For clever wines hand crafted by a highly decorated ex-sommelier look no further than James Erskine’s label Jauma (pronounced ‘Yaw-Ma.’) Erskine’s project is highly lauded in the natural wine scene for its commitment to minimalist intervention methods and its homage to the terroir of McLaren Vale. Perched at the intersection between ‘fun wine’ and ‘fine wine,’ Jauma’s bottles are to be truly celebrated.
The celebration begins with Erskine himself. Originally working in the hotelier industry studying cooking, Erskine took a job as a sommelier on a whim (despite relatively little knowledge about wines at all). From there he participated in harvests in various countries around the world and earnt an Honours degree in Agricultural Science (Oenology). He continued to foster his formal education with a degree at the University of California Davis, allowing multiple trips to the Napa and other wine growing regions in the States.
In 2008, Erskine topped the Court of Master Sommelier’s exams in Melbourne, was awarded the prestigious Negotiants ‘working with wine’ scholarship, Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine Sommelier of the Year award and a Len Evans fellowship. No small feat. During this time Erskine was making experimental wines as a member of the Natural Selection Theory alongside Sam Hughes, Anton von Klopper and Tom Shobbrook. From this wealth of experience, Jauma was born in 2010. Inspired by the lilting, light and lithe grenache’s he was drinking in Spain, Erskine made wines that would earn him the Young Gun of Wine Winemaker’s Choice award in 2013. The Jauma vineyards are situated across various locations in Mclaren Vale and are sandy, elevated sites over red clay, schist or quartz. They foster vines dating back to the 1940s. The vineyards themselves are managed by Fiona Wood and Dave Gartelman, who work alongside Erskine in the agricultural side of things. To further his crop, in 2018, Erskine purchased an organic cherry farm in the Adelaide Hills, and in 2020 planted Chenin Blanc, Savagnin, Cabernet Franc and Traminer on it. (Fun fact you can go cherry picking there in the summer months.)
Erskine’s methods are driven by terroir and a study of the fruit’s expression of itself. With Jauma, Erskine embodies his definition of a natural wine as “one you produce without a fixed goal at the end.” His fruit is hand harvested, fermented with wild yeasts and his vinification method is minimal intervention with plenty of foot treading, barrel ferments and clay eggs. There is no fining or filtration and only a slither of sulphur at bottling. All his wines are sealed with a crown seal to truly mark his magnificent creation.
The resulting wines are truly defining of a new Australian style in natural wines: long leaning and pithy with minimal faults. They divulge a vibrant sense of place with a dangerous drinkability. The 2020 Tikka the Cosmic Cat Shiraz Grenache is a tripartite blend of grenache from the sandy loams of Mclaren flat, shiraz from the silty soils of Mclaren Vale (which has undergone carbonic maceration for fresh, aromatic tones), and fuller, dry grown Shiraz from Clarendon (which has been de-stemmed to bring out the supple, purple fruit flavours). Then there’s the 2020 UJO Cabernet Franc, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and direct press Shiraz which is a bright thirst quencher.
Erskine once said, “music activates something in us, such as emotion, and serves as an interaction between us and the outside world, and wine should do the same thing.” With Jauma, Erskine achieves just that, as his wines sing the songs of the sandy, rich soils of Mclaren Vale in perfect tune.
Article by: Ceren Guler