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Spinifex

Perpetual Virtuosity from one of the Pioneers of the ‘New Barossa’

We first offered Spinifex’s wines in 2006, writing, “If Spinifex is not one of the most exciting Australian producers to have cropped up in the last decade, then we don’t know much about wine.” Time has been kind to those words, and thanks to this outstanding producer’s continuous progression, our reputation is not only still intact but indeed enhanced! Thanks, Pete.

Spinifex was started by Magali Gely and Peter Schell in 2001. Magali and Peter’s background is the key to understanding the styles of wine they produce. Magali comes from a family that has been growing wine near Montpellier for over ten generations, whilst Peter is a trained oenologist and has made wine in Burgundy, Switzerland, Provence, the Minervois, the Languedoc, Bordeaux and New Zealand. Peter and Magali’s combined backgrounds led to the belief that the vineyard is paramount in the production of unique, authentic wines, and that the wines they produce should not only reflect their sites; showing richness and intensity; but also, be well-balanced and a pleasure to drink.

Pete Schell should be considered one of the pioneers of the ‘new Barossa’, in that he was perhaps the first to truly grasp that seeking ripe fruit at lower Baumé and large format, or at least neutral oak was the way to go in the Barossa. He knew that power came naturally in this part of the world and that his efforts need to be directed at finding perfume and finesse and digestibility. He also grasped the importance of the old parcels of heritage grape varieties (much of which had been grubbed up) and worked hard to lock down what he could. Finally, and most thought-provokingly, he came to realise that the Barossa might well be as good a rosé and white wine region as it is a red wine area and promptly set about producing some of the most exciting examples of these wine styles the Barossa has seen.

While Schell’s wines remain quite unlike the traditional Barossa norm, they remain saturated with what we often call a ‘sense of place’ and maintain an unmistakable Barossan soul.

Twenty years into the story and Pete Schell’s fastidious criteria for site selection combined with his intuitive, hands-off work in the winery continues to yield dramatic results. His wines offer the textural openness and generosity that is the mark of the region, its climate and ancient soils, yet not at the expense of definition, tannic freshness and line.

Alongside their ground-breaking roster of négoce wines, Pete and Magali have realised their lifelong goal of owning and working their own vineyards. And what vineyards they are. The Rostein Vineyard in the Eden Valley was purchased in 2014. To complement the old vine Riesling and Shiraz already in place, they’ve planted Grenache (the highest block in South Australia at 495 metres) Mataro, Counoise and Cinsault. Next came the historic Dominion Vineyard near Vine Vale in 2018. Located in the dead centre of the Barossa Valley, this four-hectare site is home to two parcels of 1910 Grenache and 1918 Shiraz. Both varieties are deep-rooted in thin soils made up of fine, silty sand over friable, red-coloured clay. Translation: this is great, old-school Barossa country. A little Grenache Gris has also been planted. 

Each of these vineyards is entirely hand-pruned, hand-picked and has been managed to a very high standard, namely: biodynamic preparations; regular compost; no synthetics and no chemical fertiliser; no irrigation; and no under-vine management apart from some mulch application and lots of mowing. Despite this exciting evolution, Schell’s unwavering commitment to his growers means the négoce wines will always remain a cornerstone of the Spinifex range. 

Currently Available

Spinifex Syrah 2021

Spinifex Syrah 2021

This is Pete Schell’s higher-toned, red-fruited and more floral expression of the Barossa—a yin to Bête Noir’s yang, you could say. To this end, Schell sources from 10 different plots throughout the Barossa and Eden Valleys from “...generally higher, cooler sites, where earlier harvesting gives wines with bright fruit expression and a textural freshness”. Vine ages vary from 25 to 100 years. As with most of his reds, Schell employed a range of techniques, with different proportions of whole-bunch, whole berry and destemmed fruit. The aim was for soft extraction, and the ferments were allowed to relax with little agitation. Pete sums up the reasoning behind his gentle approach simply: “it’s easier to over do it than under do it in the Barossa”. Short macerations were followed by ferments in stainless steel, concrete and mostly large, seasoned oak (only one new barrel was used). From a near-ideal growing season that served up even ripening, great flavours and very good natural acidity, Schell’s 2021 captures a moreish mix of spicy meatiness, elegance and succulence. Initial dark and broody notes give way to bright shining acidity, vibrancy and a sense of energy and tension. It’s imbued with terrific depth and fine, sinewy tannins that curl around the tongue.

