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Wine Chats: Tony Allen

Interview: Tony Allen, Winemaker, Rewild Wine, Southern Murray Darling

“Great wine doesn’t have to cost the earth.”

Welcome to Rewild Wine. It’s probably fair to say that Rewild is one of the greenest wine companies in the country – and I don’t mean “green” like new, inexperienced, or doe-eyed. I mean “green” as in doing everything they can to be sustainable and biodiverse in their vineyard.

In fact, they’re the largest certified member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, and I sat down with Rewild winemaker Tony Allen recently - I met him earlier in the year at a fabulous event hosted by Dialogue PR. Tony and I chatted all things Rewild, their phenomenal sustainability story, and Tony’s desert island wine.

What's your wine career in a nutshell - did you always want to be a winemaker? Was there a particular moment that made you fall in love with wine?

I didn't always want to be a winemaker. I sort of fell into the job! In 1989, I was working for Deakin Estate in the laboratory one year over the vintage period, and soon as vintage finished there, I was offered a full time job in the laboratory with Hardy Wine company at their Stanley winery in Mildura. So I took that on, and I just loved the industry from day one, to be honest! It was fantastic. I worked in the lab for around about seven years. I ended up supervising the lab, and the senior winemaker at the time I twisted my arm in to go back to Uni and do my degree by correspondence. So I went to Charles Sturt Uni at Wagga for six years, all while being full time employed. I did my degree, and from there, I was appointed Winemaker, and I took on the role of Senior White Winemaker with Hardy’s. I then ended up managing the winery itself in about 2008. And then I think around 2017 I was made Director of Commercial Wineries for Accolade Wines, which involved the management of both the Stanley and Berry sites. So the Berry winery is the biggest winery in Australia. They crushed over 200,000 tonnes each year - so it's a big monster. That was that was more of a managerial role, which took me away from the winemaking side of it which is really what my passion is.

And so speaking of passion, what keeps you passionate about working in this industry?

Each year is totally different. There are a new set of challenges each year. Mother Nature throws all sorts of challenges at you – whether it's hot, whether you're in a drought, whether you get rain (like we did this year!), high yields, low yields… I guess being a winemaker, you're in charge of a lot of the quality aspects, all the way through the vineyards during the growing season. We’ll walk up and down the rows and grade the fruit, we’ll try and stream the same quality fruit streams through the winery at the same time. And then when it hits the winery, our attention to detail is crucial, really. There's a lot of science involved in it. But also, you know, we’re just making sure that each step of the way, we're looking after the wines the way that they should be looked after, to preserve that quality from the vineyard through the finished wines. We don't like to trick our wines up a hell of a lot. Generally, we want to let the fruit from the vineyard shine through in the wine. So we don't throw a lot of sugar or a lot of oak in our wines. We want the natural terroir of the vineyard to show through the bottle.

Yeah, definitely. I think that's I think that's something that you guys are doing really well! And I guess that leads me on to my next question – so let's talk Rewild. Give me a little bit of the background in terms of how Rewild came about. And why does it exist? I guess everyone's really aware of climate change at the moment, it’s an issue that is worldwide. We’re really aware of that as a company, and we wanted to do our bit by putting sustainability at the forefront of all the decisions we make within the business, from the vineyard through to the winemaking process to production to packaging. Every decision we make, we’re thinking about sustainability with each step of the process. Rewild offers a really vibrant line for the eco-conscious consumer at a fantastic price. We are committed to our community, and we want to put back in more than what we take out. That is our philosophy as far as looking after the earth. It's all about improving the environment, and working with nature to put more back in than what we take out.

I think that should be probably everyone's philosophy in life, really.

