A Random Collection
A Random Collection (A.R.C.) – Gippsland, VIC.
Jess and James created A.R.C. Wines to be in touch with nature, work the land and live within their means. After three years of sourcing fruit from a selection of Victorian vineyards, the change from inner-city to their farm in Ferndale has proved to be a blessing as they settle into the sequence of seasonal vintages.
In a previous life working restaurant floors, musings and dreams were the catalysts for a seed to form. For Jess, growing up with a career chef father was the ultimate influence. Studying hospitality straight after school, she was handpicked to represent Australia at WorldSkills, the Olympics of skills-based training. She cemented her skillset by placing second in the world and receiving a silver medal. Part of her training was a full two years in traditional Gueridon service (table-side preparation), and to this day, her reputation for carving off the bone is legendary.
In the lead-up to the WorldSkills competition in GermanyJess was working at Black by Ezard, a premium contemporary steakhouse in Sydney boasting an open kitchen and beautiful harbour views. Upon her return, her skills led her to Momofuku Siebo, and a year later, Rockpool Bar and Grill under Neil Perry. Her next move to Silvereye at the Old Clare Hotel in Sydney - run by former Noma sous-chef Sam Miller - meant being immersed in conversations around sustainability, a hyper-local focus and organic wines.
James' introduction to fine dining started relatively early. As a teenager, he was working the floor at Tetsuya's, a Sydney benchmark for fusion dining. A Certified Sommelier after three years, James was given the opportunity to help open Waku Ghin in Singapore, another of Tetsuya Wakuda's ventures. Eye-opening in the best way as he managed his first wine program, James was already at the forefront of the wine world. With this experience under his belt, he came back to Sydney, elevating the wine list at Black by Ezard.
A social initiative aimed at rewarding the best of Australian hospitality, the Appetite for Excellence program has a winners list full of respected names. Opening doors for the winners throughout the global industry, James was privileged enough to spend a year working the floor at Copenhagen's Noma. This experience shaped James, with his outlook on what he drinks, imports, and the philosophy behind A.R.C. centred on this experience.
In 2014, James returned to Australia to start the import and distribution company Lo-Fi Wines with friend Tom Sheer. Focused on local and international producers who show a firm commitment to vineyard sustainability, low-intervention winemaking and good drinking in the glass, Lo-Fi is now one of the leading voices of the natural wine movement in Australia.
As fate would have it, James' path led him to take a position at Silvereye at the same time as Jess. Unfortunately, the restaurant closing less than a year after opening despite rave reviews for the food, wine and ambience. With those musings of living and working in nature, the couple decided to follow their hearts, embarking on a south-bound journey into agriculture and sustainable farming.
Packing up their life and leaving Sydney hospitality behind, Jess and James found a suitable space in Ferndale, a small slice of Gippsland in Victoria. One of Australia's coolest and wettest regions, they were fascinated by the combination of ideal growing conditions and rich red soils. Its consistent rainfall has made it prime dairy land in the past, with more mixed agriculture discovering this beautiful part of Australia in recent years. This combination of consistent rainfall, unique volcanic soils and cool climate excite the couple for the style of wines they aim to make.
This idea was simple to start with. Work with as many vineyards and varietals as possible while in their winemaking apprenticeship to find what they love working with. Operating the 2017 and 2018 vintages alongside famous Gippsland winemaker William Downie, the first small run of A.R.C. wines were released.
Where possible, A.R.C. Wines are made from organic vineyards. Jess and James employ minimal intervention techniques in the cellar while operating their farm at home under permaculture principles. They are in the process of planting a small 650 vineyard at their Ferndale farm of purely Aligote, the "other" Burgundy grape - a fruit that produces beautifully light, citrusy wines.
Each year the aim is to grow more of the final fruit themselves. The challenge is, Gippsland vineyards are sparsely planted, and finding fruit can be difficult. Crucially, a network of friends has been nurtured, helping Jess and James immensely as they began releasing their wine. William Downie has been a considerable influence, full of support for them to start their own label. Xavier Goodridge of Xavier Wines, Patrick Sullivan from Jumping Juice, Dane Johns from cult label Memento Mori are just a few of the renowned names who've always been there, answering questions or opening doors for the couple behind A.R.C.
The 2020 vintage release for A.R.C. is right around the corner. Some more skinsy releases than years past, the current crop include a delightful Summer Red, a Maceration with a twist and a beautifully balanced Pinot Gris. It's great to see the couple expanding their repertoire.
They have learnt a lot about resilience since embarking on this endeavour, from accidentally opening a valve and losing hundreds of litres of one of the first wines they made to the stark adaptation to living life on a farm. Leaning on each other, listening to each other, they have learned to look at the long term goals rather than focus on short term setbacks.
Starting A Random Collection to be more in tune with the land and nature, the change of scenery from Sydney CBD to Gippsland farm life has been a blessing. With continuous quality vintages under their belt already, living and working a sustainable mindset has given them a platform to grow. Their collective experience shapes their idea on growing, fermenting and living life together - and the wines they release are all the better for it.
Our Picks: 2019 Cab Merlot and Pinot Noir
With their 2020 releases coming out soon, now is the time to pick up what remains of last years vintage. These two pictured above, the Pinot Noir and Cab Merlot, were our favourites - and while the Pinot Noir is now sold out, you can still order one of the last Cab Merlots through the A.R.C. site! Using fruit from a biodynamic vineyard in Warragul South, the Cab Merlot is a mature and balanced bottle. A little lighter than your usual Cabernet and all the better for it, this pairs beautifully with slow-cooked lamb shoulder to make the most of the autumnal aromatics.