Exclusive Q&A with
Purple Hands Wines
James Halliday Wine Companion
“Both the Shiraz and Grenache have a common theme of elegance, and a voice distinctly different to that of mainstream Barossa."
We asked Mark Slade and Craig Stansborough to tell us about
Purple Hands Wines and life in the Barossa…
So… which of you is the brains behind the operation?
We both play our part, Craig Stansborough is the brains behind the winemaking but Mark Slade is the business head, it’s a perfect marriage; one cannot survive without the other.
When did the two of you first meet and how did the idea for Purple Hands come about? Was it instantaneous or did it develop over many years of good conversation over many great bottles of wine?
We first met around 1997 when our two daughters were going to school together. We struck up a strong family to family connection and enjoyed many BBQs and bottles of wine together over the years. We both were living on farm properties at the time and we spent many hours looking out over the vineyard or paddocks contemplating life and sipping on fine wines (mainly from Craig’s collection). Our kids played tennis together so we had many hours on Saturday mornings where we would also chat about life, work and the future. The conversation inevitably turned to Mark asking Craig had he ever contemplated doing his own thing. After Craig planted his own vineyard in 2000 the pieces of the puzzle started to come together and we had a source of grapes, a passion for wine, an opportunity for Craig to express himself in his own style and a chance to have a crack. Our first vintage in 2006 was a crush of 1.25 T of Shiraz, hand picked from the vineyard and processed in Craig’s shed. It was a lot of fun and we both got purple hands out of it.
We are obviously very aware of Craig’s career as Chief Winemaker at Grant Burge but we’d love to hear a little more about Mark too, what inspired you to get into the industry through this venture? Was it simply a love for great wine?
I am an electronic engineer by education and have spent over 30 years in the industry. But wine became a real interest when Craig introduced me to fine wines, and wine varieties I had never heard of or tasted. I gained a deeper understanding of what elegance and texture were all about and how to appreciate the thinking and effort that winemakers put into every bottle, especially for hand crafted boutique small batch production like Purple Hands. I think wine is seductive in this sense, and as you gain a better understanding of all aspects of the process, it lures you into wanting to be a part of it, a chance to create something that people will say “wow that is really nice”, and something you can be proud of. I always figured the worst case scenario was if we couldn’t sell it to others, I would end up with some good wines in my own cellar. One of the key things for me was knowing how great Craig was at making wines, I really wanted to see what he would do if he had no-one else directing or influencing the winemaking process. The partnership started with me throwing in a few dollars to fund some oak, processing equipment and setting up the business side of things, and Craig provided the grapes and winemaking prowess, and we have never looked back.
Tell us about life in Barossa. Is there a typical trait to the people that live there?
Life is good in the Barossa, I feel we are very lucky. It is a safe, quiet, clean beautiful part of the world. We have a culture of family first.
Very hard to define a typical trait as we have so many individuals who are driven to get better with many aspects of work and life and community. One thing that brings them all together however is a strong passion for wine and ensuring the Barossa legend carries on into the future as a world leading wine production area.
Is the Barossa culture a very family orientated one? Are meal times there similar to the typical Mediterranean ethos with the whole family eating together and sharing some great wine?
I would suggest this is probably more common in the Barossa than some other parts of the country, and maybe more so in the summer, it is very common to eat outside in the summer months, this is certainly common in our household and of course with great wine! Unfortunately, like most of the western world screens tend to take too much time in our life which I do believe affects many aspects of family life, however family values are definitely strong in the Barossa and it is very important to maintain this. Our favourite family get together time is around our wood fired pizza oven where we all make and share our own special pizzas from selected local produce.
One thing that we’ve always wondered is….… does being a great winemaker also make you a great chef? It stands to reason that someone with such an acute palate and ability to blend flavours should also be a master in the kitchen. But is this the case with you?
Not sure about a great chef, a good cook maybe but yes I do love to cook and create in the kitchen, I find it quite relaxing and enjoyable. One thing winemaking teaches you is to taste and taste and this certainly helps in the kitchen understanding things like mouthfeel, acid, salty, sour and bitter, and more importantly balance and getting it right. I have had my disasters and our kids are our harshest critics, but I am proud of the fact that the love of food, wine and cooking has been passed down.
At The Vinorium we have many self-proposed, expert chefs, the boss of course claiming to be the best! Everyone always has a speciality dish. Is there a particular dish that you are the undisputed champion of? What would you suggest we drink with it?
There is one dish that my family get excited about when I am making it, Pork and fennel sausage ragu. We have a brilliant organic farmer not far from us in the Barossa and he raises and butchers pork and also makes amazing butter. He quite often makes these pork and fennel sausages and lets me know when he is making a batch, all this combined with homemade pappardelle and lots of herbs from our veggie garden is so good. In terms of wine we do make a lovely Aglianico from our vineyard & this wine goes down a treat with this dish.
What do the good people of Barossa like to eat and drink? Is there a classic dish of the region? Also, be honest… do people love wine or beer the most?
We have a strong German influence in the Barossa so smoked meats are popular and it’s quite competitive in the mettwurst stakes. Like a lot of wine regions, the Barossa has a strong food culture and does attract great chefs, artisanal produces and farmers who care for their land, so typical is difficult to nail, all I know is that we eat well all year around. With regards to wine or beer, well I am not sure we could live without either, maybe if I can sum it up - wine is what we live for and beer is what we drink when we just want to relax (especially on a 40 degree day!).
