Perhaps one of Australia’s less recognised wine producers, and a couple that shy away from the wine press. It is a great story and we will take you on their journey from the very beginning…
Greg and Allison are the founders of Hobbs of Barossa Ranges, and they have an unusual story to tell. Unlike many of our producers, they were not born into a winemaking family and in the case of Greg, he was teetotal until he met Allison. During my interview with Greg, he affectionately professed “I can honestly say my wife drove me to drink!! When I first met my beautiful wife Allison, I did not drink alcohol…”
Greg was a police officer and Allison a nurse. He spoke fondly of their early days; “Both being shift workers, Allison and I would go to a fantastic, small wine bar near our home, usually during the week when it was quiet, and we got to know the owner pretty well. He had a remarkable palate and a great wine cellar and would guide Allison on the different wines to try. He also encouraged me to smell the wines and I slowly started to taste. Then I began to fall in love with wine... and the rest is history.”
From suburban life in the city to becoming vignerons
It takes a lot of courage to trade safe, well paid careers with a convenient life in the city for the challenges of living off the land, not to mention starting new careers without the prerequisite skills.
Many of our Aussie winemakers come from a long line of wine heritage, which and in some cases, date back for generations. Dan Standish for example, is an eighth generation winemaker, Josh Cooper was virtually born amongst the vines at his parents’ Cobaw Ridge vineyard, Liam Anderson worked shoulder to shoulder with his father at Wild Duck Creek before finally taking control, and Nick Glaetzer stems from a vast winemaking family which also stretches back for many generations.
In 1995, the plunge was taken, Greg and Allison purchased a vineyard from the Randall Family. At the time, they owned much of the local area known as ‘Randall Town’ which was sub-divided between family members.
At the time of purchase, the property had established vines including Shiraz, Semillon, Pedro Ximénez and white Frontignac (The Australian name for a Greek grape variety called Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). The previous owners planted fruit trees and invested in a large cow herd. Greg explained that the Randall’s sold their grapes and fruit, which enabled the entire family to be self-sufficient, which was something they both looked to achieve for themselves.
Inexperience aside, Greg and Allison quickly pulled out the Pedro Ximénez and replanted (all by hand) with more Shiraz. They grafted the white Frontignac to Shiraz and some of the Semillon to Viognier, which now goes into their flagship ‘Tango’ blend and the ‘Tin Lids’ Viognier label.
Their vineyard was planted and yielding a healthy annual harvest however, Greg and Allison had not a blooming clue when it came to winemaking. By luck (or perhaps they knew of their neighbour before agreeing to purchase the vineyard), Chris Ringland’s home was circa 400 metres away from Greg and Allison – his vineyard being the only dividing factor.
Those of you not in the know - Chris Ringland spent over 15 years at the famed Rockford winery producing many of their renowned wines as their chief winemaker. Whilst at Rockford and given the quality of grapes found at the Hobbs’ vineyard, Chris suggested selling the fruit to Rockford which the Hobbs’ agreed to do as this was the entire point of moving to the Barossa – the land must fund their lives. Greg explained that over time, Chris became good friends and suggested they keep a small portion of the grapes to make a wine for themselves. The Hobbs’ had no intention of selling their single barrel ‘house wine’ even though it was made by one of Australia’s most talented winemakers. Greg recalled that out of the blue, Chris introduced the couple to a US wine buyer who fell in love with their Shiraz. So much so, he offered to buy all of it and all future allocations. Greg informed me that “It was pretty hard to say no and that was the beginning of Hobbs. Chris has been a trusted friend, our mentor since the very beginning, and now acts as the Hobbs consultant.”
The influence of a winemaker can often shape the style of a wine. Some say that the best winemakers are more farmers than producers however, and in the case of Chris, his unique style which he honed during his tenure at Rockford was impossible not to be reflected in Greg and Allison’s wines.
“We compete, not against others, but against our own standards, always endeavouring to grow better fruit and to make better wine.”
Greg believes that "Chris’s influence will always be a big part of Hobbs wines. His philosophy of nurturing the vineyard to produce the best fruit, minimal intervention to let the fruit do the talking has been an underlying influence in what we do now.”
Time moved on and Chris stepped aside to allow Greg and Allison to craft their own skills in the vineyard and winery. The couple took the lead and produced their famous 1905 Shiraz and their Tango (Shiraz / Viognier) at home, but with his guidance…
Pete Schell (owner and winemaker at the glorious Spinifex winery) started making wine for the Hobbs from 2005 at his own winery down the hill in Tanunda. Pete concentrated on their Gregor and Tin Lids range however, Greg was quick to point out that “we’re at the winery with Pete every day during the ferments until the wine is pressed into barrels. We bring the wine in barrels back home and manage the maturation phase until bottling.”
Greg went on to explain that “over the years we’ve shared ideas and the management of our vineyards through to hands on wine making. Pete Schell is an outstanding winemaker who we have worked with for 15 years. We listen to each other’s views and ideas. He is very easy to get on with and he has an extraordinary palate. I think he has guided us to expanding, broadening our ideas on winemaking particularly in areas such as the blending of different varieties, the length of ferments and the use of oak treatments. Depending on the season and the fruit, he leans to a slightly more European way of making great Australian wine.”
