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Spinifex: The White Wines

Barossan Gothic: A Whiter Shade of Schell
Spinifex: The White Wines
As one of the Barossa’s most influential figures of the last few decades, Pete Schell has been a key player in reshaping the narrative around modern Barossa wine, not just through his perfumed, savoury and structured reds but also through his equally original white wines.

For years now, Pete and his partner Magali Gely have sought out micro parcels of grapes that have fallen out of commercial favour from overlooked vineyards farmed by generations of families committed to preserving a chapter of Barossa wine history at risk of being lost.
“That’s the beauty of the Barossa. There’s a plethora of old vine-growing families that have been here for, say, 150 years,” Pete explains. “Sure, there must be a commercial side, but they all have deep connections to these old places and heritage varieties; it could be a vineyard their grandfather planted. It does not fit in with the big end of town, but they love that.”

Today, alongside his Riesling vines, Pete works with Ugni Blanc, Semillon, Vermentino and Clairette, to name just a few of these undervalued grapes. Most wines, if not all, are drawn from low-yielding, dry-grown vineyards that have thrived in the Barossa’s soils and climate for decades. “If the vineyards are still here 60, 80, 100 years later, with no irrigation, there’s something self-evidently functional and good there,” says Pete. The right grapes in the right place.

From the exciting 2023 vintage, Spinifex now has a brilliant, old-vine Chenin Blanc and a fleshy Grenache Gris from their own vines in the Dominion Vineyard near Vine Vale. So, here are eight examples that offer a fresh take on the Barossa Valley and prove that this place can produce whites that are just as interesting and engaging as its reds.

The Wines

Spinifex Lola 2021

Spinifex Lola 2021

Pete Schell is crafting a flock of exciting whites from the Barossa and Eden Valleys these days, yet Lola is the original, and some would say most multi-layered, release. Semillon again takes centre stage, joined by Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Vermentino. The Semillon—a grape grown in the Barossa Valley since the 1850s—is sourced from three old-vine sites (65, 75 and 95 years old) in Ebenezer. The Clairette is from an elevated site in Rowland Flat on the valley's eastern side. This late-ripening grape, with excellent acid retention, provides additional freshness. Ugni Blanc and Vermentino contribute texture and a lick of salinity.

Schell’s extensive attention in the vineyards and a light touch in the shed have given us another exceptional release of this unconventional white. Matured on lees in mostly older wood, it’s a deliciously fresh, textured white blend, flush with stone fruits, citrus, salinity, spice and some lovely hay and talc notes. It’s fleshy with nice phenolic tension, bracing acidity and a long, savoury finish—one of Barossa’s most original whites and one of its best.

Spinifex Lola 2021
Spinifex Vermentino 2023

Spinifex Vermentino 2023

This is a terrific example of this variety, sourced from a one-acre vineyard on hard, ironstone-rich soil in one of the highest parts of Koonunga Hill in the Barossa’s extreme north. Vermentino is a rugged, hardy variety that Schell says ripens relatively slowly here, retaining acidity while delivering generous texture. Fermented wild after six hours on skins, it's a pure and textured Barossa white with waxy lemon, white blossoms and a touch of chalkiness. From a cool and long season, the palate is pithy and fresh, full of zip and with a breezy, grippy saline close. It would challenge many a top Italian example.

Spinifex Vermentino 2023
Spinifex Muscat à Petits Grains 2023

Spinifex Muscat à Petits Grains 2023

Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains—white Muscat or 'Fronti' in South Australia—has been responsible for some of Barossa’s greatest fortified wines. Most of the region’s Muscat vineyards are old, dry-grown and overseen by seasoned growers compelled to preserve a slice of Barossa history and resist a switch to more commercial varieties. Pete and Magali work with a 70-year-old, organically farmed vineyard in Moppa, in the northwest corner of the Barossa Valley. In Pete's words, it’s a site that delivers spectacular fruit.

In the cellar, Schell crushes the fruit prior to macerating for a couple of days before pressing it into old oak for fermentation. The wine undergoes partial malolactic fermentation to tone back Fronti’s natural exuberance, so although the nose offers roses, orange and some tropical notes, the whole remains subtle and balanced. The palate is loaded with orange, honey and flowers and shot through with fresh, zippy acidity. This is delicious and a lot of fun to drink. 

Spinifex Muscat à Petits Grains 2023
Spinifex Grenache Gris 2023

Spinifex Grenache Gris 2023

Pete and Magali purchased their Dominion Vineyard near Vine Vale in the heart of the Barossa Valley in 2018. The low-fertility, four-hectare site sits at 285 metres, giving small crops marked by intense flavour and remarkable aromatic depth. Centurion Grenache and Shiraz vines (planted in 1908 and 1918) live in these sandy, gravelly and red clay soils, and in 2020, a small plot of just over an acre was planted to Grenache Gris. Old-vine Grenache has an exemplary track record around Vine Vale―neighbouring vines include Cirillo’s from the 1850s and Yalumba’s 1898 plantings―so, for Pete and Magali, planting Grenache Gris was a logical choice. 

2023 was the first season to give a viable yield for a straight bottling of Grenache Gris. Pete left the fruit on skins for a few hours before pressing and fermentation in old puncheons, followed by eight months’ maturation on lees in foudre. There’s a lovely big whack flavour here: salty white peaches, fleshy orange citrus, some blossom and a hint of buttery richness. Then, the texture is plush and grippy with fresh, driving length. It’s a killer first release that will shine with salt and fat. 

