David Lehmann, Barossa Valley, SA

David Lehmann, Barossa Valley, SA

Name: David Franz Lehmann
Place of birth: Angaston, Barossa, SA
Professional qualifications: School of life: self taught vigneron, winemaker, wine packager, wine salesman, etc and a Diploma of Hospitality Business Management, Regency TAFE.
Professional experience: I’ve managed the family’s vineyards since 2000 I’ve worked a total of 11 vintages: One each for Glen Carlou winery in South Africa and St Hallets here in the Barossa. I worked four vintages for Peter Lehmann Wines (PLW). 2007 was my 10th vintage for my own label, david Franz (I made 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 while I was doing vintage at PLW). I’ve worked in cellar door for Rockford’s and worked for the Booze Brothers bottleshop chain (now defunct) as a casual manager and shop attendant.
Current job title, winery & region: 'Jack of all trades' for david Franz.

Which of your wines do you most enjoy making, and why?

That's like asking, 'which of my children do I like best'. Each wine is awesome to make in its own way.

Tell us about your most memorable wine-tasting experience…

Mum and Dad were overseas on a sales trip of some sort so my younger brother Philip and I had a party in their house. In an orgy of discovery we pulled out about 10 different old reds from the early 6os through to the late 70s. It absolutely blew everyone's hair back. There were folk there who though 'old' meant nine or 10 years and here we were drinking wines three times that age. We drank wines over 10 years older than many of us that night that tasted of pure ambrosia... and a few that definitely weren't. I think this was one of my first 'independent' explorations of aged wine as it has always really stuck in my mind. Actually, come to think of it you better not print this… we'll probably all get in trouble!

As a winemaker, what could you not do without - besides grapes, of course?

Coopers Pale Ale in summer and Coopers Sparkling Ale in winter… everything else can be improvised.

What is the most important piece of equipment in your winery?

The 'John Glaetzer Computer' consisting of a notebook and pen… records are essential. Again, all else can be improvised.

What styles or varieties do you see dominating wine production in Australia over the next 10 years?

In my opinion it's the dawn of the 'great dispersal'. The wine industry has created this new class of Australian drinkers… wine drinkers. It's no longer the great bastion of the elite intellectual snobs but now an accepted alternative to beer and spirits for everyday people. With this explosion of demand has come an explosion of choice… not so much at the corporate end of town which often seems to be heading the other way, but in the smaller independent operations. The average wine drinker's palate is maturing and their confidence levels to go and try something other than Shiraz or Chardonnay is also increasing. Everyday drinkers are discovering that there's more to life than the average $10 bottle of plonk and each discovery is spurring them on to make more. I predict that a lot of the 'forgotten' traditional varietals and styles will make a comeback (from fortifieds to Barossa Cabernet) and these will travel hand in hand with all the new and exciting things the little guys out there are doing. Basically what will dominate is choice, quality and individuality.

What main varieties do you think your region will be known for over the coming years?

I can't see a fall in popularity of the traditional Shiraz but I do see the rise to the fore of Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon. I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to my love of this variety grown here in the Barossa but I'm not alone. There's a growing movement of likeminded winemakers who are there with me and together I think we can elevate this delicious combination of variety and region to the heights and recognition it so richly deserves. I think that we will also see a rise in the use of newly introduced varieties from Italy Spain and Portugal as various wineries try to grab a point of difference in the marketplace. If they taste good, I'm sure they'll succeed.

Which non-traditional varieties interest you and why?

I guess because my winemaking is based solely on the fruit I grow (apart from a little Riesling from Eden Valley) and all the land we've got is fully planted, I've never really given much thought to using non-traditional varieties in my own wine… that said I am really excited to see a lot of the smaller guys out there sourcing unique little gems of difference and creating some really smart wines out of them.

How important is food and wine matching to you?

I guess the truthful answer is that it really depends on the situation. There are wines and times when it's just not appropriate for food to be involved… and then there are times when the synergy between the wine and food is approaching a divine experience. That said, if you are going to pair wine with food, it's essential that balance is achieved either through seamless harmony or delicious contrast… It doesn't matter what you do as I really don't think there are any rules, just as long as it tastes bloody delicious!

Can you recall an unconventional yet successful food and wine match you've tasted?

A few years ago, Christian Canute from Rusden and I did a couple of dinners in Queensland for Trevor Harch of Tanunda Cellars. At the first dinner his reds were served with mains and my reds were served with dessert. At first I (internally) freaked out… what the hell were they doing serving robust Barossa dry reds with chocolate cake? In the end I had to eat my thoughts along with two helpings of dessert. The chef did a masterful job by reducing the sweetness and picking up on the chocolate notes in the wine. It blew my mind along with a lot of preconceptions.

What do you like to do when you're not making wine?