From a near-ideal growing season that served up even ripening, great flavours and very good natural acidity, Schell’s 2021 captures a moreish mix of spicy meatiness, elegance and succulence. Initial dark and broody notes give way to bright shining acidity, vibrancy and a sense of energy and tension. It’s imbued with terrific depth and fine, sinewy tannins that curl around the tongue.

"Syrah from a selection of vineyards in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, judicious use of whole clusters, matured on light lees in a combination of large-format vessels for around 8 months prior to bottling. Deep purple red in the glass, it's a rollicking, crunchy, bright and sapid ride with a gorgeous plume of plummy fruit, cut with spice and floral nuance, whole-bunch amaro notes and a sense of space, clarity and detail that brings a smile to the face. Such a wonderful drink and great value.”
94 points, Dave Brookes, Wine Companion
“Impressive wine. Spicy and ‘bunchy’ but blessed with a flood of juicy, sweet, ripe fruit flavour. This gets the juices flowing. Blackberry, licorice, rounds of twiggy herbs, a general sweet earth character and an understated – and integrated – cedarwood aspect. Lovely wine. Generous but contained.”
94 points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Spinifex Syrah 2021
Spinifex Bête Noir 2021

Spinifex Bête Noir 2021

A Bête Noir is the bane of one’s existence and refers to the multitude of small parcels that go into this blend. Pete Schell’s ‘21 is a blend of old-vine Barossa Shiraz and Eden Valley Shiraz sourced from vines across nine small family vineyards of Barossa’s sub-regions—with the eastern foothills, Moppa, Eden Valley and Light Pass all playing contrasting roles. Vineyard age ranges between 25 and 125 years, with “65 years being a fair average across the blend”, according to Schell. So, 100% old vine Shiraz from a great vintage in the hands of a master blender. Wonder how this is going to turn out… The proportion of whole clusters varied from “everything to nothing” depending on the vineyard, with roughly 35% in the final cuvée. Vinified with indigenous yeast fermentation, élevage on lees in new (35%) and seasoned French oak barrels—ranging in capacity from 225-litre to 4500-litre—for 20 months before bottling without filtration. “It’s a really good year”, offers Pete Schell of 2021, in typically economical fashion. Factoring in his penchant for understatement, “a really good year” for Schell means something a little more for the rest of us. Inspired by the classically styled Barossa reds from the 70s and 80s (bottles plundered from friend's parents’ cellars), it’s a refined, medium-bodied, detailed and aromatic wine with the ‘last-man-standing’ confidence of a truly exciting vintage.

The old-world feel is strong with this one. Packing a supple core of black and red fruit and veins of aromatic spice and savouriness, its magnificent length and refined web of tannin has the 2021 flirting with best-ever territory.

“It’s flush with fruit but there’s a meatiness to this and its churned with tannin too, grainy tannin. Charred meats, blackberries and blueberries, a floral element and fist loads of roasted spice. It’s bold but neat, tannic but not at the expense of the overall flow. Excellent gear, this.”
94 points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
“Deep, bold purple-red colour; aromas of sweet ripe black fruits, blackberry and mulberry, vanilla/chocolate too, the palate full bodied and fruit-sweet at the core, then some astringency comes in thanks to acidity and tannin—but it's all in balance. Plenty happening here. A promising shiraz that will reward patient cellaring.”
95 points, Huon Hooke, The Real Review
“Pete Schell's Bête Noir is a shiraz blended across a selection of Barossan grounds including a portion from the cooler Eden Valley. Typically sporting a super-saturated, magenta-splashed hue with aromas of bright plum, black cherry and blueberry fruits cut with hints of violets, brown spice, ironstone, dark chocolate, smoked meats, cherry confit and earth. Glossy and impressively pure, there's ferrous edge to the tight tannins and an acid line that propels the pure fruit briskly across the palate, finishing elegant yet opulent.”
95 points, Dave Brooks, winecompanion.com.au
Spinifex Bête Noir 2021
Spinifex Old Vine Grenache 2021

