Wines from the Barossa and beyond...
“I don’t begrudge anyone being technical and saying a wine has these flavours or those flavours... I was like that before I started making wine! But you know you’re not truly enjoying the wine if you are over-analysing it, so now I don’t see the point in it... For me, the process of making wine has to be enjoyable, and it’s drinking wine with good people that is the main driver for me.’”
JC’s Own is the solo venture of Jaysen Collins, who in our opinion produces some extraordinarily good wine. If we were to be completely honest (hopefully JC will not see our comment!) we believe each wine is undervalued and could comfortably command a much higher price. Mike Bennie (The Wine Front) nailed it with the following quote “Some great wines emerging from this label, reminiscent of Standish in some respects, power but elegance, shaped by tannins, and the like, but wholly its own thing too”.
We know Jaysen very well, through his Massena wines that he produces with his friend, Barossa veteran and Vinorium favourite, Dan Standish. It’s fair to say that Jaysen follows a creative style of winemaking, interfering as little as possible and allowing the grapes to do the work for him.
However, his twenty years of wine-making experience and his other project at Massena mean that this experimental style is far more than just guess work! Very often, his wines are born out of an idea and Jaysen, drawing on his years of experience, has an inherent ability to seek out the vineyards that will communicate this idea to its very fullest. He even conceived the idea for the label of one of the wines first, and set out to produce a wine that would express the sense of this, finding the ideal site in Adelaide Hills.
Jaysen is Barossa born and bred, starting out as a qualified accountant, he began working in the business side of wine, becoming the general manager for Turkey Flat as well as the great Barossa winery St Hallett. It wasn’t long however, before Jaysen decided that he’d “rather make wine than crunch numbers”. So, scraping together enough money to buy some Grenache and Shiraz, he produced his first vintage with his good friend Dan Standish. Massena was originally meant to be no more than a side project for personal consumption but grew to be one of Barossa’s most recognized and respected brands.
After two decades honing his skills as a wine maker, Jaysen felt it was time to take another step and start his solo project. JC’s Own wines are about letting the grapes do the talking and allowing them to naturally express the site from which they are picked, seeking out sustainable vineyards and practicing minimalist wine-making, using natural yeast, minimal sulphur and no fining or filtration. His wines are about the unadulterated essence of the grape, combining a sense of place and some great looking bottles!
We believe JC is a super-gifted and naturally talented winemaker. In fact, JC’s wines are in a league of their own (for the price). They are insanely good, and we implore you to try them…
For us, it is most impressive that you manage to get plenty of enjoyment and fun out of the serious responsibility of running the entire winery. This joy sings through your branding, your website and of course, your wines. Would you say your 20+ years of experience contribute to this? Or do you have a secret you can share with us?
The JC’s Own wines actually started as a bit of a professional revival for me, being in the industry for a while I found I was a bit jaded and lost a bit of verve. So I started making a few small batches of wine just for me in 2015. I then took off later that year to the US and spent Harvest with my good mate Matthew Rorick at Forlorn Hope in the Sierra foothills of California. This sort of jolted me back to enjoying the wine business more and that’s what the JC’s Own stuff reflects, a bit of fluidity, a bit of fun and also searching out some great vineyards, not limited to the Barossa. So, I go back to the US to make wine there every year and I’ve also started getting some Pinot and Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills too. I’m creating a bit of a monster with regards to logistics, but I really enjoy expanding my horizons. I love the winemaking process, so the joy comes from doing what I feel like doing, when I want to do it.
Despite your thorough enjoyment of a winemaker’s lifestyle, surely there must have been some challenges on the way… How do you deal with situations when serious decisions need to be made? What do you do to relax?