I was intrigued to learn more of their ‘European way of making great Australian wine.’ I asked Greg to elaborate further “for us a European wine style is a wine that is slightly less fruit driven, it has less fruit intensity. Pete adopts more of a softer approach during the ferments using gentle hand plunging which allows the subtle complexity of the fruit to shine through rather than be dominant. Depending on how the wine is developing, we also vary the size and style of oak barrels to integrate and enhance the different flavours and characteristics of each wine.”
I asked Greg to explain his range in more detail, today’s style, the challenges, and above all, do they find winemaking fun…
I re-read through all my notes and came across a poignant sentence which I love and perfectly describes the pair “We compete, not against others, but against our own standards, always endeavouring to grow better fruit and to make better wine.”
Hobbs have an ability to craft powerful, concentrated and captivating wines. I asked Greg; was this the style you always loved (passion for Italian Amarone perhaps?) or is it a product of the old vines and the terroir? Greg responds “I think it is a product of the old vines and the terroir. The first big influence was from a Kracher dessert wine. Kracher’s wines show amazing intensity, a perfect balance of acidity and a wonderful elegance. What more could you ask for! We have tried to put those characteristics into our wine. Using the age-old Italian method of drying the grapes before fermenting achieves intensity with layers of flavours whilst retaining the natural acids in the grapes which balances all the elements. I think the main elements we strive for is balance and that silky mouth feel.”
The wine collection in Greg’s eyes…
“The key to our wine is our vineyard and our location. One of the 10 great wine regions of the world. Our vineyard is also in the coolest and most elevated part of the Barossa. We receive gully breezes, cooler nights and normally about 100ml of rain or more per year than the valley floor. We practice organic and biodynamic principles for the past 20 years however, we are not certified and have no intention of being so. We believe in feeding and looking after the health of the soil, which in turn looks after the vines and the fruit. A certificate means little to us…
The vines are hand pruned as we focus on producing low-yields resulting in wines with more intensity and consistency from vintage to vintage. Despite the intensity of labour, we pick each bunch by hand – again ensuring perfect quality and ripeness.
We make wine because we simply want to. We aim to make great wine, not good wine. We make wine for drinking and enjoying, not for wine writers. We make wines that are grown in the vineyard, that can be consumed young or old. Wines that can be enjoyed with food or without. They are not wines to be ignored or forgotten once tasted. We are not concerned with making low alcohol wines or following fashions. We strive to produce balanced wines – nothing more and nothing less.”
Produced from vines from our own vineyard varying from 30 to around 80 years of age. Grapes are handpicked and placed on racks to air dry. Once the grapes have dried sufficiently to give us the flavour we want, we ferment them and get the juice into French oak. For the ‘Gregor’ we mainly use 500 litre puncheons and 1350 litre vats. This wine is anywhere from 60 to 100% new French oak. A great wine, magnificent with some great parmesan cheese.
96 Points - Joe Czerwinski (RobertParker.com) "Owner Greg Hobbs jokes that the 2015 Gregor Shiraz is their "big-production wine," because he bottles 500-600 cases annually. The grapes are picked a bit earlier than those for the 1905 Shiraz and then air-dried on racks before being crushed and fermented. Scents of smoke and black pepper emerge on the nose of this fantastically concentrated elixir. It's full-bodied and unabashedly rich, with notes of cracked pepper, chocolate and dark fruit supported by silky tannins and a long finish. It should drink well for a decade or more.
"Consistently made using 96% Shiraz and 4% Viognier. A stunning Rhône style wine. Powerful and elegant. Handpicked of course and 2 years in 60 to 100% new French oak. A wine with all the complexity of Shiraz and the floral notes and flavours of Viognier.
Until recently we would say these wines would live for 20 years. Now we say to everyone 30 years plus. We are currently drinking some of the wines from 2004. They have great balance and elegance but are still showing great fruit characters. The other thing we say to our customers is that if you want to drink the wines young, do so. With current releases pull the cork a couple of days before drinking. If you can’t plan that far ahead double decant before drinking. They are great wines, they do need to be given a chance to breathe and stretch.”
Hobbs Tango Shiraz Viognier 2017
"Shiraz and Viognier, hand picked from Hobbs vineyard and co-fermented with their own naturally occuring yeasts. The Viognier grapes are late picked, left on the vine to intensify their flavour compounds which add to the complexity of the wine. Matured in new French oak for 24 months."
"Our children’s plan (now in their 30’s) was to design a label, design packaging, find some fruit, help us make and sell the wines, and of course, enjoy together over dinner. However, the only part of the process they contributed to, was the drinking."
Hobbs Tin Lids
Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
"Tin Lids Shiraz Cabernet is an annual release, but only if we can find some great Cabernet. Percentages will vary each year however we believe this to be the quintessential Australian blend. Allison and I love the blend. We think it is a great wine, a match for any on the market today."