Spinifex Old Vine Grenache 2021

When Pete Schell heard rumblings of a small old Grenache block being put up for sale for being "too old and too low yielding", naturally his ears pricked up. A call was promptly placed to the owner, a brief negotiation followed and Pete has now been farm-sharing the block for three years. Pete describes it as a "lovely old block" with an average vine age of 60 years old. These gnarled old vines are dry grown, spur pruned bush vines and yields are, across the board, 'miserable'. But, the resulting wines are strong, characterful and jam packed with flavour and energy. The fruit was hand harvested and wild fermented in stainless steel. 40% was whole bunch and the remaining 60% was uncrushed, destemmed berries. Pump-overs occurred every second day and the wine was matured on light lees in seasoned thick-staved 500L French oak puncheons. The aromas are dense with ripe fruits, dark spices, earthy undertones and some purple floral lift. The palate has silky fruits, vibrant acidity and lovely light, tight-grained tannins with a savoury and anise-tinged finish.

The aromas are dense with ripe fruits, dark spices, earthy undertones and some purple floral lift. The palate has silky fruits, vibrant acidity and lovely light, tight-grained tannins with a savoury and anise-tinged finish.

“An impressive single-vineyard grenache from Pete Schell at Spinifex Wines. Brilliant crimson in the glass with flashes of purple and notes of juicy plum, raspberry, red cherry and blueberry with hints of fine spice, gingerbread, purple florals, red licorice, earth, cola and lighter tobacco tones. Plenty of space and detail with fine, compact gypsum-like tannins and a brisk acid cadence, finishing savoury, balanced and spice-laden.”
94 points, Dave Brooks, winecompanion.com.au
Spinifex Old Vine Grenache 2021
Spinifex Papillon 2022

Spinifex Papillon 2022

Pete Schell’s Papillon was one of the first of the mod-Barossa wines to show that ripeness and depth of flavour needn’t come at the expense of freshness and vineyard expression. All these years later, it remains at the top of its game—if anything, it has never been in better form. This year’s wine is drawn from three exceptionally old, dry-grown, bush-vine sites as last year. Unlike the Grenache-dominant 2021, the 2022 leads with Cinsault, with 87% of the blend. The lion's share of the Cinsault is sourced from a plot of pre-Great-War vines (1910) in the friable, deep, red-clay soils of Ebenezer, while the balance is sourced from a 40-year-old sandy plot in Bethany. The Grenache component comes from a plot of vines planted around 1890 in Vine Vale that are rooted in deep, coarse sandy soil. All three parcels are fermented as whole berries and matured in a mix of old, large oak foudres and stainless-steel tanks. The fresh and moderate conditions of 2022 have delivered one of the most consumable renditions of Papillon we have seen in some years. Campbell’s notes sums the wine up nicely—delicious indeed. 

“It’s a light, mouthwatering, fresh style of red with its core of sweet raspberry and red licorice flavour surrounded by dry spice and roasted nut characters. In short, it’s delicious. Frisky but with flavour; sweet-fruited but with ample savoury nuance. It’s more-ish plus plus.”
92 points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Spinifex Papillon 2022
Spinifex Garçon 2022

Spinifex Garçon 2022

Celebrating the legacy of Barossa Valley Grenache, Pete Schell sources this wine from four dry-grown, old-vine parcels in the Barossa Valley with vine ages ranging from 35-100 years. The winemaking was very much in the traditional Spinifex mould: slow, natural fermentations with gentle pump-overs and foot-stomping. With a focus on freshness and drinkability allied to a supple core of Barossan generosity and depth of flavour, the 2022 Garçon was crafted with 40% whole bunches and fermentations took place in stainless steel and concrete. Maturation took place on light lees in a selection of vessels including steel vats, seasoned, thick-staved 600-litre demi-muids, with an additional stint in 2,500 litre foudre. Bottled unfined and without filtration, eight months after harvest. A typically evocative example of a Grenache that values freshness rather than power, this is energetic and lively with aromas and flavours of red ripe summer berries, earthy spice and sweet blue florals, egged on by refreshing acidity and a gentle nip of tannin. How Pete Schell continues producing such goodness at this price is beyond us, but we’re mighty thankful. Over to Mr Mattinson…