Tough question, I guess the ‘business’ of wine is the stressful part, it’s a cash intensive business and you are competing in a crowded sales market. So, the ‘getting food on the plate’ challenge can cause some concern. Then on reflection you realise you’ve been doing this for twenty years, through many ups and downs and always come out the other side so just roll with the punches and back yourself. I try to exercise to keep the spirits up - I’m a keen basket baller and I still play with some other old fellas for enjoyment. I also do live my boyhood dreams out on NBA2k19 on the kid's PlayStation every now and then. However a nice glass of wine and something delicious to eat with friends and family brings some perspective pretty quickly.
Do you have any frustrations with the wine industry at all, whether it’s local or global?
I guess there is, but I try not to dwell on it. Some winemaking friends used to get frustrated with the Natural Wine movement in regard to perceived wine quality, but I figure people can spend their money on whatever they want and whinging about it isn’t going to change anything. There would be little things here and there but nothing is really bugging me at the moment. I think I’m more frustrated with the global malaise on respecting our earth for the future, but that’s a far bigger conversation.
Is JC’s Own a whole family affair? How old are your kids? Do they show any interest in Dad’s work?
I’ve got three kids aged between 17 and 12. They help out with some packaging; my daughter is the oldest and she is meticulous with this and they all do some barrel work. The boys love the forklift so I can see some help in the future. My youngest son is a charmer so he’s definitely going into sales when he is old enough. I’m setting up this project right now for me personally, but it will morph over time into a generational business that any or all of them can get involved with. My wife Tracy is also very supportive, I go ‘missing’ during Harvest for several weeks from February to April and then I’m away for a month in September. I try to make up for it when I’m around but she’s supportive in me following my current path, which I really appreciate.
How do you find balancing work and family life?
I’m pretty hands on with the kids when I’m around home, being a basketball coach and carting them around to trainings and other family logistics. I’m also a default linesman for my son’s soccer - sorry - football team, everyone runs away when they bring out the flag and I’m the only sucker left standing around! Having your own business helps with flexibility, so apart from the busy Harvest period I’m usually around the place and that’s where the balance comes in.
As mentioned earlier, we love your branding. All JC’s Own labels are great fun - do you have a particular favourite? Who designs your labels?
The JC’s Own wines are meant to be a bit of fun, so I wanted to incorporate this with the packaging. The first wines, the Ferine and Freestyler, I engaged a friend who is a graphic designer to help make the labels based on some street art I’d seen on my travels. All the other wines I have actually started designing myself, as I wanted this to be a true expression of the vine to bottle concept and getting involved in the whole process. There’s some hits and misses but a mate once mentioned that some of the best wines around usually are not the ones where you’ve paid a production and design team a bucketload of money for branding, so I’m sticking by that.
Was there a particular moment in life that you decided to become a winemaker? Or did you gradually sink into it while growing up in the Barossa?
I grew up surrounded by the wine industry in the Barossa and enjoyed wine from an early age, (maybe too early legally) as I had some friends with families that owned great wineries so who’s to say no! In the Barossa you either like wine or get the hell out. I started a year of a Bachelor of Science at Adelaide Uni and thought, gee I can’t see a career utilising science so I’ll get a business degree and go from there. Then I eventually started teaching myself winemaking (could’ve just done Oenology from the start – duh!) but I’m glad it was a self-guided adventure, because I have learnt things on my own and from a range of other people, that was not limited to a curriculum or commercial prejudice.
Did your love for Grenache originate in the Barossa or perhaps elsewhere? How would you describe the distinctive differences between each of your own Grenache wines?
I started the Massena winery with my mate Dan and at the time we were both fans of southern Rhône. There’s a lot of beautiful old vine Grenache vineyards so we said hey let’s get some cash together, buy some grapes and see what happens. So the love of Grenache has been there from my start in the wine industry and continues to this day, pretty obvious if you look at the range of wines!
Regarding styles, I’m very low intervention but it is amazing how a few choices I get to make change things, and from my experience Grenache is very expressive of this. The Bluebird is the bright, fruity, happy Grenache, Ferine is Carbonic in basis so a funky, lifted, savoury creature. I made the Rock:It to see how the Grenache and friends model works by fermenting them all together from the start, and the Angaston Grenache is 150 year old bush vines on a great site, so I let the vineyard and provenance do the work here.
