It’s natural that days and nights spent sipping, pouring and nattering about wines would lead to tinkering with a few grapes of your own. Local vintners Brad Hickey (Brash Higgins) and James Madden (Little Things) left their sommelier careers in New York and Melbourne respectively, to make their own vino in SA. Proof managing partner Shane Ettridge recently launched his own wine label, Hills Collide. But when you run a business with esteemed natty winemakers Anton van Klopper (Lucy Margaux) and Jasper Button (Commune of Buttons) the pull seems inevitable.
Aaron Fenwick is the third owner and man-on-the-ground of ambitious Hills wine bar, restaurant and cellar door, The Summertown Aristologist. But between service he’s been toiling behind the scenes on his own set of wines. It’s not the first time – in 2016 he partnered with Vinteloper’s David Bowley and then-Orana sommelier Joshua Picken (now at d’Arenberg) on Mental Winery. But he’s learnt a thing or two since then.
“I’m always listening and learning,” he tells Broadsheet. He’s gained a bunch of knowledge from van Klopper and Button. “[Even] learning from their not-successes. It’s just [having] another person who knows what they’re doing, like any mentor-ish role. But it’s still very much my wine – I make all the decisions and I take on board what they have to say, but at the end of the day it’s your name on it.
“I’m lucky I have that support, but also I don’t have the pressure of having to make something and sell it as soon as possible – it’s definitely a passion project.”
His new label Château Comme Ci Comme Ça (essentially “so so” in French) is not about coming out guns blazing. It’s a no-nonsense, modest name from someone who’s still ducking the “winemaker” tag (the label design by local artist Isabella McCrae even features a shruggie likeness of Fenwick). “It’s not great, it’s not shit, it’s okay,” he says. “I’m not taking myself seriously at all. It’s just a little bit of fun.”
Not the strongest sell, but ask him about the winemaking process and he speaks with the same thoughtfulness that informs the Aristologist’s approach – from produce to prep. The fruit is sourced from Magpie Springs, an (as-yet-uncertified) organic vineyard in the Adelaide Hills that’s also favoured by van Klopper and winemaker Travis Tausend.
“For me, with all of the wines I do, I just want to be as gentle as possible … and give them as much time as possible,” says Fenwick. “Realistically I could have held them back for another four months and it wouldn’t do them any harm, but I just feel [now’s] a nice time to get them out.”
The new releases – a zippy, zingy orange wine (semillon left on skins for five weeks) and a drinkable, juicy merlot – are now pouring at the Aristologist. The former is 50 per cent whole-bunch (stems and all), which adds flavour complexity to the wine (there are hints of orange peel and eucalyptus, says Fenwick). The latter is 25 per cent whole-bunch with semillon stems (from the de-stemmed bunches) and merlot berries on top.
His 2018 wines, currently in tank and barrel, add a chardonnay to the mix. But it’s not all smooth sailing. “I did things differently, but I fucked up heaps,” says Fenwick. “It was a critical point in the fermentation and it was crazy busy here [at the restaurant] so I didn’t get to see the wines for four days and in those four days they just got completely fucked. I couldn’t rescue them – unless I wanted to add something to them.”
It’s that process of trial and error, of constant experimentation, that hoists the Aristologist above so many. Fenwick and his team are hands-on with everything they do. Last week he drove to the Barossa to pick up a pig to make saucisson in-house. Most of the produce is grown on the van Klopper and Button farms; the butter is churned on-site; the coffee roasted in-house. Recently the chefs, led by Oliver Edwards, have been trying their hands at cheesemaking. But, like with his wine, Fenwick is intent on downplaying it. “We’re just a place to hang out and eat and drink. What we do, there’s a lot of backend work, but it’s just meant to be delicious things and that’s all.”
Chateau Comme Ci Comme Ça is currently pouring at The Summertown Aristologist and Sunny’s Pizza. You can also pick up a bottle of the semillon for $30 and the merlot for $33 from the Aristologist cellar.