Sixty Eight Roses

All the right moves

The Riverland’s future is bright (and undeniably cool) if vigneron John Koutouzis has anything to do with it.

Grape grower John Koutouzis isn’t afraid to do things differently. His bright, evocative Sixty Eight Roses wine labels are indicative of this. The vivid pink and magenta branding turns heads. Like John, they have an electric kind of energy about them.

“The image represents a man that’s coming to life,” John says. “A rose transforming into a human.”

Roses are special to John. He planted many varieties of the popular flower across his family’s mixed farm at Berri. “The Riverland blooms so spectacularly during the summer months of October, November and December,” he says. “That’s how the idea for our wine label art started.”

John launched Sixty Eight Roses quietly in 2020, after returning to the family farm to help his parents look after their mix of vineyards, pomegranate and fruit trees.

“It was just too much for Mum and Dad to look after,” he says.

Previously, he was a corporate banker living and working in Melbourne.
“Moving back to the Riverland was a blessing in disguise,” he says. “I couldn’t hack corporate life anymore and it turned out farming was my destiny. I’ve been running the farm since.”

John’s love for the land and the grapes grown on it runs deep. His parents George and Theodora (meaning the gift of God in Greek) migrated to Australia from their homeland of Greece when they were just teenagers. “They’ve been here close to 50 years now,” John says. “Initially, they moved to the Riverland and opened a little delicatessen where they sold Greek food and cheeses. They sold that and bought their first farm in Berri in 1974. Us four children never had summer holidays – it was all about working on the farm; drying fruit and carting apricots and peaches. Looking back, it was a wonderful and amazing experience. Kids in the city are limited to their back yard and laptop screens but we had acreage and freedom. It was a gorgeous lifestyle and it still is today.”

It wasn’t long before John decided to turn their Shiraz (or Syrah as he prefers to call it) into wine.

“We made wine every year, just for home consumption but we decided there was an opportunity to do something with it so we made a little batch of Syrah and sold a few bottles. Customers wanted more and we sold out. At that point, I decided to get it properly labelled.”

The rest is history. The first official Sixty Eight Roses vintage was 2019 (released in 2020).

The brand name is dedicated to their special place in the world. “We’ve got 60 rows of Syrah, which was the first wine I made,” John says. “We also have eight acres of land and our allotment number was 68.”

Today, the minimal intervention range includes an Organic Vermentino (made from fruit sourced from the Bassham family), an Organic Tempranillo (fruit sourced from 919 Wines), a Rosé (Grenache/Mataro) and two Syrahs made from estate-grown fruit, one of which clocked up an impressive 96 points from Winestate Magazine.

“Making wine with our own Syrah was a great opportunity, not just for our business but also for the Riverland as a region,” John says. “We wanted to showcase that the Riverland is producing some really good premium wine and styles, rather than being considered as mass produced and low quality.”

He is dedicated to driving a shift in perception. 
“It’s so wonderful to see small wineries and different winemakers working together as a team and getting the word out about the Riverland as the food and wine destination it is.” He grins. “I’m just so passionate about the wine industry and the Riverland. It’s a beautiful thing; from planting, to picking, pruning, and cultivating… there’s a story each vintage. I love it.”
Sixty Eight Roses is one to watch. John is a social chap and often appears at city and interstate wine tastings and events; pouring the goods and spruiking the region. His plans for the future are exciting.

“I have a nine-hectare certified organic farm where I will start to plant Montepulciano, Aglianico, Arinto and other varieties. I really want to plant some of the funkier varieties that are well-suited to our climate but I don’t want to rush it. I want to do this properly.”

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