Do you have any interest in white grape varieties? Are there any goals / challenges you still set ahead of yourself as a winemaker?
I’m restoring an old mixed planting of Chenin Blanc and Crouchen at the moment to add to my white program. It is probably more of a meditative process in this pruning work, but I’m keen on the fruit at the end of the day. I’m a fan of more textural, broader whites, especially out of the South of France and some new age Chenins from the USA. I make a Marsanne at the moment that’s on lees for 10 months, there’s an Adelaide Hills Chardonnay in the works from 2019 and then the Chenin/ Crouchen to come. I would love to explore a bit of Grenache Blanc in the future as well, should I find the time and space to have a crack. Trying all these different varieties and now different regions is my challenge, but getting to know a vineyard and how to deal with it is a great way to pique my interest.
We know you travelled extensively before settling in the Barossa. Tell us about your experiences abroad… What is the best thing you’ve learnt?
The best part of travelling for wine is that the regions tend to be quite beautiful. I spent four months as a young wine dude travelling around Western Europe in my early twenties. As a younger lad I really enjoyed walking amongst the snow-covered Alsace Hills, so foreign to a South Australian living on the edge of a desert! I remember having a conversation in my bad High School German with an old, luckily bilingual, local couple out hiking, we heard a few gunshots, promptly hugged each other and some Wild Boar came rocketing up the vine rows just near us. We said our goodbyes and got the hell out of there. I’ve had many great experiences with wine and travel and feel privileged to have been able to do this as part of my professional life. From a business perspective, I’ve learnt that for all of the different terroirs about, there is a lot of commonality across the industry worldwide. I’ve been lucky to meet an eclectic range of wine people and everyone I have met has similar issues and it makes the industry seem quite small across the globe. So, I guess I’ve learnt not to be jealous of anyone’s perceived viticulture or winery situation. I focus on what I want to achieve in my winemaking and enjoy it.
JC (left) with Dan (right) at Massena Winery
Together with Dan Standish, you also established another winery, which our customers know very well – Massena. How far back does your friendship go? How did you come together with the idea of a collaborative winery?
Dan and I went to the same school, I was a year in front and being a small community everyone knew each other. Upon returning from a European backpacking adventure in the late 90s, I happened to be down the Tanunda pub and Dan came in. We had a beer, he mentioned he’d just quit work in Sydney and was doing a Harvest in the Clare Valley. By chance, I had organised a Harvest at the same winery, so we commuted an hour to and from Clare and that’s where we hatched the plan for Massena. As mentioned in an answer before, we loved Grenache, so we did the late shift and when we got back to the Barossa in the morning we convinced the local pizza place to open for us - we’d be drinking Châteauneuf and eating pizza at 9:30 in the morning - getting a few strange looks from the coffee crowd.
Do you have any friendly rivalry / competition going on?
The competition between Dan and I probably extends to the golf course, we only play a few times a year but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying that we are both as bad as each other, and it’s a rivalry to see who is the least worst player on the day. We discuss this over lunch afterwards and after a few bottles forget the scores so we can go out again to battle it out. I did find my golf bag with cobwebs the other day so unfortunately it doesn’t happen often enough.
What is your preferred thirst quencher after a long and scorching day in the vineyard?
Barossa marketing 101 tells me I should say Coopers Pale Ale, but from my time spent in the USA I’ve discovered a joy for flavourless mid strength beer. When it’s 45 degrees and you’re working outside in it, there is no room for hoppy, full strength hipster beer, just an ice cold slightly bitter tinny. The other part I like about it is when beer aficionados see the beer in the fridge they act aghast, but they don’t complain crushing a can or two after working in the heat.
If you could drink only one grape variety for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That’d be tough as I tend to like most things, obviously if I say Grenache based on my current wines - and that could cover Grenache Blanc and Noir, so at least I’d have white, rosé and red to work with!