Stu has been threatening to take the trip over to Barossa for a while now and there are countless reasons why he should. What would you say to persuade him?
For me, the Barossa is the home of the Australian wine industry, with 175 years of continuous grape growing and winemaking the wine culture of the region is so evident. We also have so many hidden little gems in the Barossa, so many people doing interesting things in both food & wine. So apart from the 80+ cellar doors, some unique experiences in the Barossa include tasting a fortified wine from your birth year at Seppeltsfield, 5 star dining at the Appellation at the Louise retreat, the most amazing Asian cuisine and award winning wine list at Ferment Asian, some classic Aussie dishes with a twist at 1918 Bistro & Grill, and why not pop into Vino Lokal a funky new wine room and bar awarded Gourmet Traveller WINE’s Best Cellar Door Awards 2019 for a true Artisan experience. And when you are done with that there are local Gins, beers and the Barossa Valley Chocolate Factory to finish it all off.
Have you worked many harvests anywhere else? What region have you been most inspired by?
I haven’t worked a vintage in any other regions but have travelled extensively to many, many great regions. Every place that I have been has its own identity and character and you take a little from the people you meet and taste with. However two come to mind, my first trip the Rhône Valley a long time ago was enlightening and changed some of my thoughts on winemaking , the Southern Rhône in particular had quite a lot in common with the Barossa, particularly the varieties grown, it is fair to say the wines I made post that visit had a greater degree of style and elegance. The other was Piedmont, I fell in love with the great Nebbiolos from this region, I was lucky enough a meet two great fellas from the region who worked with me in the Barossa for a couple of years and have been back to their region with them a couple of times which did give me a great insight in the region. The Barossa is a little too warm to grow this great variety, so I will just need to keep drinking Barolo… bugger!
Besides Barossa, if you could have been a wine producer in any other region in any other country, where would that be and why? Would it be for the wine or the place?
I think I just answered that in the previous question, Peidmont. Beautiful place, beautiful people, brilliant wine and food. What more do you need? We visited there with our wives in 2016 and still dream of it every night.
Craig, we know that your favourite bottle of wine from Grant Burge is also one of our personal and customer favourites, the Corryton Park Cabernet. Do you have an all-time favourite bottle of wine, one that was just unforgettable?
For me the occasion makes a wine unforgettable and a couple spring to mind, Grant Burge and myself were in the Northern Rhône and had a visit to Jaboulet. We were in the winemakers’ tasting room tasting away with the commercial director when Gerard Jaboulet walked in and found out we were a couple of winemakers from Oz and presided to open a range of back vintage La Chapelle, this was so, so memorable. The other was when I was judging in Canberra and at the judges' dinner, James Halliday who was the Chief Judge at the time decided to bring a couple of DRC’s, '76 Grand Échezeaux, this wine blew me away with its youthfulness and beauty, can’t afford these wines now, what a shame.
You have planted a hectare each of the Italian varieties Aglianico and Montepulciano in your own vineyard. Do you have particular fondness for Italian wines or was this a technical decision, as we see a lot more Italian varieties being planted in Australia.
A bit of both really, I did want a point of difference and I did do a lot of research before planting, the tasting bit was fun! From a technical point of view, I think both varieties suit the Barossa, they work with the soil profiles and do handle the heat, both have a great ability to retain natural acidity which as a winemaker is a joy to work with. I did have in mind a Barossa version of the super Tuscan, a single vineyard blend of these two varieties with Shiraz we call Serata (after the Italian word to have a pleasant evening together), and it is certainly giving very promising results so far.
If you could experiment with any varieties or even create a dream blend, what would it be?
I do like some of the elegant Shiraz/Pinot Noir blends that are being made in Oz at the moment, surprisingly these varieties work really well together and this blend has quite a bit of history in Australia .
If not obvious, I am certainly enjoying Italian varietals at the moment and creating interesting and unusual blends already with our Serata. I do like the Sicilian variety Nerello Mascalese, so interesting with its aromas, flavours and tannins. Would like to plant and play with this variety with Aglianico and Barossa Shiraz. Need a few years for this one! We are just about to bottle our first Ozzie Rosso – a blend of Negroamaro, Montepulciano and Aglianico, we are super excited about how this looks and can’t wait to show it to people.
Are there any other Australian producers that you particularly admire?
Loads and really too many to mention, I do admire producers like Wendouree who have maintained style and produced long living classics for such a long time. Guys like Kalleske Wines who have done a brilliant job with their vineyards and John Hughes from Rieslingfreak who has focused on one varietal and done it so well. I could keep going as there are so many small producers in Australia that are making interesting and balanced wines that are just great to drink, it is such an exciting time in our country at the moment.
Are the purple stains on the hands of all red winemakers permanent or is there a particular trick to getting it off?
Only time and maybe a little citric acid but this only changes the colour a little.
What does a winemaker generally do at the end of a long day?
Generally you are both physically and mentally exhausted so collapse on the couch with a cold beer and hope there is a good cricket match on tele.
We are now your exclusive agent in the UK and would love to know, what was it that made you choose The Vinorium to represent your wines here? What is it about us that you felt would be a great fit for your wines?
After a visit to your headquarters and tasting room, I left with the feeling that ‘these guys know and get good wine, they were interested in not just the price but the stories and philosophies behind the wine and the people making them.’ I knew immediately that if we wanted someone in the UK to relay what we are about it was The Vinorium.
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