David Bowley's excitement for wine is infectious. At his recent Urban Winery Project event in Sydney, he told the crowd: "We are the leaders of grown-up fun." And it's true - there is definitely something both adult and childish about squishing fermenting grapes under your feet, knowing he'll be turning it into next year's UWP vintage.
On the website for his winery, Vinteloper, it states that "To us, wine is more than a beverage, it's our way of life, so we're always dreaming about fun on the outside, while being serious about quality."
We sat down to talk with David about good quality fun, with a side of wine.
by Erin Ogilvie
The Vinteloper winery is based in the Adelaide Hills. Why did you pick this area?
I grew up at the bottom of the Adelaide Hills and it’s always been home for me. I’ve got a lot of friends here and some great connections with grape growers. I think it’s one of the most exciting regions in Australia. Whether it’s cherries, olives, apples, or grapes, all that amazing produce is here, and it’s only 20-30 minutes from the city.
How does the Adelaide Hills differ in comparison to nearby areas like Barossa and McLaren Vale?
In terms of climate, it’s so much colder up here; we’ve already had nights that are only 6C overnight, but we still get plenty of sunshine in the daytime. In the Barossa, there are a lot of vineyards that are 60-100 years old, and were planted by immigrants who didn’t necessarily have the same level of analytical thinking that has been applied to the Adelaide Hills in the last few decades. A lot [of Adelaide Hills’ vineyards] are less than 25 years old and have been planted specifically to suit the region, by people who knew what they were doing.
Do you think it suffers from being so close to these popular regions?
I think it suffers a bit, but there’s a whole new generation of wine drinkers who come to the Adelaide Hills when they come to South Australia. Evidence of that is the success that the Basket Range Collective is having. Brands like BK and Murdoch Hill, and these other guys that I admire – you can’t argue about their energy. There’s an amazing younger community of winemakers and producers.
When we started back in 2008, the Adelaide Hills was searching for an identity and it’s amazing how quickly that’s happened. In nine years, it’s gone from not having as strong an identity as Barossa and McLaren Vale, to having an identity on the world stage.
What is Vinteloper’s signature wine?
It’s got to be the Pinot Noir. We were the national people’s choice winner for Pinot Palooza 2016, thanks to first place rankings in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, top five in Brisbane, and runner-up in Adelaide. It blows me away to think the Melbourne people chose an Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir over and above all the Victorian Pinots.
It’s great because it’s the one I wanted us to be known for; it’s the hardest to make and the most challenging to grow, so it’s cool that people recognise you’re good at something that’s really tough!
You started the Urban Winery Project in 2012. What was your main motivation behind it?
This time of the year, when we’re in vintage, is so dynamic. It’s pumped full of energy. When we make wine, it’s creation. We take something that the earth provides and turn into something that people love. I just absolutely love it, and I wanted to let people in on the creation, the most beautiful part of winemaking. It’s in a small and concentrated way obviously, but I believe anyone who drinks wine is going to be interested to know more about how it’s made.
How much do you think your guests know about the winemaking process before they come to an event?
I think they mostly know what marketing teams feed them: beautiful shots of vineyards, basket presses, oak barrels and all that shit. We want them to make their own assessment, to taste the grapes themselves, touch them and feel them between their toes. Most people have never even eaten wine grapes before and have no concept of how small or sweet they are. That type of education is where the real value is for us; we don’t want to stand there and talk about tannins, or French oak vs American oak. It has no context.
Our industry seems to be trying to shake off a perception that it’s full of wankers who like to talk about terroir. But do you think this is true?
As far as wank in wine goes, sure there is a place for it. But there are such a small number of wine drinkers who actually know what you’re talking about. I cringe every time I hear someone say the word terroir, because it means nothing to so many people. It’s just a buzzword. What the hell does terroir even mean? Especially in the New World! It’s all just features [of the wine], and most people don’t care about features, they care about feelings.
So is wine becoming more relatable for the everyday drinker?
There’s a different language that is being spoken about wine now. It’s driven by guys like Vinomofo, who are doing a fantastic job of stripping away all the junk and speaking the truth. They’re a great example and it’s got to be the way forward.
Every single person is intimidated by wine on some level. I’m intimidated by wine when people start talking about the sub-regions of Burgundy or Bordeaux. But that’s a pretty high level, and a lot of people’s is far lower than that. That’s why it’s so important to take the wank out of wine and talk to people on their level. You need to work out what their level is: there’s no point talking about French or American oak to someone who can’t even tell if they have Pinot Noir or Cabernet in their glass. You have to break it down and talk from the start.
What do you want guests to walk away from Urban Winery Project with?
I want them to walk away thinking that, having been to that event, they love wine more than they did the day before: that they are more of a wine drinker today than they were yesterday. Whether they drink Vinteloper or anything else, I don’t really care; it’s all about the greatest good for the greatest number. It’s about turning someone who spends $15-20 on a bottle of wine regularly, to someone who spends $25-30 regularly. Because I think that’s where people have a better experience, above $25. Obviously, we hope for brand awareness and recognition for Vinteloper, but that’s secondary to everything else.
This year, the Project was at Cellar Door Festival in Adelaide and had two sold out nights in Sydney for 125 people. Do you want it to keep growing?
This year’s Sydney event was optimum for me; it was a really nice size, ran really well and felt really intimate. I’d love to do Sydney again but as far as next year goes, I’m quite keen to let people tell us where they want us to go. At the end of the day, Urban Winery Project is a nice side to what we do but the core of the business is Vinteloper, and that still needs lots of attention. Every year we tweak and evolve it, and I’m really happy just doing a couple of events here and there.
Riedel is a proud sponsor of the Urban Winery Project, and David’s passionate plight to make wine more relatable and more enjoyable.
As far as Vinteloper’s signature wine goes, we can confirm their Pinot Noir is absolutely delicious – and they’ve just released their 2016 vintage!