As Clare Valley icon Jim Barry Wines celebrates its diamond anniversary this year, it has received a great present – named as Australian winery of the year by eminent wine writer James Halliday.
The winery is a family affair, starting with founders Jim and Nancy Barry 60 years ago, then being run by their son Peter and his wife Sue, while the third generation Tom and Sam recently became joint general managers.
Jim Barry marketing manager Olivia Barry, Tom’s wife, not to be confused with Peter’s daughter Olivia, said the award came “out of the blue”.
The 2018 vintage wines received their “best ever” scores, with 12 wines above 95 points.
With James Halliday the “king of Australian wine writing”, Peter remarked it was like receiving a knighthood.
While the Jim Barry brand is most closely associated with Clare, it also has a footprint in the Coonawarra.
Olivia said Jim had always seen the Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon as the benchmark of the variety, and wanted to make his own.
While Peter was down there visiting, he came across the infamous cricket pitch at Penola, which formed the inspiration for their Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon.
“It was a brand that seemed to hit a chord,” Olivia said. “We’ve changed little on the packaging since the first vintage in 2001.”
But reisling still remains a signature variety of Jim Barry wines, winning six gold medals at the 2018 Clare Valley Wine Show.
The Jim Barry brand has had a strong focus on exports since Peter took the reins in 1985.
They sell into all major export markets, including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, most of Asia and Europe.
To mark their 60th year, the Barrys have produced a coffee table book that serves as a “historical record”.
The book is split into three sections, looking at the three generations, with stories and photographs from the winery’s history.
It was initiated by Graham McDonough, who had been instrumental in their rebrand in the early 2000s, then after his passing, was taken up by James Rickard and Jodie Kunze.
“Having it all in one spot is really special, if just for our children,” Olivia said. “The stories are otherwise lost.”
The passion for wine is strong in the Barry family – as well as the main Jim Barry brand, Jim’s offspring are also associated with their own labels, including Mad Bastard, Good Catholic Girl, Reg & Co and clos Clare.
Tom, who prior to taking on the joint general manager role was head winemaker, was the third generation to graduate from the University of Adelaide’s oenology course.
He has worked at Yalumba and Shaw and Smith, as well as in Germany and Austria, to “see how they are doing it in the old world”.
Sam, who has a commerce degree, has also worked vintages in France, Italy and the Yarra Valley in Vic.
While the milestone and the award are special, Olivia said the family is already looking to the future.
“We certainly wouldn’t want this to be the pinnacle,” she said.
“We’re going to keep striving, but it is recognition we are on the right track.”
INNOVATION FORMS FAMILY’S LEGACY
THE history of the Barry family is one of tradition, coupled with innovation.
More than 60 years ago, Jim Barry moved to the Clare Valley, just the 17th graduate from the University of Adelaide’s oenology course, bringing with him the science of winemaking.
He began as a winemaker at the now defunct Clarevale Co-operative, before moving on to Taylors and then starting to build up his own wine label with wife Nancy from 1959.
Olivia said Jim was at the forefront of a shift in the style of Australian wines from the popular fortifieds of the time to table wines.
He was also an early adopter of drip irrigation in the Clare region.
“He never shied away from a new thing or a challenge,” Olivia said.
“When he built this winery in the 1970s, it was absolutely state-of-the-art.”
This innovative spirit was passed along to the next generation as well.
While visiting Greece in 2006, Peter tasted assyrtiko wine on the island of Santorini that was somewhat reminiscent of the rieslings Clare is known for.
Considering it a fairly resilient grape, he began looking for cuttings back in Australia. After realising no one had tried this grape here, he began the 10-year process of importing the assyrtiko cuttings.
But the investment paid off. This vintage, despite the drought conditions across the region, the variety yielded as normal, while other varieties were down.
James Halliday commented if armageddon were to strike, this grape would remain.