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The rise and rise of Gatt Wines
IF GOOD WINE begins in the vineyard it did not take much to persuade Ray Gatt to put his destiny in the hands of his viticultural team.
And since he took possession of Eden Springs just in time for the 2006 vintage Gatt has remained committed to the theory that the vineyard rules.
There's no argument from chief winemaker David Norman either, who also trusts in the quality of fruit he will receive each year and to which he will add that final magical finish in the winery.
Throw in viticulturist Gil Rogers and his team, lovingly tending the vines, and the operation has crystallised into a spectacular success.
Not just at the cellar door but on the global stage.
It was awarded best Cabernet/Cabernet blend at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in Hong Kong last year.
Earlier this year one of its wines was ranked highest in the world across all major global blind tasting competitions.
BEST IN WORLD
Then at this year's Decanter World Wine Awards, Gatt Wines went home with the international trophy for best in show Riesling with its 2008 Eden Springs High Eden Riesling.
'It was absolutely fabulous winning this award,' Gatt said.
'I've been to many award nights around the world but the Decanter Awards at the Royal Opera House was the best one I've ever been to.
'The Brits sure know how to put on a good show.'
With little time to reflect the Gatt Wines juggernaut rolled back into SA in September to scoop up four trophies awarded at the Barossa Wine Show:
• The Wems Trophy for Best Dry White Riesling one year old and older, class two: 2008 Gatt Wines Eden Springs High Eden Riesling.
• The Hahn Corporation Trophy for Most Outstanding Barossa White Table Wine, premium class: 2008 Gatt Wines Eden Springs High Eden Riesling.
• The Riedel Trophy for Most Outstanding Single Vineyard Table wine, premium class: 2008 Gatt Wines Eden Springs High Eden Riesling.
• The Phil Hoffmann Wine Business Traveller Trophy for Most Outstanding Barossa Table Wine, premium class: 2008 Gatt Wines Eden Springs High Eden Riesling.
Gatt said the past seven years since his transformation from wine enthusiast to winery owner have been tremendous and he wouldn't trade his job for the world.
He's says he's big on integrity - and that it's an important part of what he does to ensure a successful business is run in the best way possible.
'Integrity carries over to the winery, especially as it now carries my name,' he said.
'Together with my perfectionist nature, this has resulted in the winery having a healthy obsession with quality.
'All three of our main varieties have been awarded trophies at international competitions, which is a great achievement.'
As the state known for its food and wine, Gatt believes wineries and vineyards located in SA have a big advantage over others.
'Here we have ready access to top quality people with years of experience and all the resources required for growing grapes and turning them into wine,' he says.
'I imagine some of the more remote wine regions in Australia must be envious of us.'
He says the future of Gatt Wines is bright and he looks forward to many more successes and achievements.
'In the near future we will be releasing the first vintages of our new varieties - Tempranillo, Grenache, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese,' he adds.
'We've also been bottle-ageing some terrific Shiraz and Cabernet from 2008 onwards which will take us to a whole new level when released in the next year or two.
'Until now we've mostly been focused on production and building export markets but in the coming months we will put more effort into making our wines more readily available to people throughout Australia.'
David Norman says at 510m Gatt Wines is one of the highest vineyards in High Eden.
He says as the vineyards, first planted in 1972, are east facing it limits the impact of afternoon sun and heat, and cools off rapidly from mid afternoon.
'We have very light, sandy loam soils giving rise to low yields,' Norman says.
'But it also gives the fruit characteristics of delicate citrus lime and lemon rather than a powerful aromatic perfume,' he says.
'That gives us a very crisp, strong, acid backbone which provides longevity and gives Gatt Wines the ability to age into powerful toasty, citrus-style wines.
'We have a mission to produce the best wines possible without exception and we are never satisfied, with every possible avenue of quality improvement being explored.
'We have hand harvesting as a standard, use a mechanical sorting table to remove faulty berries, such as raisined and sunburned, as well as any other foreign material.
'The wines are then made by gentle pressing, which also gives low yields, then cold settling the juice and racking to cool ferment to conserve the fruit character.
'Many wineries do the same so for us the major difference comes from the special attributes of our vineyards.'
The High Eden sub-region is remarkable amongst Australia's winegrowing areas - not only for its attributes of cool climate and high altitude, but for its magnificent landscape.
It is largely unspoilt land with a sparse population and no major settlement.
Many regard it as Australia's most picturesque winegrowing area, with sweeping vistas embracing graceful, contoured vineyards on misty hillsides dotted with massive red gums and stands of yacca trees.
There are meandering creeks among massive rock outcrops, some of which display ancient Aboriginal art.
It is home to majestic wedge-tail eagles and minute, Superb Blue Wrens, and retains a rustic serenity unmatched by neighbouring winegrowing areas.
This is what Gil Rogers calls the office.
'Our vines are typical old, low-yielding vines typical of the High Eden style with its acid soils,' Rogers says.
'When I joined seven years ago I felt the Riesling vines were run down and we did a lot of work on the soil and mulching the vineyard,' he says.
'The contours have meant our plantings have gone north-south, which might not be the absolute ideal but we got in a program of rod pruning to reinvigorate them.'
The other focus for Rogers is the soil's pH, which he tries to run at a borderline 5.5-5.8.
All adding up to the overriding goal of not just quality, but premium, fruit.
'Although sun is the biggest killer here, we run our canopy at 40-50 per cent compared to the Barossa,' he says.
'We harvest between 1.5 and 2.5 tonnes per acre without major additional inputs and we do it all with extra care.
'Of course all that care means extra cost but it pays off in the end product.'
According to some of the toughest judges in the wine world that's no boast, it's just a statement of fact.
Contact: Gatt Wines. Phone: 61 8 8564 1166. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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