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It’s a three-ringed circus
Back in the early '90s Steve Vizard's Fast Forward enshrined the Dodgy Brothers.
Until, it turned out, Steve was a little dodgy himself. Which begs the question why a bunch of straightforward, local lads down around McLaren Vale would brand their fledgling winery with the same dodgy name.
So after a quick handshake - and even quicker glance to check I still had five fingers - it was down to business with Wes Pearson, winemaker to the Dodgy Brothers. And immediately there is clearly something dodgy about this character - the expatriate Canadian is more interested in playing ice hockey in Adelaide's unknown local competition than converting to Australian Rules.
But the biochemist with the Happy Gilmore take on life actually brings something of a serious pedigree to the lofty position of winemaker to the Dodgies. Making McLaren Vale his home in 2008 via a stint as a bum snowboarding in Whistler and keeping afloat as a jack of all trades at a local steakhouse he actually discovered there was more to life than snow.
Such as food - and the wine which went with it.
The combination was enough to get the gadabout off his board and down to the University of British Columbia's brand spanking new wine biochemistry program. At school he worked at Tantalus Vineyards whenever time and demand allowed, and there he rain to Aussie flying winemaker and Riesling and Pinot Noir guru, Matt Holmes. After graduation Wes was offered a prestigious position as an intern oenologist at the 'Super Second' deuxieme cru classé Château Léoville Las Cases in St. Julien, Bordeaux.
'They are so super cutting edge there,' said. 'Which is why I am busting to get back there for the northern vintage for another go,' he said.
'I would have gone this year but their season was so bad there we decided it was best to postpone it for now. But when you are there you feel so connected to the incredible history of wine, it's another language, another approach - the whole process is so elegant.
'And when one of these guys talks about terroir he is really talking about terroir, not just someone somewhere else in the world trying to make a French word fit into a foreign marketing program.'
Pearson should know. As your standard; or garden variety Canadian, he also speaks French and while he does buy into terroir, he also finds outside la belle France it has become 'an over-used term in the industry and it's lost its meaning, which is kind of ironic, because in English it doesn't really have any meaning does it'?
'But I've tried to take a few things I learnt there and apply them to what we do here.
'We're not trying to make wines the same way they make them in Bordeaux; it's more about the general approach they take which we are trying to emulate.
'We keep everything separate for as long as possible. Once you put it together, you can't take it apart.
'Another aspect is trying to not necessarily minimise my influence as a winemaker (although that's kind of it), but to kind of standardise your influence, so all of the fruit is given the same chance to show itself off.
'We don't fine or filter, we bottle young to show off the vibrancy of the wines, we use a little bit of new oak with our Shiraz and our Cabernet Sauvignon, but for the most part it's all old and large format barrels.
'And the wines are not racked post malo. They get one hit of SO2 post malo and a little top up before bottling and that's all.
But the winemaker is just one of the Dodgy Brothers, a three-ring circus perfectly matched with a viticulturist, a landowner with vines and the winemaker. It all began a long time ago when founding Dodgy Brother Peter Bolte and friend decided they were going to make some wine. As a consulting viticulturist, Bolte not only had the knowledge of what quality grapes were all about, he also had the connections to be able to procure some of these grapes.
It might sound a smidgin dodgy, but as one of the 'large' Australian wine companies would move through picking one of their top vineyards, Bolte was nipping along behind clinching a handshake deal with the grower.
'How 'bout you leave the last row for me mate and I'll take care of it,' he ventured.
And eventually said grapes seemed to make their way made it to Bolte's shed where they were then made into wine. With the advice of a few local winemakers, and some rudimentary winemaking equipment in fear of being heritage listed, the grape crush began.
'There was one thing that inevitably happened every time these boys undertook this process though (other than turning grapes into wine, which was also inevitable),' Bolte conceded.
'We ended up having a few too many adult beverages.' He said.
'This led to the then 13-year-old son of my original partner dubbing us as the 'Dodgy Brothers'.
'If you fast forward - really, not the show - to July 2010 I knew we were onto something, which is when I enlisted the help of Wes (Pearson).
'He also saw this potential and the real, much less dodgy, Dodgy Brothers were formed. 'Shortly after that the dynamic duo recruited a third Brother in Peter Sommerville, grower extraordinaire and all-around good guy.
'The quality of the product has changed but those original Dodgy ideals haven't: we still like to have a good time, a good laugh or two, and we still seal all our business deals with a handshake.'
The link between Bolte (and his family) and the McLaren Vale district stretches back 177 years to when a little ship called HMS Buffalo pitched up at Glenelg and SA was born.
By the early 1840s his family had taken up land in Aldinga where they continue to farm to this day. He began viticulture as a 15-year-old in 1977 and has now completed 35 vintages in the McLaren Vale wine region. During which time he has identified not just the vineyards but the individual rows the Dodgy Brothers like to slip around and cherry pick for their little business. Peter Sommerville gets a dodgy guernsey because he believes the best Australian wines come from the McLaren Vale wine region. Period. Which is why he planted his flag - and vines - there in 2001.
A vineyard which has since supplied fruit to some of the region's leading wine companies.
And to Dodgy Brothers of course. Sommerville's fruit has been used in the 2012 Dodgy Brothers Bordeaux blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sav, and Petit Verdot - wine he says he looks forward to sharing with people 'for their enjoyment, not status'.
But there is a serious side to the Dodgy Brothers - selling this year's 900 cases of wine.
As Pearson pointed out, they all have day jobs so cyberspace is as close as you can get to a Dodgy Brothers' cellar door.
'But it's worth the effort,' Pearson added. 'We are experimenting now with types such as Sangiovese, a Tuscan variety with which you can make brighter, lower alcohol/higher acid but we will also keep producing with the classic McLaren Vale Shiraz and Grenache - after all, you gotta dance with the girl that brought ya even if there are some other cool varieties out there we hope we can dabble in.
'With Sangiovese you can even chuck it in the fridge and chill it down during the summer.
'I think our approach is minimalist, which is the reason we choose the blocks we do - in 2012 we harvested grapes from 10 different properties and crushed only 13 tonnes, with very small ferments.
'While I'm no doubt a scientist, one of the great things about wine is how it seamlessly melds art and science.
'Winemaking is like art for scientists and I couldn't be at a better place to do both. AWRI has been really supportive of my 'second job' and because it does more than just research it is such a fantastic resource, not just for me but all winemakers.'
Contact: Wes Pearson. Phone: 0450 000 373. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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