Barossa Valley, South Australia
Spotlight No. 12
The name Wayne Ahrens comes up often amongst winemakers who do not have their own vineyards. Wayne is one of a few who embraced biodynamic farming early on. The winemakers who believe in minimal intervention in the cellar come to him because they know great wines begin in the vineyards.
Wayne’s family has been farming in the Barossa Valley for five generations. He grew up in the vineyards. But sometimes you have to leave to appreciate what you have. He mined gold in South Australia and worked in Europe, but eventually went to university and earned a degree in viticulture. He inherited family vineyards in Eden Valley. Then, years later, an old farmer in the Barossa Valley gave Wayne the opportunity to buy his 150-year-old Grenache vineyard. Wayne had once seen the 75-year-old man pruning late into the season, had offered to help him and had continued to help for many years. When the time came for the old man to retire, he could do so in peace knowing Wayne would be taking care of his life’s work.
I found Wayne having a grand time riding around on a little digger tractor in that old Barossa vineyard. He was pulling up dead vines and planting new ones. The original vines were planted between 1850 and 1860 and many of them are still producing delicious fruit. But each year some vines die. True to his commitment to the old man, Wayne replaces the dead vines with new ones to ensure the vineyard will thrive into the future.
When Wayne was growing up, his father had a side business spraying herbicides. Wayne was sent to do the spraying three months of the year and he hated it. The experience undoubtedly instigated his affinity for biodynamics. “Some people try to dispute the value of biodynamics, but it is actually smart farming,” says Wayne. “It offers a real-world solution for sustainable farming that also happens to result in better wines.”
Over time Wayne has converted both vineyards to biodynamics. Years of conventional farming had degraded the land. It has been a long process of replenishment but he, like his family before him, lives for his land and enjoys finding innovative, healthy ways to care for it, such as turning a local cheesemaker’s whey that would normally go down the drain into a treatment that both kills bacteria and adds nutrient to the soil.
Wayne and his wife, Suzi, also a viticulturist, wake up each morning thinking about what they are going to make for dinner. And combining what they cook with wine is part of the fun. This led to a desire to make wine from their own grapes. They began in 2000 with a small barrel of Cabernet, but that has evolved into a full selection of delicious Rieslings, a rosé, Shiraz and red and white blends. Their wines are made as naturally as the grapes are grown, with little to no intervention in the natural evolution of grape to wine.
Although it is considered a New World wine region, the Barossa Valley has true heritage: Wayne’s great-great-grandfather arrived in the valley in 1837, on the third boat from London. Wayne says, “It is nice to know where you came from,” and now it is his turn to write his own chapter in the family history book. Wayne believes that “when we look back on the last few years from some vantage point in the future, we will see that this is a time of great creativity; the emerging young turks will become the seasoned campaigners of the future. The Barossa is in good hands, and we want to be a part of that.”