A revealing vintage at Laughing Jack Winery

It might seem surprising that I’ve never been involved in the production of a vintage before last week. Despite this, I did like to think I knew a thing or two about wine-making and the processes involved. And I did, theoretically, because I’ve listened to so many stories and learned so much from speaking with experienced wine makers over many years. One of the wine-makers generous enough to share such tales is Shawn Kalleske from Laughing Jack Winery in the Barossa, someone who, unlike me, has worked on many great vintages and created consistently impressive wines. We met Shawn when he made a flying visit to Perth about ten years ago and dropped in to La Vigna on a recommendation – little did we know that the bottle of Laughing Jack Greenock Shiraz 2002 he left with us that day would transform us into devotees of this under-rated gem of a winery. Shawn’s wine just got better and better every year so after deciding that I needed to be initiated into the real experience of vintage, I could think of no better place to go than Laughing Jack. Luckily, they didn’t know how clueless I really was and agreed to have me!

Now, I didn’t have the idea that we would be spending carefree, barefoot days squashing grapes in the old basket press (though Shawn is very keen on traditional methods…) and retiring early to taste test the results but IT. WAS. CRAZY. BUSY. Laughing Jack is a small family-operated winery, where Shawn and his Uncle are joined by just one other person to help them at vintage, plus myself this year. Almost working around the clock, the long, intense hours were fuelled by coffee, coffee, and bonhomie within our dedicated little team. Though I was certainly in too deep, I only needed to keep my energy up for one week – vintage can run for up to eight weeks. I was only there a short time but I was fortunate to come at the best time and was exposed to so many aspects of the vintage and involved in the application of many red wine making techniques. I helped with everything from crushing of the grapes to helping fill some wine barrels. In-between I was actively involved in pump-overs and hand plunging, two very physical methods of extracting colour, tannin and flavour from the grape skins. Pump-overs involve pumping wine out of a stainless steel tank and through a hose that sprays the wine back over the cap of open wine fermenters. This process also allows aeration of the wine. Plunging is a more traditional method of the same, where we plunged a stainless steel pole into the stainless steel bath of crushed grapes to agitate the skins and move the juice around. During all of these processes we were tasting the wines to make sure they maintained the right temperature and keeping an eye on many other jobs. I was amazed at the concentrated effort, dedication and expertise it takes to bring us, for example, impeccable wines that sell for only around $25.00. My already great respect for all winemakers has certainly been increased by this experience of vintage.

However, it is Laughing Jack Winery and winemaker Shawn Kalleske that have really impressed me. During a period when things where a little less crazy, Shawn drove me out to Laughing Jack’s vineyards, which are located in two sub regions of the Barossa: Moppa and Greenock. One hundred percent of the grapes in Laughing Jack’s wines are from these vineyards and the way they are managed is a testament to why the finished product is so wonderful. As we toured the vineyards I got an insight into what is so unique about Laughing Jack and what drives the man behind the label. Shawn takes a very ecologically responsible attitude to wine-making; he favours a hands-on, chemical free process. This extends right to the vineyards, where Shawn is protecting the flora and fauna with chemical free farming and an extensive re-vegetation program. They are working toward a balance of 50% vineyard and 50% native scrub on all their land, where they’re already home to over 100 species of native plants and amazing native bird and animal life. As Shawn told me, there are very few areas left in the Barossa that have not been manipulated in the service of vineyards, but Laughing Jack want to protect what little natural environment is left here. Shawn believes that if we put vineyards on these interesting sites we must work with the environment and ensure we don’t upset the eco-system that supports us all. I couldn’t agree more.

I hope you are by now very curious about the wines I tasted during vintage and my views on Laughing Jack’s 2014 vintage outlook. 2012′s vintage is currently available to buy but I did get to sample wines in barrel that are not yet released to the public! I can say that the 2013 vintage tasted fantastic and the unfinished 2014 is looking very promising – the quality of the fruit was excellent and I believe this will be a shining vintage. For those with less patience, keep a watchful eye out for three new releases from the 2010 vintage: Moppa Old Vine Grenache, Moppa Block Shiraz, and the Limited Two, which is Laughing Jack’s flagship Shiraz, a selection of the best two Shiraz barrels.

To me, Shawn is the epitome of integrity in wine-making. He is a passionate perfectionist firmly focused on quality in every aspect of his wine-making. He didn’t study wine-making but is a self taught artisan, developing through experimentation, a respect for heritage and history, and sheer dedication to his wine-making aspirations. I thought my father worked tirelessly, sometimes pushing himself beyond his limits, but now I know there is someone to match him. Shawn has a long-term and sustainable vision for his wine-making that has so far yielded astoundingly good, value for money wines. Now he is also generously sharing his knowledge with other winemakers who come to him looking for help (as well as the odd wine lover like me!) After all that I have seen, tasted and experienced, I have no hesitation extolling the virtues of Laughing Jack wines; in my experience, whenever wine lovers discover these wines they are as delighted as we were.

My April Blog Mixed Dozen Selection – Please note this offer has now finished.

To give you a taste of why we are so excited about Laughing Jack Wines, April’s Mixed Dozen Selection features two reds from Laughing Jack’s ‘ Jack’s Wine Range’: the Jack’s Shiraz 2012 and the first release Jack’s GSM 2012 (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre.)

$250.00 for the case includes:
·         6 x Laughing Jack Jack’s Shiraz 2012

For me the Jack’s Shiraz 2012  has a lifted aromatic bouquet of  dried herbs and  violets with a lush palate jammed full of flavour.
·         6 x Laughing Jack Jack’s GSM 2012

My initially thought once I tasted the Jack’s GSM 2012 was WOW! Why hadn’t Shawn Kalleske  told me about this wine earlier… perhaps he wanted to keep it a secret? Anyway, this wine is moreish and succulent – another glass please, perhaps two.

You can order more than one case, but the selection of wines is fixed and you will receive six of each of the above wines per dozen. You can order by opening the order page below. Once you have submitted your order, I will be in touch to arrange payment.

Wine Order Form Please note this offer is now finished – look at my most recent blog post for the latest offers available.

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