Meet The Winemaker: Paul Smith, Wirra Wirra

Describing an Australian winery as atypical is a bit like calling a Swiss train reliable – it’s virtually tautological.  That said, Wirra Wirra has to take a few extra points.  At the start and end of every harvest, they ring a 3/4 tonne Angelus bell, and have even built a small trebuchet on site from which they launch watermelons.  Unlike Swiss trains, though, timekeeping is not in their history.  When founder Greg Trott lost his watch in 1947, a gift from his father, he never replaced it, preferring to tell the time by the sun.  Today, winemaking is handled by none other than Paul Smith.


Paul Smith… you mean…?

Nope! Different Paul Smith. This Smithy is Senior Winemaker at Wirra Wirra, which means he’s also chief bellringer at the start and finish of every vintage, and has bragging rights on launching watermelons from the trebuchet constructed on site. Oh, and making top quality, iconic wine. That’s his job.

Icon. Is that one word or two?

Heh. In this instance, one. Smithy’s philosophy at Wirra Wirra is about “letting the fruit shine”, so it’s not about clever tricks in the winery, it’s about making sure the fruit is right in the first place. He spends as much time out between the rows tasting fruit and talking to growers as he does in the winery, right up until the final pick arrives.

Small bottle of Church Block at Wirra Wirra

Sounds like wine was his destiny.

Actually, Smithy studied Agronomy at Roseworthy College near Adelaide rather than viticulture. He was planning to study to become a vet after he graduated, but got slightly sidetracked when he took a job as a vineyard hand at Chittering Estate.

Ah, that old chesnut.

It’s the oldest story in the book. Young man, distracted from vetinary aspirations discovers hidden gift for pruning vines by intuition alone, his skills become recognised and he is invited to show his talents for agronomy in the laboratory. He trains in winemaking under masters in Adelaide University, and gains practical skills at Knappstein. An old master spots his talent, he becomes a student of Brian Croser at Petaluma, before apprenticing with Jeffry Grosset – the master of Clare Riesling.

And then Wirra Wirra?

Via a stint as a winemaker at Knappstein, but yes. The call of McLaren Vale was strong. Smithy joined the team as a winemaker in 2008, before taking the role of senior winemaker in 2009. He’s been there ever since, his approach is to bring the soul of the vineyard into every bottle he makes.

So what was that about a Lost Watch?

It’s the wine named in honour of founder Greg Trott, who lost the watch his father gave him.  Unlike Greg’s timekeeping, it’s a really precise style of riesling.  Pungent fresh lime, ruby grapefruit and sliced apple, touch of lavender and ginger, very sharp, very bright.  Killer with oysters.  Fruit comes from the Lenswood subregion of Adelaide Hills, so it’s gorgeous cool-climate dry riesling.  The 2014 won Best In Show at the Adelaide Hills Wine Show in December 2014.

Craving a glass now.

Us too. Patience will be rewarded, though.  As Smithy puts it, “The way wine evolves and develops… there is something quite magical about it.”

We’ve got a limited parcel of Wirra Wirra The Lost Watch Riesling 2014 available online HERE.

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