finest restaurants of New York, London or Amsterdam. We never thought we’d get to see the world.”
We can be thankful that all these accomplishments have whetted rather than whittled down Wigan’s appetite. “I just love seeing grapes turn into wine,” he says. “Each year is different, and it’s like that proverbial box of chocolates. It’s a great lifestyle and we get to eat and drink very well. Probably too well.”
Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2006 Eden Valley
Grapes from a low-yielding vineyard in the southern end of Eden Valley were picked early and fermented cold in stainless steel tanks. Following a two-week fermentation period, the wine was clarified and bottled immediately before being cellared at the winery for five years prior to release.
Clear medium green gold in colour. Fairly pronounced, floral nose of lemon/lime zest, a suggestion of tangerine, talc and toast. Signs of age, for sure, but it definitely hasn’t lost touch with its youth. Fragrant kaffir lime marks the entry, before intense, mellow lemon takes over. It’s more than medium bodied and feels rich and smooth in the mouth, though not without a chalky firmness. The acidity is what does the business as it dances across the tongue, with pulsing drive through the back palate. It finishes long with tingly fresh lime.
Cost $35 at Dan Murphy’s – Alcohol 11.5% – Tasted 25/04/14