Flying the flag
Integrity rules at this family-owned, certified organic winery in Glossop.
You know you’re on to a good thing when the awards keep rolling in. In December 2021the 919 Wines Classic Muscat took out the Winestate Magazine award for Fortified Wine of the Year. 919 owners Eric and Jenny Semmler were thrilled, especially when winemaker was named runner up for Australian Winemaker of the Year.
Their collection of awards and accolades is impressive. The pair recently won Adelaide Review Wine of the Year, the Alternative Varieties Wine Show Organic Wine of the Year, and the Winestate Organic Wine of the Year. Eric has previously been awarded Winestate Australian Winemaker of the Year and the Riverland Winemaker of the Year. They’ll have to build a bigger trophy room. Eric and Jenny care deeply about their certified organic vineyards and focus on producing high quality specialist styles and Mediterranean varieties that suit the Riverland climate. “We’ve been waving the flag for Riverland quality for nearly 20 years now,” Jenny says. “The very first variety we planted was Durif in 2002, then we focussed on some of the Spanish and Portuguese varieties. In quick succession we planted Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, some Tinta Cao, and Brown Muscat and Muscadelle for some of our fortifieds. We also have a bit of a mixed salad; small quantities of Grenache, Malvasia, Palamino for our Pale Dry Apera.”
The couple purchased their second vineyard in 2010. “That had Shiraz and Chardonnay on it and we sell the bulk of that to Pernod Ricard for their organic range,” Jenny says. “We’ve also planted Durif there, more Muscadelle, Tempranillo and Sangiovese.”
Eric and Jenny also supply fruit to the likes of Michael Corbett at Vanguardist Wines (Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Gordo) and Tempranillo to Sixty Eight Roses.
Asking Jenny to choose the 919 wine she’s most proud of evokes a gasp. “They’re like my children. It depends on their behaviour and my mood on the day.” One vineyard however, is particularly special. The Ella Semmler’s Orchard Single Vineyard was named after Eric’s late mother Ella, who had a passion for doing things sustainably.
“She grew a lot of her food organically and used organic principles,” Eric says. “Growing up, we always had access to wonderful food and I think that probably influenced me in becoming interested in good wines and why some wines taste so much better than others.”
Eric grew up at Victoria’s Ararat and was formerly a horticulturist. Jenny was raised in Melbourne where she worked as a pharmacist before studying winemaking at Wagga and researching wine flavour development. That’s where she met Eric. It wasn’t long before love blossomed.
The move to South Australia happened when Eric got a job offer he couldn’t resist: fortified winemaker with BRL Hardy. He is now one of Australia’s most respected fortified winemakers, and is acknowledged as an Australian authority on the production of the heritage Apera and Topaque styles of wine. Jenny made the move to the Riverland after the pair married in 2000.
“We love the open skies here, the fresh air, the boldness of the blue and the green and the red sand,” she says. “It’s life in bold instead of in pastels.”
Visitors can experience the kaleidoscope of colour (and wines) at the winery and sweet cellar door. “We finished building the straw bale building in 2008,” Jenny says. “We started from scratch using straw bale because it suited our sustainability ethics.”
During outdoor tastings, the likes of the 919 Reserve Sparkling Durif, 919 Reserve Touriga Nacional, 919 Reserve Petit Manseng, 919 Reserve Tempranillo, 919 Reserve Durif, and Ella Semmler’s Orchard Organic Tempranillo can be tasted.
Quality is everything. “We don’t understand why there’s a stigma about Riverland wine,” Jenny says. “We’ve been part of the movement that has resulted in a positive shift happening – particularly for anyone under 35.”
919 Wines are sold interstate and even made their way to Sweden. The couple loves meeting their customers face-to-face. “It’s about building relationships, making them strong, making us ourselves top of mind and delivering quality all the time.”
With trainee winemaker Seamus Donaghey an integral part of the team now, the future is bright. “919 Wines is a continuous evolution,” Jenny says. “Our plan is to continue to consolidate what we do well. Wine is such a fashionable industry and we can’t always be ahead of the curve. We were lucky that we were in with the emerging Mediterranean varieties but we’re still learning. We’ll always keep learning.”
919 Wines, 39 Hodges Road, Glossop, SA