A typically evocative example of a Grenache that values freshness rather than power, this is energetic and lively with aromas and flavours of red ripe summer berries, earthy spice and sweet blue florals, egged on by refreshing acidity and a gentle nip of tannin. How Pete Schell continues producing such goodness at this price is beyond us, but we’re mighty thankful. Over to Mr Mattinson…

“Some people love a bit of reduction in their reds; other don’t. I’m in the former camp, and this wine plays that angle beautifully. Raspberries and rust, throws of dry spice, twiggy herb notes, licorice and that smoky, earthen, slightly burnt reductive character. The flavours come both tense and sheeted; it’s a light-ish wine of juicy, taut finesse. Pricing is spot on. This is deliciously good. Personally, in an ideal world, I’d be up to my neck in this.”
93 points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Spinifex Garçon 2022
Spinifex Moppa Shiraz 2021

Spinifex Moppa Shiraz 2021

Spinifex’s 3.5-acre Moppa Shiraz source is in an elevated zone in the northwest, a site which has been producing exceptional Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro for Spinifex since 2005. Although the exact age of the vineyard is unknown, it is thought to be at least 80 years old. It has been managed organically for 40 of those years by a unique vigneron who grew up on the block and has the utmost respect for his vines. In 2015, when the right vintage presented itself, Schell released his first single-vineyard bottling. Fast-forward to this truly superb 2021 release, and you have a Shiraz that’s firing on all cylinders. Hand-harvested fruit was fermented (with 30% whole bunches) in both wood and steel fermenters for between 10 and 24 days, then raised in a combination of puncheons, demi-muids and barriques (40% new). The wines were kept on light lees until racking and blending 20 months after harvest. The result is a whole lot of wine for your money. Restrained Barossa power is balanced by perfectly pitched weight, structure, acidity and an incredibly persistent finish. It’s rich, deep, and a wee bit boisterous with abundant and complex flavours, seductive appeal and signature Spinifex balance. Modern Barossa at its best.

The result is a whole lot of wine for your money. Restrained Barossa power is balanced by perfectly pitched weight, structure, acidity and an incredibly persistent finish. It’s rich, deep, and a wee bit boisterous with abundant and complex flavours, seductive appeal and signature Spinifex balance. Modern Barossa at its best.

“This is a serious Barossa shiraz. Serious colour, serious depth, serious flavour. It’s a plush wine, ripped with cedarwood and violet, blackberry and saturated plum flavours, with runs of dark chocolate and spearmint purring throughout. There’s a deceptive amount of tannin here too; deceptive because it’s so velvety, and so well integrated into the fruit. This is a bold wine. Big. Soft. Rich. And emphatic.”
95 points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
“Very deep, concentrated purple-red colour that stains the glass. Concentrated and powerful to sniff and taste with impressive depth of dark fruits, tar, bitumen dried herbs and black pepper; the palate is full-bodied and powerful, dense and rich, fleshy and profound with enduring length. Blackberry and licorice, a riot of flavour: it's an exercise in power delivered with elegance. A very big and very young shiraz with a great future.”
96 points, Huon Hooke, The Real Review
Spinifex Moppa Shiraz 2021
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Halliday Wine Companion Top 100 Wineries 2023

#79: Spinifex

“Wonderful to touch base again with Spinifex wines. In the cornucopia of avant garde producers, sometimes it’s great to look back at those who were there at the genesis, and revel in their consistency and continuation at a high level.” Mike Bennie, The Wine Front

“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

“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

Country

Australia

Primary Region

Barossa, South Australia

People

Winemaker: Peter Schell

Availability

VIC, NSW, ACT, QLD, TAS, WA

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