The precious moments that aren't ruthlessly chewed up and swallowed whole by david Franz are spent with my family. We spend a lot of time laughing, crying, hugging and fighting… it's a lot like a hessian sack full of possums being beaten with a stick… bloody confusing but very entertaining. We like to bring our friends into the sack along with their kids which makes it very loud and crowded and lots of fun. Judicious amounts of good food, wine and beer seem to make it more fun.

If money was no object, where would you choose to set up a vineyard and winery?

Well, I'm already here… but I'd love to pour heaps of cash into what I'm doing here.

The world is about to flood and a specially-designed, temperature-controlled ark is being built to preserve the world's best wines. You've been asked to recommend a red and a white for the ark, what do you choose? (Sorry, you can't choose your own wines!)

First I'd like to offer my services as curator (I'll even supply corkscrew and glass for QC checking purposes). But as to what would I bring? Well apart from a couple of cases of Coopers Sparkling (the future will probably want a nice cleansing ale after all that amazing wine) I guess I'd have to offer up a '92 Seppelts Dorrien Estate Cabernet, and perhaps a '93 Peter Lehmann (made by Andrew Wigan and team) Reserve Riesling. Parochial choices but bloody excellent wines!

What do you like to drink when you're not drinking wine?

Coopers Pale mostly, up to 5 double espressos of really excellent coffee per day,
For a treat XO Cognac or Brandy and for guzzling, Gin.

If you weren't a winemaker, how would you be making a living?

I'd guess as a chef. One of my great passions in life is cooking and flavour. The concepts are not much removed from winemaking, you just have the potential for 365 vintages a year… or 730 if you do lunches… yes, it's good to be a winemaker.

Do you have any pet hates?

Pretentious people who try to make wine elitist. Look if you enjoy going out onto an existential limb to explore every subtle nuance that a wine contains… then that is awesome. Just don't take the morally superior attitude that you know best and that Joe average doesn't know you know what from clay. That is not what wine is all about.

What keeps you awake at night?

Mostly my two-year-old Alex. Once he wakes me up the whole climate change thing stops me getting back to sleep. How anyone can seriously be sceptical about whether or not it will happen is beyond me. We have got to be seeing the results right now. I think what a lot of people don't seem to realise is that it's not really about mean average temperatures etc, but rather its all about polarisation of our weather. What we are experiencing nationally with the drought in some areas and big floods in others is likely to become the norm.

Wild yeast or inoculated ferment?

Both. Each has it's place and it's own benefits. When you are working with fruit from limited locations, anything that increases the tool box of flavours at your disposal it great. Basically the year and the condition of the fruit determines whether wild ferments are viable. If there's a bit of bird damage, splitting from unseasonable rains etc, than the pre-ferment sulphur treatment will usually knock wild yeasts on their heads and you have no choice but to use commercial.

Cork or screw cap?

Both! Each has their pros and cons. While 99% of drinkers have experienced TCA or 'cork' affected wine, there is so much more that can go wrong than this. I have always used Australian cork company corks in my red wines. While we've had a few problems with 'corked' bottles I would estimate that it represents probably less than 2% of my production. On the other hand I've used screw cap since 2005 on my rose and white wines. The major drawback with screw-cap is it's very susceptible to physical damage. An ill placed blow to the top of the bottle can easily destroy the integrity of the seal.

Briefly describe how your business is fighting the increasing competition for retail shelf space and brand awareness? e.g, cellar door initiatives

We're not! I'll leave that to the corporate dogs scrapping in the dust of Woollie's or Dan Murphy's Car-park. We don't have a cellar door sales outlet and I'm fiercely independent and make individual and distinct wines in ridiculously small quantities.

What is it that you admire most about the Australian wine industry?

Mateship. Down this end of the industry, away from the 'beverage and product' driven corporate cowboys, there has always been a kinship amongst winemakers.

What is the best piece of advice you could offer a person in their last year of winemaking study?

Three simple rules
1. Always keep your tanks and barrels full.
2. Sulphur is our friend
3. It doesn't matter how technically perfect a wine is, if it tastes bad, it probably wont sell.

Why did you become a winemaker?

I guess the easy answer would be to say that once it's in your blood there is no going back. But truthfully it's because the first wines my younger brother Phil and I made together in 1998 were so we didn't have to spend all our money buying good wine.

Who has inspired you during the course of your career?

Dad, of course. He's a pretty hard figure to ignore. Apart from the amazing wines he made I think it is his integrity and humanity that is most inspiring. The legendary status was well earned and doubly deserved for all the reasons now famous and plenty of reasons only a few know about. Mum goes hand in hand with dad. She's one of the hardest working people I know. All of her work (outside of the family) have been directed towards the betterment other people, either on a local or national platform.

Which area of current wine or vine research do you think is most beneficial to the industry?

Anything to go with transforming Australian wine production (from the vineyard to the glass in hand) into a sustainable industry in light of the coming challenges a completely freaked out climate is going to throw at us.

Is there an area of research towards which you would like to see more resources directed?

Working out how to drought proof vines and wineries so that we can keep growing and producing great wines and keep what precious little water we have for much more essential needs… like making beer.

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