Yes, exactly! I think it's certainly gaining traction. You know, everyone's talking about sustainability now and it's a business decision we made because we want to do the right thing… it's cheaper not to do it! Sustainable Winemaking Australia is a national program for grape growers and winemakers within the industry to demonstrate continuous improvement in relation to sustainability. We're really proud that we're the largest member of Sustainable Winemaking Australia at the moment. We went through a fairly rigorous audit process to become accredited, and we're really proud of our environmental focus. We also work with government groups and local indigenous leaders on regenerating native flora within our vineyards. We’re a part of the Saving Our Species Program with the New South Wales Government, too. One of our vineyards is known as one of the biggest breeding grounds for the endangered Regent Parrot, so we're planting trees to increase their habitat. We're working with the University of Adelaide and others on regenerating native fauna and flora within the vineyards and doing what we can there, too.

That's really amazing because you know, as you said before, a lot of people are talking about sustainability, but not everybody's doing it.

Yeah, exactly. Like I said, it fuels every business decision we make. We recycle what we can, whether it's recycled posts in the vineyards, or packaging materials.

That was going to be my next question! You recycle everything including the bottle glass and everything, right?

Correct. So the bottles, I think, are around about 50% recycled glass. They're lightweight glass, so they’re 25% lighter than a normal bottle, which reduces your carbon footprint. Pretty soon they'll be 70% recycled glass. The labels themselves are made of sugar cane waste, which would normally be burned. The caps are 40-50% recycled aluminium as well, and the boxes the wines come in are all 100% recycled. Yeah, wherever we can we'll use recycled products. Anything to reduce our footprint.

That's fantastic. I think it's really cool. I actually can't think off the top of my head of another winery that is doing as much as you guys are.

It’s part of their business now. As I said, with every decision we make, sustainability is the forefront of all that. All of our business decisions, whether it's buying a new pump in the winery, we make sure that it's energy efficient, and fit for purpose.

So, please talk me through the wines that you guys have in your range.

So we've got eight wines in the current Rewild range. Hopefully that'll be more in the future! We have Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, a Moscato, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Rosé. We've had great reviews. We had all our wines assessed by Masters of Wine, and they all scored really highly. We think they're fantastic! And we're hoping that they'll gain traction in with the consumer as well. And they're available exclusively through Dan Murphy’s, and they sell for $9.99.

I think that's an incredible price for the quality of wines that you guys are putting out. It's amazing. I was blown away when I tasted them all at the event, and then you said there were $9.99 and I was like “Sorry, did I hear that correctly?”

You know, we want to offer great wine at a great price and something that because of the environmental focus behind it, it makes consumers feel happy that they're buying something that is eco-friendly as well.

And what's your favourite wine in the range?

I like them all, but it’s the Chardonnay to be honest. It’s got some beautiful stone fruit, white peach characters. It's got a lovely textural element on the palette through some extended lees maturation. So that would be my go-to. With the reds, I’d probably choose the Cab Sauv.

I remember at the event, you guys mentioned maybe down the line, you were going to start doing a few alternative varieties. Is that still in the works?

Well, we would love to push out some alternatives. Duxton Vineyards themselves grow about 70,000 tons of fruit. So we are a very big grower. We grow about 26 different varieties from memory, and we do grow quite a few alternate varieties as well. So there’s Tempranillo, Nero D’Avola, Fiano and Vermentino – these make some of the best wines we've made each year. Plus Graciano and Durif. So we would love to maybe put out an environmental alternate range in the future.

Well, we've got the Rosé open so shall we have a little bit of a quick taster of that? You can talk me through.

Sure. So the Rewild Rosé is 100%, Shiraz. We pick the fruit out in the vineyard that we think will be suitable for a rosé. With this one, we wanted to make something that was pale, Provence-style, quite dry. So there's only a little bit of sugar – just enough to balance that acid out. There's some lovely strawberries & cream and raspberry cordial notes on the palate, and some tight acid, which balances that out fantastically. We've had some really good reviews on this one as well. We're really happy, because it's the first Shiraz Rosé we actually made. We’re really happy with the result.

I actually have a question just based on what you said just now. When you are looking for grapes in the vineyard that are specifically going into a rosé, what do you look for? If you're looking at the shiraz grapes, how do you choose which grapes go into a rosé, and which ones go into the red?

