It all started as a project to financially help Panevino, a wine producer from Sardegna whom I love and whose production had been challenged by nature many times in the last few years. As expected when beautiful people are involved, it ended up becoming the experience of a lifetime - some challenges, lots of memories and the final satisfaction of creating delicious, meaningful wines as a result.
A big thank you to Anton Van Klopper, who with his wife Rachel Signer, made this whole project possible. Anton let us use a space in his winery, shared his kitchen with us, managed often impossible logistics & sourced the Magpie Springs fruit. Also to Aaron Fenwick, who worked tirelessly and opened his home to us; and to Tom Shobbrook, who sourced the Barossa fruit. A special thank you goes to Giovanni Paradiso and Rob Morgan for being there and helping us enormously.
Panevino has always been one of my favourite producers, both for Gianfranco’s artistic and spiritual way of approaching winemaking and his firm belief in the power of humans to influence a wine even more than terroir.
Let’s start from the beginning. In 2015 a terrible hail storm just before harvest destroyed all of the abundant crop. Gianfranco was able to make only 1,500 bottles of a rosé called ‘Survivor’ by collecting damaged grapes from the ground. Not only was the crop lost, the vines were also severely damaged, dramatically reducing the volume of the next vintage in 2016 by 35%.
In 2017 drought reduced Gianfranco’s production by 45%. Then, in 2018 more than 40 consecutive days of rain created the perfect conditions for heavy mildew and as a result, no wine was produced at all. The Panevino wine business was on its knees. The combination of unprecedented bad luck and some family issues challenged Gianfranco very deeply. I didn’t know how to help or make him feel better. Then one day ... Eureka!
Why not come to Australia to make some wine and recoup a vintage? This was easier said than done. I knew Gianfranco’s hesitant attitude to travel and his deep attachment to his land. Also, I had heard too many funny stories from Gianfranco’s mum: countless summer holidays where the whole family would migrate to the beach for a couple of weeks and Gianfranco would remain for only a few days before escaping back to his beloved house on the hills in Nurri. But to my great surprise, when I proposed my idea to Gianfranco he seemed very interested. It took him a couple of months, then he came on board. We were on!
Meanwhile in Australia, I was already chatting to Anton & Tom, some of the most generous people I know and crazy enough to make all of this happen. Unsurprised by the idea, and without any hesitation, they both said YES!
There we were, in late February 2019, waiting to see when vintage would happen. Until that point it had been quite cold and it looked like it would be a slow season, with harvest unlikely to begin until late March or April. I had organised flights for Gianfranco and his son Isacco in the 3rd week of March, giving the Sardinians plenty of time to acclimatise, relax and rest. We would go and check the grapes, slowly make plans for vintage ... But obviously, things never go the way you plan.
Three incredibly hot weeks from the beginning of March pushed everything ahead rapidly. By the time Gianfranco and Isacco landed in Adelaide, arrived in the Hills and had some dinner it was already midnight - with only a few hours to get some sleep before a 5 am start for harvest in the Barossa. It was the beginning of a very long jet lag for Gianfranco.
Before going ahead, I would like to emphasise Tom Shobbrook’s immense generosity. Despite losing a massive amount of wine in 2018 when he had to move to a new cellar, he shared with us the small amount of fruit he could access in 2019. His production was already down by 35-40%. This kindness is something we will never forget.
Back to harvest. In Vine Vale, Barossa, we harvested Grenache (a mix of old and young vines), Chardonnay and Semillon. In Magpie Springs in the Adelaide Hills we harvested Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon; here we finished each day in the vineyard with beautiful ocean swims.
However, long days in the sun followed by long nights in the cellar only added to Gianfranco’s jet lag, and made him more tired and less able to sleep. It wasn’t until the 9th day after his arrival from Italy that he could enjoy a full night’s sleep! Even then, he felt as if “his spirit didn’t catch up with body yet”. The whole situation made the name for the first wine obvious: ‘Jet Lag’.
Even with this exhaustion, we shared a beautiful time with each other, exchanging natural remedies for jet lag and enjoying unforgettable lunches and dinners around a big table like a big family.
We ended up making 4 different wines. With everything harvested, pressed and fermenting away, Gianfranco and Isacco could return to Sardinia, exhausted but content.
A white: CHANGING
A rosé: JET LAG
A red: MERLO GRIGIO
A fortified wine: a TRIBUTE to the old tradition of Barossa Valley oxidative wine production.
In November, Gianfranco and Isacco returned to Australia to prepare the wine for bottling, more bottling and labelling. Thankfully, this time they had a day to rest first! On this occasion we also invited Panevino’s Japanese importer Hisato, a great friend and supporter of Gianfranco to be part of the fun. Isacco drew all the beautiful labels, which tell the stories and communicate the emotions behind each Panevino wine.
Story by: Giorgio De Maria