This forward-thinking family-owned business leads the way in organic viticulture and thrilling Mediterranean emerging varieties.
A close-encounter of the Bruce and Val Bassham kind has the potential to be mind blowing.
Wine tastings happen at their home (on the sweeping lawn if the weather is fine) and includes a view of the certified organic and biodynamic certified vineyards from which the grapes were plucked.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a wine aficionado or simply curious; the experience is as educational as it gets. The Basshams have more than a century of Riverland grape growing history and knowledge behind them so a tasting is not only delicious, but informative.
Fifth generation Riverland farmer Bruce grew up on the property and worked in the family vineyards at the tender age of 15. The property has been in the family for 101 years. When Bruce’s Grandpa Louis Alfred Bassham returned from World War I, he was allotted the First World War Return Soldiers Settlement Property that that is now home to the Bassham Family Heritage Vineyard on Bassham Road (three kilometres east of Barmera).
After re-planting the vineyard three times, Bruce, Val, their family (including son in law and property manager Neil Bourton) and an adorable troupe of grandchildren lead the way in NASAA certified organic and biodynamic viticulture.
Bruce and Val are also responsible for one of the most exciting collections of alternative wine grape varieties in Australia. They began planting varieties from Italy, France, Spain, Russia and Portugal in 2009. It’s impressive, visionary stuff. To date, they boast 36 climate appropriate varieties and counting. Their arsenal includes the tongue twisting Albariño, Mencia, Viognier, Nero d‘Avola, Montepulciano, Lagrein, Vermentino, Prieto Picudo, Fiano, Durif, Saperavi, Petit Manseng, Pecorino, Malvasia Bianca (which tastes a bit like Muscat), Prosecco, Aglianico, Arinto and Tannat. Bruce and Val were founding passionate members of the Riverland Alternative Wine Group.
“We are always searching for Mediterranean varieties that tolerate our hot climatic conditions,” Bruce says. “We have fun with new varieties.”
The original Bassham Family Heritage Vineyard and the Bassham Organic Vineyard (a former wheat farm acquired in 2000) are full of them.
The Heritage block was a training ground of sorts. “It has more of the alternative varieties on it because that’s where we first trialled them,” Bruce says. “We’d put in five rows here and five rows there; all oddities at the time because no one knew what they were. Things like Montepulciano and Vermentino already had some recognition so more of those went in but the others started off small.”
The Bassham Organic Vineyard was carefully planted over three years and now includes 42.5 hectares of certified organic vines surrounded by 30 hectares of natural flora and fauna. Three towering, automated frost fans watch over the scene – just in case things get too chilly. “It’s a unique property for the Riverland,” Bruce says. “You have to go a long way to find one with native scrub all the way around it and no commercial neighbours to speak of.” No weedicides, pesticides, herbicides, chemicals and artificial fertiliser are applied to the vineyard – ever – and only certified organic compost is applied.
“We were never happy using chemicals,” Val says. “My dad and Bruce’s dad were organic farmers by default. They didn’t use the chemicals. It’s during our generation that all these chemicals came in. Dad never used weedicides – he worked the land. Somewhere along the line, it went all out of whack.”
Losing their eldest daughter Kelly to breast cancer only solidified their determination. “Kel was also very devoted to the health of the land,” Val says. “We deeply believe it relates to everybody’s health.”
Bruce nods. “There are no guarantees but only a foolhardy person who can’t see it. Look, it’s only wine but there is still nutritional value there if you get all the elements right. An organic wine has to be better for you than a wine that comes from a property with nitrates and chemicals applied to it.”
The Basshams don’t rest on their laurels. New plantings mark an exciting next chapter for the growing family. “I’m already looking for more land,” Bruce says. “I could do it all again – organic is the way forward.”
With such an impressive smorgasbord to choose from, it comes as no surprise that the Bassham Wines range is explorative. “Winemaking-wise we are quite small,” Bruce says. “Though saying that, we have 24 wine labels at present and more coming.”