In the heart of South Australia’s pristine Barossa Valley, where the art of winemaking is a time-honoured tradition, one name stands out among the vineyards: Thorn-Clarke. As its first foray into the Indonesian market, we get the chance to speak with Sam Clarke, the winery’s joint proprietor. We delve into the intricacies of Thorn-Clarke’s winemaking philosophy, the rich family heritage that forms the backbone of their operations and the relentless dedication to producing wines that transcend the ordinary.
E: Can you briefly share the story behind Thorn-Clarke with our readers?
A: The story starts way back in the 1870s when the Thorn family purchased a vineyard property outside of Angaston and started their adventure by growing grapes in the Barossa high country. It wasn’t the family’s main source of income, as they continued to run sheep and orchards. However, over the next 150 years, the Thorn family excelled as grape growers, and they rose to become one of the Barossa’s high-quality grape growers.
In 1987, David and Cheryl Clarke bought their first property near Tanunda. The family started to plant vines and enlisted their two children, Sam and Nicole, to help water, prune and pick, all by hand. Eventually, Cheryl took charge and called in her family, the Thorns. Her father, Ron, and her brothers soon had the vineyard in premium condition, and it started to bear fruit – very good fruit, in fact – a tribute to David’s site selection and the Thorns’ vineyard management.
For over 10 years, the vineyards developed a fine reputation, and the fruit was sold to neighbouring winemakers, who turned it into award-winning wines. This was pleasing but hardly fulfilling. The leap of faith was taken with the 1998 vintage – small batches of Shiraz were made into wine – and so began the Thorn-Clarke story.
E: The Barossa Valley is renowned for its Shiraz wines. How did you decide on the grape varieties to focus on, and what makes Thorn-Clarke wines unique in this competitive market?
A: We’re proud to be custodians of vineyards in some of the northernmost and southernmost areas of the Barossa, as well as having vineyards located more centrally within the region. Thorn-Clarke has always focused on producing quality fruit, which means growing varietals that thrive in the climates and soil types present at our vineyard sites. This is why, for example, we grow Pinot Gris and Riesling in cooler and more elevated vineyard sites at Mount Crawford in the southern Eden Valley, while in the hotter St. Kitts vineyard, we are growing Shiraz and Malbec.
E: How has the winemaking philosophy at Thorn-Clarke evolved since its inception, and what principles guide the production of your wines today?
A: Our key philosophy has always been that exceptional wines are created in the vineyard and that we are the custodians rather than creators of quality. This philosophy has not changed over the years, and we continue to focus on producing quality fruit from sustainably grown vineyards. Our Chief Winemaker Peter Kelly has the fantastic gift of utilising winemaking techniques to allow our fruit to shine and display the beautiful characteristics of the vineyards. It is so important to make sure any winemaking supports the fruit quality and the attributes that the vineyard has given.
This means a winemaking philosophy that doesn’t interfere with what the vines have given us and only intervenes with winemaking tools when needed. It is all about highlighting and supporting fruit expression rather than trying to stamp a winemaking style upon it.
E: Thorn-Clarke has a reputation for producing high-quality, estate-grown wines. What advantages does estate-grown fruit offer, and how does it contribute to the overall quality of your wines?
A: The main advantage of using estate-grown fruit is that we have full control of the wines from end to end. We know exactly how the vineyards are being cared for and can ensure that the greatest care is being taken in every step of the winemaking process.
Being in control of the vineyard means that we can also let each vineyard express itself and the variety and terroir unique to that site. The resultant wines don’t just speak of the Barossa, but speak of Thorn-Clarke and the unique expressions we can produce.
E: The wine market is constantly evolving. How does Thorn-Clarke stay abreast of industry trends, and how do you ensure the winery remains relevant to today’s wine consumers?
A: Despite our long history in the Barossa, which spans six generations of geological and viticultural legacy, we also understand that wine is a beverage to be enjoyed, so it is a top priority for us to keep making wines that the customers will enjoy. We like experimenting and collaborating with our winemaking team to offer a contemporary take on classic Barossa wines.
E: If you could share a bottle of Thorn-Clarke with someone special or who you most respect, what would it be and why?
A: There are so many people that I respect and admire, but I would most enjoy sharing a bottle of Thorn-Clarke with some of my family ancestors who helped create the beautiful vineyards that underpin our wines. I know a number of them enjoyed a glass of wine, and to sit down with them to appreciate the fruits of their labours would be something very special.
E: What are your top three picks of Thorn-Clarke wines, and why?
A: Oh wow, if I could, I would choose all of them. But my top three picks would be, first, Shotfire Barossa Quartage because the blend and style are not widely available from Barossa producers, so they are unique to us. Second is the William Randell Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, because it is a stunning wine that showcases its varietal characters. The last would be Ron Thorn Shiraz because it is the best of the best. This is the pinnacle of red winemaking for us at Thorn-Clarke.
E: For visitors planning a trip to the Barossa Valley, what would you recommend they include in their itinerary of what not to miss?
A: A visit to the Thorn-Clarke Cellar Door! Come and visit our stunning location and taste some wines while enjoying a produce platter overlooking panoramic vineyard views. You can even have a hit of golf on our driving range. We love welcoming customers from all over the world.
Exquisite Taste Volume 42