So generally, we will look at all sorts of things. We’ll taste the fruit, flavour-wise. We'll also select parcels on colour. So the dense or dark probably lower yielding blocks will be better suited to the dry red. Whereas the higher yielding maybe lower colour patches will go into a rosé. We don't want too dark of a colour in our rosé, so through the winemaking process we try and strip a bit of that colour out to give us this lovely pale vibrant pink colour. Do you like the wine?

I think it's gorgeous. It's so pretty on the nose as well – it smells beautiful.

There's little bit of rose petal there on the nose as well. There’s some sort of soft power, and it’s supple.

That’s a great word for it. It’s definitely supple. Strawberries and cream. But still got a little bit of a bite at the back, which is lovely.

And just before we move on from the wines, tell me how the artwork design on the labels came to be.

So the colour on the label is supposed to reflect the Murray Darling region. Here, basically everything flows up the river. It’s the lifeblood of the region. Everything up here comes from the water, from the river, from irrigation. There’s a hell of a lot of wine grapes grown here, lots of nuts, dried fruit, citrus, and it's all dependent on the river. So the labels themselves depict landscape of the Murray Darling region. We've got the river, the blue skies, the different types of soil colours that are representative of the region.

I think they look fantastic. And each one is slightly different. If you line them all up, although the colours are the same, the design is subtly different.

Yes, they’re slightly different!

I love that colour palette and they do really pop on the shelf for sure. All right, so now we've got the Rewild story down, I’d love to talk about you a bit more. So tell me what your favourite go-to party tipple is?

Depends on the occasion, I think. I’d probably start with some nice bubbles to kick things off, and then I think a nice crisp riesling or… I'm a bit of a chardonnay fiend, so I really like my chardonnays. And then if you want to roll on to a red, something like a Margaret River cabernet, then I’d finish off with a Rutherglen fortified to cap the night off!

I love that. All right, I'm coming to your party! Okay, so next question is desert island wine. What wine would you want to have with you on a desert island?

I think if I had to choose one of each… I’d probably go with an EJ Carr late disgorged sparkling from Tassie, then probably a Leeuwin Estate art series chardonnay, and then I’d finish with a Thomas Hardy cabernet.

Let's talk food and wine. What is one of your go-to food and wine pairings?

Let’s start off with maybe some champagne and freshly shucked oysters. A nice chardonnay with a roast chicken. A nice pinot with some crispy skin duck….

That's one of my favourites too.

And then cabernet with a nice steak or maybe a cheese platter at the end of the night.

And what about sweet like dessert wines? Are you a sweet wine man?

Not normally, no. But to be honest, I like all wine…

I do too!

Everything has its place.

My last question is… after taking me through your amazing sustainability philosophy with Rewild and everything you’re doing for regeneration and sustainability and all the all the work that you're doing with the flora and fauna to preserve it – what do you see for the future of Rewild? Is there anywhere else for you guys to go?

As I mentioned, the brand itself is available in Dan Murphy’s exclusively in Australia. But we’d like to take that brand story to the world, to be honest with you. I think there’s a great story behind the brand and I think it would resonate overseas through Europe and the US. Hopefully we can push our story out there and gain some traction in markets like the US and Canada, and through Europe as well. The wine itself is really affordable. It's great price! And there is a great story behind it. The message that we're trying to get out there is that we need to look after mother nature if we want to keep producing wines like this. We need to look after the earth, and hopefully with our business model, people can combine this range of wines, get great value for money, but also feel good about the environmental story behind it.

And also, I guess, teaching people (consumers) that it doesn't need to cost an arm and a leg to make better choices.

That's right. We're really proud of the wines that we've released with this brand, but we're also really proud of our sustainability accreditation and the work that we're doing around sustainability as well. So as a company and as a workforce, you know, everyone lives and breathes it. It's a great place to work. It's a great message to put out there, and if we can be an example to other businesses, not just in the wine industry, but everywhere, that this is the way we need to go… well then that's fantastic.

Yeah, I fully agree with you, and cheers to that!

Cheers to that.

To get your hands on the delicious Rewild range, head to your local Dan Murphy’s store or check it out online. Run, don’t walk! To find out more about the Rewild story, head to their website.

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