Finally, would you like to pass any message on to our world-wide customers?
It’s great for me that the small amount of wine I make is getting out to more people around the world. I hope that if you do jump in and get some of the wines, that you approach them with an expectation of fun and enjoyment - because that is what I do this for.
“Wine is about what you want it to be...
For me there’s a time for fun,
enjoyment and adventure”
JC "I always get mesmerised when I see a flock of birds floating and drifting in the wind. It brings a sense of freedom and joy to me. I knew the bluebird is the symbol of happiness so I had a concept for the label – I just needed the wine!
So with this idea floating about in my head, I set out to make a great drink that brings a true sense of delight. I found an east facing vineyard in the shallow soils of the Adelaide Hills that just gets the morning sun – no baked flavours here. I got rid of the stalks and just fermented this as whole berries. Just before coffee in the morning and after a cold beer in the afternoon I quickly give it a plunge by hand, nothing too serious or strenuous. It’s bottled early to catch the brightness I’m looking for, meaning it’s dangerously drinkable whenever you need a pick me up."
Angaston Foothills Grenache 2017
JC "Old vine Barossa Grenache vineyards are a rare treat. Walking amongst the old bush wines gives me such a wonderment of what has transpired in the years gone by to get to this moment in time. It’s like I am breathing the air of times past – it can be truly something quite moving and somewhat magical.
I’ve been working with Barossa Grenache since my first vintage and whilst versatile, it can easily become overly sweet and some people can even call it lolly water. But not this site – no way jose. It gets cool air draining from the Eden Valley across the red sands, so I’ve found it leans more toward complexity and structure, which is what pushes my buttons. How do I treat such a special site – pretty simply is the answer. 100% whole bunches get a foot treading over several weeks, I press it to large oak barrels and bottle it un-fined and unfiltered. That means when I taste this wine I’m still caught up in the magic from the vineyard that has transpired for well over a century. I’ll wipe the tear from my eye as I have another glass."
JC "I love Grenache, I love its versatility and its drinkability. I was mostly drawn to getting involved with the process and leaning to more textural, structured and savoury versions. Then one day I got to thinking, what about just doing nothing and let the grapes do the work.
So I chucked a few bins of hand-picked Grenache grapes into a tank with a bit of CO2, sealed the lid and came back several weeks later. When I lifted the lid I was hit with a whole lot of gassy funk, but in a really good way. It was wild and feral but mostly intoxicating. So for a few weeks after I just jumped on top of these bunches, breaking them up, in real terms to build structure, but mostly to get lost in the ferine like smells that filled the air."
JC "I grew up across the road from a famous old school winemaker who was known to be one of the best blenders of his generation. So for years I followed this ideal in the wines I was making. For a hands off winemaker, you actually feel like you are doing something. One day pondering life, the universe and everything I thought about why I hadn’t challenged this notion. Grenache and friends work well together – I’ll just pick them within a few days of each other, chuck it all in one fermenter and let the ferment rock it in its own way. So my theory is that the different varieties bring something complimentary but they also bring something individual – so equal but opposite reactions in the ferment. I then remembered my high school physics and worked out it’s actually the same way a rocket works. Go figure."
JC "I cut my winemaking teeth in the heavy red soils of the North West of the Barossa, where Greenock is the jewel in the crown in my option. My winery is here, the pub does a good burger and by chance there’s some pretty good shiraz vineyards knocking about.
A few vintages ago I came across a vineyard just on the north of the Greenock township that hides behind some big gum trees. It runs down a small hill facing east, with lean soils, cooler afternoons, tiny yields, small berries – how asleep had I been to drive past this vineyard for several years? But I’m definitely alert now! I like shiraz that is big on fruit intensity but is more supple and svelt on the palate, powerful yet velvety, structured but sensual – I could go on but I think I’ve conveyed my point. So this is a rare single site treat from my part of the word and a true connection to my beginnings in making wine."