"On the nose, you’ll find licorice and blackberry essence, spicy notes of pepper and sage with a hint of freshly picked mint, meaty and savoury aromas and subtle notes of cedar. The palate is full-bodied with dark red and blackberry flavours and the lovely herbaceous characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon The wine has a fresh acidity, very fine grain tannins and a long perfumed finish. 50% Shiraz 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Shiraz is matured for 24 months in second use French oak hogsheads and the Cabernet matured in new French oak for 24 months. Bottled unfiltered."
Hobbs Tin Lids Aria Secca Shiraz 2018
"Made from 100% Shiraz and utilises 50% of Gregor’s dried berries with the wine spending 12 months in second use French oak. We believe this to be great fun and particularly suited to those embarking on the Amarone trail or looking for something a little different out of Oz."
"Crafted in the same style as our Gregor, the fruit is handpicked before being placed on racks and semi-dried in the method of the famous Amarone wines of Italy. Ripe blackberry, raspberry and blueberry aromas are complemented by pepper, spice and mineral notes, with slight hints of oak and smoked meat. A soft and generous mouthfeel, featuring pepper, spice and creamy vanilla with smooth blackberry, raspberry and dark plum flavours. Gentle velvety tannin structure with a lovely savoury finish."
Hobbs Tin Lids Viognier 2018
96++ Points - Stuart McCloskey “Old vine Viognier (planted circa 1960), lovingly tended by hand… Greg and Allison deliver hallmark aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle, sun drenched apricots and a whispering of orangey spice. The palate is surprisingly elegant, beautifully balanced and a textural delight – silky smooth to be more exact. The flavour profile is expansive, but this wine will offer everything with a little more bottle age. I enjoy the focus, the minerality, the freshness and the citrus oil which coats every facet. In fact, there isn’t anything I do not enjoy. The finish is incredible – bittersweet orange marmalade after a minute or so which is a fabulous way to part. Great now and will continue to improve for at least five years. Served (not too chilled) and using Zalto Bordeaux glassware. Decant for 20-30 minutes for the best result.”
Success despite not seeking it…
Their success was far from unobserved as Robert Parker.com has repeatedly put Hobbs wines in the limelight. In fact, most vintages receive 96-98 points which is a stunning result and not often replicated.
98 Points “Hobbs's 2016 1905 Shiraz is another compelling release from this tiny winery, which seems to be on an incredible roll. Breathtaking levels of concentration and flavor.”
97+ Points “The 2012 Shiraz Gregor is made from 100% Shiraz in the Amarone style. Profoundly scented of crème de cassis, blackberry pie and blueberry. Full-bodied, rich and oh-so-decadent…”
There’s a long list – Check out Robert Parker.com…
At the end of the day, Greg and Allison are great farmers in their own right. They came to the Barossa to live from the land and bring their children up in an organic environment which cannot be found in the city. Family dinners are simple but special nonetheless as Greg recants many occasions, and proudly so as the father of three. “All the kids arrive, and I pour the sparkling red or white, the boys might have beer. The table is laid simply with a big platter filled with pâté, local cheese, meats, olives and crusty breads. The place is full of laughing people and there’s a lot of noise and fun. Food aside, the big decision is what wine to open first – We all take a serious look at the producer, the grape variety and vintage. Over the course of the evening many bottles are opened together with older vintages from our Hobbs cellar being poured too…"
It is worthwhile to mention that Greg and Allison are also one of the founding members of the Artisans of Barossa, a collective group of like-minded winemakers whom we introduced as their exclusive agent last month. They join the same ranks as John Duval, Peter Schell and our very own Craig Stansborough, to name a few. It is great to see how far they have come…
Artisans of Barossa Barrel Blend Shiraz 2017
50% sold in the past few weeks…
"...utterly delicious and I can see this being a go-to wine for summer suppers"
£17.50 per bottle
£105.00 per case of 6 with FREE delivery (Mainland UK)
94-95 Points Stuart McCloskey "The bouquet is incredibly floral following the initial pour, and then invites you in with a warming hug of blackberry, clove, anise, mint, toast and warmed Barossa earth. The palate is swish, generous, and super-sexy for the money. The sheer length boosts the value. Blue, black, and red berries intermix fabulously with an open and silky texture. Overall, a wine which overdelivers (as it should given the winemakers behind the label) and leaves you with a big sigh of quaffable satisfaction. Ready and waiting but certainly has the quality to age for 5-8 years. Decanted for 2-3 hours and served using Zalto Bordeaux glassware.”
95 Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz "Great nose with impressive purity. Flawless fruit (blackcurrant jumps to the forefront) with a touch of ink, wild flowers and vanilla. The palate is again impressive as the flavours gently wrap around the senses with luscious softness. There’s clearly bags of quality fruit in the blend given the overall balance and striking length. Much suppleness and freshness makes the Barrel Blend utterly delicious and I can see this being a go-to wine for summer suppers."