Richard Woods and Rasa Fabian are the passionate couple behind boutique Clare Valley producer Shut the Gate Wines, which in recent times has chased cool climate grapes all the way to the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales.
Three minutes with Shut the Gate Wines
BEN What led you to start a small wine label in the Clare Valley?
RICHARD In 2007, after years of working in the corporate wine world, we purchased (with partners) a small vineyard and 100-tonne winery in the Clare Valley. After five years of really hard work and successfully relaunching the brand, we were itching to do something just for ourselves and so Shut The Gate Wines was born. We focus on producing small batches of premium single site wines that reflect the region. The Halliday Wine Companion recognised the quality in our first trading year and listed us in Australia’s Top 10 Small Producers.
BEN What varieties did you start with?
RICHARD We started with single vineyard batches of riesling from Watervale and Polish Hill River Valley – a no-brainer given where we are based. We now make five rieslings that represent the varying terroir of Clare, both from our long-term family growers and our own vineyard.
BEN What are the most popular wines in your portfolio?
RICHARD Our dry rieslings are our most popular wines but we’ve built a large portfolio of both traditional and alternative varietals we love equally. Fiano, pinot gris, gewurztraminer – as well as sangiovese, tempranillo, negroamaro and barbera – all sit well with the more traditional riesling, shiraz, grenache and cabernet wines.
BEN You run a Shut the Gate cellar door in the Snowy Mountains. Why did you set up there?
RICHARD Both of us were exposed to the amazing quality of the Tumbarumba and Hilltops regions in southern NSW early in our careers. It was Penfolds’ so-called white Grange project that opened our eyes to the beautiful natural acidity that’s retained in these regions’ wines. We’ve been smitten ever since. When an opportunity came up in 2015 to source some great chardonnay, we jumped on it. Today, we have a successful cellar door in Berridale and source fruit from three family growers in the region.
BEN What do you see are the challenges facing the wine industry over the next few years?
RICHARD Changing consumer attitudes to alcohol, wine styles and packaging will be challenging. The rising cost of goods is currently a big issue for winemaking. The cost of everything from stainless steel to glass, printing, power and water are increasing massively. Unfortunately, a lot of wines are locked into retail price points with little wriggle room.
BEN What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you?
RICHARD “Don’t buy a winery or vineyard, it’s like tearing up $100 bills while having a cold shower!” We obviously haven’t listened, but you don’t go investing your life and money into the wine industry without a lot of passion. Another piece of advice – find a good accountant.
BEN Favourite story to tell at dinner parties?
RICHARD We have so many stories. We’ve learnt many things the hard way, whether it be bogging tractors and doing the walk of shame to confess, to trying to bribe grape pickers with bottles of Muscat to keep picking in the rain. Not to mention the interesting country customs of people noting what’s on your clothesline or letting themselves into the house to drop off something on the kitchen table. We’ve prayed for rain then wished it would stop, we’ve rounded up snakes and buried sheep, but we would do it all again. Well, most of it.
BEN If each of you were a wine, what would your labels say?
RICHARD Rasa would definitely be Champagne – a quality bubbly: lively and loving a party. She says I would be an old Liquor Muscat – dark and brooding, deep in thought in front of the fire.
BEN We’re coming for dinner, what wine should we bring?
RICHARD We’d have fresh South Australian garfish and beautiful King George whiting to pan fry, so bring a chilled bottle of 2022 Rieslingfreak No.1 riesling and a 2022 O’Leary Walker Polish Hill River riesling and we’ll show you a match made in heaven. Let’s finish with a glass of Mr Nobody Liqueur Viognier (Mr Nobody Liqueurs is our fortified wine label) with glazed apricots and dark chocolate.
This article first appeared in the February 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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