“The best secret to keeping wine cool on the go? Airplane sick bags.”
Tom Shobbrook is full of these little kernels of WTF knowledge; one has the impression the if he wasn’t a busy winemaker, he could be Australia’s Mike Rowe. His property invokes the idea of reclusive professor in a wild college town. Having foregone a move to Adelaide Hills to stay near his family’s roots in the Barossa Valley, Shobbrook’s home and cellar (complete with its own bottling facilities) defy Google Maps, hiding just kilometers away from the mighty Hentley Farm and Seppeltsfield estates. His driveway even has natural tourist repellants: mighty and ravenous ant colonies.
Tom Shobbrook is a hard man to pin down. He doesn’t have (as of writing this) more than a bare bones website or a confident contact method. I was lucky enough to find an email address from his distributor, but after two eager emails I didn’t hear from him. Fearing it would be impossible to meet the legend in person, I settled for just trying a glass of his wine at Sydney’s Bar Brose, having been sorely deprived of his wares when he attended last November’s Raw NYC. (As we later learned, the scarcity of Tom’s wines at the fair was due to a delayed pallet shipment. The only wines on show were the bottles Tom had shoved into his bag – speciality wines which were meant to be saved for his friends, like the iconic “Beach” Merlot talked about in reverent whispers by other SA winemakers. Naturally, these Lot 49 gems turned Tom into the White Rose of the fair.)
While kvetching with our sommelier about Tom’s disarming Cinsault, the man to our right perked up and leaned in with excitement. “Hey, I’m opening the wine bar down the road tomorrow night. If I give you Tom’s cellphone number, you have to come.” Eagerly, I copied down the number, all the while thinking, “Everyone fucking loves this dude. Where the hell IS he?”
The truth is, Tom likes to fish. When he and his wife aren’t handling every aspect of the winery, Tom takes some well deserved downtime, forgoing plugging in to mellow out. When we finally got to his house, I wasn’t entirely sure he remembered who we were or why were there, but he immediately welcomed us into his world. Tom is like that old neighbor from your childhood you run in to at Starbucks five years after they’ve moved, who insists not only on buying your coffee but sitting you down for at least fifteen minutes and hearing how you’ve done. When we pulled up, it was likely we were already old friends. He pulled us into his lab, where boxes and tanks border you on all sides. Tom set up a little rainbow of his wares: bottles ranging from bright yellow to thick indigo, each with a single band of color and a tidy script giving the wine name (with the exceptions of his “Tommy Ruff” and “Poolside” reds, labels which look like the covers of John Green novels.) Some of the names are clever puns or portmanteaus describing the bottles’ contents. The “Novello” (featured below) – printed on a somber fog grey label – is a nebbiolo dominant blend made to drink young. The “Giallo,” in its elegant high-necked bottle, named after the Italian word for yellow (and its 1960s horror genre) is a Sauvignon Blanc fermented on the skins, yielding a glorious marigold hue. The aforementioned Tommy Ruff and Poolside weren’t etymologically explained during our visit, but let’s just say that whatever the origins, the names evoke core ideals of Tom’s wine: approachability, multi-seasonal enjoyment, and a distinctly Australian vibe.
Tom is proud of South Australia’s wine history and takes a keen interest in both heritage varietals and recently-imported grapes which clearly express something about the soil and microclimates of the state. His Cinsault comes from nearly 150-year old vines maintained by Smallfry‘s Wayne Ahrens (biodynamic). Unlike the vast majority of major winemakers in the region, Tom continues to embrace Semillon, a grape with the reputation of NBC’s post-30 Rock comedy output. (I would argue his “Sammion” Semillon is The Good Place) He produces his own nebbiolo-based sherry: a wine ingrained in Australia’s past but now seen as the domain of your cranky British great-aunt. Tom does whatever the fuck he pleases, provided that the materials come from sustainable, organic and often biodynamic vineyards. His winery operates in a natural/low-intervention fashion: he uses only indigenous yeast, no additional sulphur (at least in the wines that we sampled and were available for purchase), and little-to-no filtration.
The “Novello” truly shook me up and selfishly, it was the only wine I tried while in Australia of which I bought two bottles to bring home. The Guns & Roses flavor notes of your favorite Langhe lover are present, but it’s like the foggy lady left her nonna’s house in Barolo to go drinking in a St. Kilda’s pub. It’s laid back and talkative, with a hint of eucalyptus but a whole lot of cardamom and anise on the finish. Frankly, it’s not really like any wine I’ve ever tried, which is the best compliment I can give on this blog. (When metaphors fail, just admit complete ignorance.)
Shobbrook’s visit concluded with a mighty bear hug and a promise to hang out the next time the legend is back in NYC. If you can’t wait until this November’s RAW fair, go immediately to Frankly Wines website to order a few of his bottles while they are still in town.
Tom Shobbrook Didi Barossa Valley Cinsault 2016
Tom Shobbrook Tommy Ruff Shiraz-Mouvedre 2015
Tom Shobbrook Didi “Novello” (Nebiollo, Sangiovese) 2016