Ari’s Natural Wine Co
Ari’s Natural Wine Co – Southern Highlands, NSW.
As smaller producers begin winemaking or scale back from extensive vineyards, they find themselves eager to push boundaries. Releasing wild fermented wine with no additives and no filtration has fast become a standard, the methods of minimal intervention and sustainable practice taking hold.
In the Southern Highlands of NSW, the Zafirakos family has been producing wines with a sustainable, patient approach since the 1980s. Beginning as a hobby after Ari moved the family to Sydney from Greece in the 60s, he took cues from the homeland, combining his experience with a couple of core values – integrity and patience.
Moving to the Southern Highlands region in 2014 kickstarted more of an emphasis on the family winemaking. Spending more time in the country getting hands-on led to an increase in production, and when a small price was put on the wine, Ari's Natural Wines grew exponentially. Working with the product from a variety of climates and vineyards across regional Australia provides excellent access to grapes. Of particular note are the Italian varieties grown in the Hilltops region of NSW, with Fiano and Glera (Prosecco) handling the climate much better than the predominantly French grapes planted across much of Australia.
Fast forward four years and Ari's son Tony became a full-time employee. Initially helping his parents and sharing their passion, in 2016 he began heading to Europe each Australian winter to work the vintages across respected wineries throughout Germany and Italy.
Setbacks have popped up, though Tony retains a positive outlook, maintaining that the lesson learnt and relearnt along the way continues to be the same - give it time. Whether a ferment that has gone in a wrong direction or a lost batch, each time he has been able to redirect and produce releases that show the true colours of the fruit and land.
In a few short years, Tony's knowledge of the family philosophy and contemporary viticulture practice grew in leaps and bounds. Armed with this deep understanding, he was the driving force behind the move from the family garage to Rockaway Farm, amongst Sutton Forest.
Recognised for the excellent climate and soils, the Southern Highlands has long been recognised as a food bowl. Located two hours south-west of Sydney, there is a host of leading farmers in Australia committed to pushing the envelope with sustainability practices. That mindset hasn't translated to the region's numerous wineries, though this is also an opportunity for tremendous growth. Tony is well aware of this, focused on the potential – with new and varied vine plantings springing up across Rockaway Farm.
The conditions are ideal, with a typical highlands microclimate that is boosted by south-easterlies pushing through the vineyard most days. At 700m above sea level, established moisture and humidity issues have proved problematic in the past across the area, which those winds help nullify.
Like all good things in life, the key is simplicity. Tony revealed insight into the process, where the core values shine through.
Grapes are crushed, regularly plunged and left on skins for up to a week, depending on the varietal. No de-stemming or pressing here - after a day or two, the stalks are removed by hand, with the bulk of the skins to follow. Moving the juice into demi-johns and barrels by gravity to mature, they are then left patiently before bottling.
When coming on board, rather than changing the process, Tony expanded it. Now making 12 different wines each vintage, he has been experimenting with levels of skin contact and the use of whole bunches.
Aiming to hone this process year on year, the techniques Tony has adopted are being refined more purposefully over time. Producing over 50 times the wine in comparison to just a couple of years ago means the attention to detail is fully realised. Sourcing the best possible fruit and processing it gently with full attention, no additions and no subtractions. No filtering or fining for clarification either - just waiting.
The resulting releases are reflective of the ingredients and process – a fantastic expression of the intersection between fruit, conditions and terroir.
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- Regions: Hilltops / Southern Highlands, NSW
- Vintages: 2019
- Size: 750ml
- Closures: Waxed
- Varieties: Fiano, Prosecco, Pinot Noir, Chambourcin, Greco, Zibibo, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Merlot
- Classification: Natural / Park Wines
- Cellaring Potential: Drink now to 2023
2019 Little Red
A blend of Pinot Noir and Chambourcin - little known, and not very well thought of through Australian winemaking due to a tendency of fungal disease. Using carbonic maceration, where the wine is fermented in whole bunches of weeks before pressing, resulting in a fruity crowd-pleaser with depth and complexity. This is a release that could win over both the natural wine drinker and the more conventionally minded.
Using Fiano and Prosecco, this Pet-Nat was fermented in multiple batches before combining to finish inside the bottles. The trick with Pet-Nat production is to achieve bottling without the need to disgorge – where the bottles are opened, expelling the sediment and clarifying the wine. It's an incredibly difficult juggling act which Tony has mastered with this fresh and vibrant release.