Spinifex Grenache Gris 2023
Spinifex Chenin Blanc 2023

Spinifex Chenin Blanc 2023

This may be the first release of Spinifex’s Chenin Blanc, but these vines have been around for almost a century. Pete and Magali have been working with the old bush-vine Grenache and Shiraz from this ancient site in the Angaston foothills for well over 10 years, all the while eyeing an opportunity with the small Chenin block on the property. In 2022, they harvested their first crop, which they used in their Lola blend. This year, the crop from this one-acre block of dry-grown, gnarly old vines warranted its own bottling.

The Chenin fruit from this old site holds natural breadth and intensity of flavour, so Pete picks early to capture natural freshness and preserve balance. The fruit is crushed without destemming and pressed to French oak for fermentation, followed by partial malolactic conversion and maturation in demi-muids.

Old vine magic here! It’s superbly intense on the nose, radiating fresh stone fruit, sunny warmth, grilled nuts and creamy lees. The texture is soft and giving, with pin-point acidity and more of those lovely Chenin fruit tones. Long and mouthwatering on the finish, this is a belter of a first release—and a sign of great things to come. 

Spinifex Chenin Blanc 2023
Spinifex Riesling 2022

Spinifex Riesling 2022

In 2018, Pete and Magali purchased the mature (established 1945), four-hectare, dry-grown Rostein Vineyard in Eden’s Flaxman Valley, planted to roughly one-third Riesling and two-thirds Shiraz. The soils are lean, degraded granitic sands, and the vineyard sits at 475 to 495 metres above sea level. Two parcels of organically managed Riesling give rise to two wines. The Rostein Riesling is made from the 1945 vines, and this cuvée is made from the 1956 section.

The fruit was hand-harvested at crazy-low yields for Riesling: a paltry 0.8 tonnes per acre. This year, the fruit spent two hours macerating before the press wine was fermented in used, 500-litre French oak; the free-run went to tank. In both cases, the wine spent four months on lees and went through partial malolactic conversion before blending.

In our opinion, this is one of Australia’s finest Rieslings, even if it is made in such small quantities that many will never have the chance to taste it. The 2022 has remarkable intensity, complexity and texture. Seductive aromas of white flowers, ripe citrus and a touch of sweet apple are matched by piercing acidity and a nip of phenolics that cut through the mouth-filling texture. It’s bright, super long and simply outstanding value. 

Spinifex Riesling 2022
Spinifex Late Release Riesling 2017

Spinifex Late Release Riesling 2017

This is the first vintage of Spinifex’s flagship Rostein Riesling, released after six years in bottle. Spinifex’s two-acre Rostein vineyard is home to two parcels of seriously old Riesling, one planted in 1945 and the other in 1957. These parcels produce minuscule yields—a paltry 0.8 tonnes per acre is the norm—resulting in wines of atypical power.

The fruit comes predominantly from the 1945 parcel—some of Australia’s oldest Riesling vines—facing east at almost 500 metres. The dry-grown vines sit on sandy loam over quartz and gravel soils. After fermentation, the wine aged on lees for 11 months in 1,000-litre neutral oak and went through partial malolactic conversion. It was bottled after a further 14 months. 2017 was a cool, lean, citrus-driven year in the Eden Valley, so Pete decided to hold the wine back for a few years, allowing the fruit to flesh out and the acidity to mellow and integrate.

This unique, textured, layered bottle-aged wine has mouthwatering intensity and length. Some lovely developing characters add complexity to more classic refreshing notes of citrus, florals, lime, cream and honey. Then there’s a smoky wisp and saline tang on the long, grippy close. Class. 

Spinifex Late Release Riesling 2017
Spinifex Solana NV (Fourth Cuvée)

Spinifex Solana NV (Fourth Cuvée)

This is the fourth bottling of La Solana—a multi-vintage, barrel-matured, ‘perpetual blend’ white that Schell maintains in a modified solera system. Started in 2005, the blend is kept in old barriques that are topped up with white wine parcels that would otherwise have gone into Lola. The barrels are stored outside in the elements, hence the name Solana, meaning “under the sun”. The composition of La Solana mirrors that of Lola over the years, i.e., it is based on Barossa and Eden Valley’s Ugni Blanc, Semillon, Clairette, Viognier and Roussanne.  

This latest bottling is wonderful. The style falls somewhere between Amontillado and Vin Jaune. It’s nutty and salty, showing citrus peel and ripe stone fruits with tremendous purity and freshness. It’s a unique wine that could be served and consumed as you might a dry Sherry, even though it’s not fortified and is lower in alcohol (making it far more drinkable).

Spinifex Solana NV (Fourth Cuvée)

“Pete and his partner Magali Gely operate what I think is the best new-wave of small-scale Barossa wine companies to emerge at the beginning of the 21st century… These weren’t big, blockbuster, showy wines designed to impress. They were wines that managed to take the best of the Barossa’s sometimes forgotten varietal traditions and fuse them onto a very European flavour sensibility.” Max Allen, The Future Makers



“Last year he was a finalist for Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year. Small wonder Spinifex has five red stars in the 2021 Halliday Wine Companion. If all this isn’t enough, the prices are a breath of fresh air.” 
James Halliday, The Weekend Australian Magazine

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