Vanguardist Wines

A fresh perspective

Fate led this winemaker to source Riverland fruit. The relationships he forged in the vineyards keep him coming back.

A winemaker’s life has the tendency to take unexpected twists and turns, especially when Mother Nature calls the shots.

Vanguardist Wines and La Petite Vanguard maestro Michael J Corbett didn’t plan to use Riverland fruit but fate led him there after the Cudlee Creek bushfire of 2019 took out the Adelaide Hills vineyard from which he sourced fruit for some of his whites.

The Barossa Valley-based winemaker’s predicament worsened when the Clare Valley vineyard from which he purchased Riesling from was also sold.
“I’d built up my Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling program alongside what I was getting from McLaren Vale,” he says. “So, I was a bit lost. It’s tough; especially when you’re trying to work organically or biodynamically as much as possible – you can’t just replace them overnight.”

So, he threw the net wider. “I started making some calls to growers in the Riverland, knowing that there’s organic biodynamic certified vineyards there – to try and get my hands on some fruit to tide me over while I worked out what I was going to do.”

He found what he was looking for with Eric and Jenny Semmler’s 919 Wines and Val and Bruce Bassham’s certified organic and biodynamic fruit.

Michael doesn’t mess around. The NZ-born winemaker has forged a stellar reputation for exceptional small batch, handcrafted minimal intervention wines. He runs Vanguardist Wines with his partner Claire Hannagan and business partners Edouard Maurisset-Latour and Alexandra McCarthy (both based in Beaune, France).

“My expectations are really high and I’m not going to touch fruit if it’s not up to scratch,”  he says. “I’ve had success making some really nice wines out of there with really good integrity. That’s often hard to find – anywhere; in any of the Valleys or other areas.”

Michael hand harvested 100 per cent of the fruit. “I’m getting pristine organic and biodynamic certification fruit out of the Riverland at a reasonable price, which it allows us to make some really interesting wines without the massive price tag.”
In 2021 he made two pet nats (aka petillant naturel – French for naturally sparkling) using Riverland fruit. “They both sold out so this year I decided to make more,” he says. “We are using Tinta Barroca, Sangiovese and Zibibbo for our 2022 La Petite Vanguard Pet Nat which lands shortly. I’ve also got a dry red blend of three Portuguese varieties – Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz that really hits the mark for a tasty bistro style wine”.

It is a chance to showcase the region for more than just bulk wine, a preconception Michael admits he had. “In many ways, I still do,” he says. “I drive up to the Riverland a few times a year and I’m there during vintage – you often see massively hedged vineyards and irrigation sprinklers on top of posts. It may take generations to change that perception but maybe it doesn’t need to change at all… the Riverland just also needs to be known as a place that is home to the likes of the Basshams and people need to give it a shot. It’s exciting to showcase that there is potential there – given the right mentality. That’s all it takes.”

He enjoys the relationships he’s built with growers over the past two years.
“I’ve really loved working with the Basshams; they’ve got so much energy and they’re planting new varieties and vineyards. When I visit them during vintage you can see that Val hasn’t slept much but she and Bruce are cracking on with it. They’re also really open minded. I think that comes from them working with so many adventurous new wine brands. I imagine the price paid for their fruit has risen over the years because people like us are willing to pay two or three times as much for the fruit and will also pay the handpicking costs – which is really new for them. Being able to put the biodynamic stamp on it is really cool, too.”

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