Taylors’ Wakefield Wines: All in the family

Clare Valley standard bearer, innovator, sustainable leader, philanthropist and above all a family’s business

by Michael Godel

This feature was commissioned by Wakefield Wines.

Wakefield is a brand well-known to Canadian consumers and has been for upwards of three decades. I came to know their Taylor family Clare Valley wines (along with those of Leasingham) back in the late 1990s. In March of 2017 I attended a ProWein pre-event called “Sneaky taste of Australia” at Düsseldorf’s Kochschule im Medienhafen and it was there that I met Neil Hadley MW, Export Manager for Taylors/Wakefield. Hadley was pouring a 2016 tempranillo from Clare Valley/McLaren Vale and a 2009 cabernet sauvignon called The Visionary Clare Valley Estate Exceptional Parcel Release. Memorable choices for a memorable evening.


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Over these last 18 months can you name another consistently well-made Australian wine brand other than Wakefield Wines so ever-present in the LCBO’s fine wines division and the Canadian wine market? In 2020 and 2021 Ontario consumers have been, and will continue to be, treated to no less than eight different VINTAGES and LCBO released labels by the South Australian brand known as Wakefield Wines. There has simply been no gap during pandemic times. This is a real and factual testament to the family’s three-plus decades commitment towards their efforts in working their brand in Canada. It expresses a collective consumer affection for South Australian and also specifically Clare Valley wines. Taylors is a go to producer of fine wine labels thoroughly respected by Canadian consumers.

Clinton, Bill, Mitchell and Justin Taylor

In Australia and New Zealand, the winery trades under their family name, Taylors Wines, but in Canada and further abroad people will recognize them as Wakefield Wines, their export name. Three brothers make up the current and third generation; Justin, Mitchell and Clinton’s grandfather started in the business after the family came out of the largest privately owned hotels and pubs group in Sydney in the 40s, 50s and 60s, before getting into wine. The transformation was surely an audacious move during Australia’s beer days. In the late 60s the Taylor boys’ dad Bill, his mother and father, uncle and aunt decided to sell all the properties, then made several visits to Bordeaux. Their quest was to seek out a philosophy for making new world wines with old world finesse. At the time there were only 65 registered wineries in all of Australia.

Upon return, the group literally went around all the regions of Australia looking for the right place to plant a vineyard and realize their dream that saw its genesis in the brilliance of Bordeaux. They looked at New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, Margaret River in Western Australia, Victoria and all the beautiful regions of South Australia. In the Clare Valley they found soils of terra rossa over limestone, nice elevation, unlimited sunlight and diurnal temperature fluctuations to contribute to that most important ideal of vibrant acidity. These were the parts in an equation that launched Wakefield’s distinctive special sort of cabernet sauvignon magic. Vibrancy maintained by daytime highs of 40 degrees morphing to 17 celsius, night after night. The Clare is a long, north-south cigar shaped valley and a generous 230 acres were planted, at the time constituting the largest planting of cabernet sauvignon in the southern hemisphere. The Valley’s location lies 30-40 kms (as the crow flies) from the ocean. Conversely McLaren Vale fruit is subjected to true maritime influence but in the Clare there is no cloud cover to trap in heat. As such it is a place of clarity, transparency and truth. Today at Taylors there are 1,800 acres under vine.

It’s been a family story about real commitment to winemaking, expansion and now into the third generation of the business. The Taylors have remained in South Australia but have moved into encapsulating other regions’ terroirs, including McLaren Vale, Padthaway and Coonawarra. The Estate range of wines is overwhelmingly Clare Valley while the higher priced Jaraman will often be a blend of two iconic regions, namely McLaren Vale shiraz and Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon. 

Neil Hadley MW, Export Manager for Taylors/Wakefield Wines and chair of the Institute of Masters of Wine

When a family is really committed to winemaking they attract some of the finest human talent in the industry. The large viticultural and winemaking team is led by winemaker Adam Eggins and Justin Taylor’s current role is in export sales, along with Neil Hadley MW. “Canada’s been a fantastic market for us as a family,” tells Taylor, “and continues to be a big focus. Seventy to 75 per cent of our business is in Australia. My dad took the brand to New Zealand 30 years ago and we’re big there, doing quite a lot of business in the U.K. and Canada’s right up there with us. I love that part of the journey. I love the Canadian people. There’s always been a click.”

You know you’ve entered into a connection with an Aussie when they open up with “Yeah, how you going.” That’s exactly how my recent conversation with Justin Taylor began; chill, relaxed and ready to get at it. Here is an extended excerpt from the Q & A:

WineAlign: “Just as the website asks, can you tell me who exactly are these Taylors down there in the Clare Valley?”

Justin Taylor: “My two brothers are in the business with me and I really believe a family’s philosophy and how they want to approach winemaking is super important. You get the philosophy right and that’s the foundation of your business. If your foundations are right you’ve got a real chance at building something that can really move into the future. When my dad still tells the story of moving into wine we think “you’re selling beer to Aussies, what were you doing, what a crazy move!” Here were these crazy hoteliers who after a few trips to France planted the largest amount of cabernet sauvignon. We’re now the craziest vignerons in Australia. It’s a really big vineyard and we’ve got all our eggs in one basket.” 

WA: “What is at the core of and what do you each contribute to the family business?”

JT: “The family’s job is to batten holes, keep the philosophy true and to allow innovation to run strong. If my father were here on this Zoom there would definitely be a cabernet sauvignon involved, with at least four years of age and definitely matured in French oak. I often say if you cut him he would definitely bleed but a lot of cabernet sauvignon would come out. Dad’s a 10 year cellar guy, so am I but it has to be well made wine because the fruit has to be there. Always buy 12 bottles when buying good wine. That’s my philosophy. Mitchell’s the Managing Director and CEO of the business and I really respect that. It’s a lot of responsibility and he has winemaking education. My younger brother Clinton is our General Manager of production. People will say it’s amazing that we are actually brothers but my father gave us the scope when he handed over the business in 2000. He stepped out to his credit and defined our roles. Clinton lived on those vineyards for four years of his life and understands the agricultural vagaries of our business with a real hands on approach. I’ve been in the business for 25 years and travelled the world, introducing the family’s wines to to the world. There’s a very healthy dynamic, there’s not ego there and the business is bigger than anything any one of might be. We are extremely proud of what our grandfather started and our father achieved. At times the passion just runs away with you and through the place. You don’t have to be one of the three boys. Everyone is committed to this family business. The family lends such truth and authenticity. It’s very genuine.”

Justin taylor

Justin Taylor

WA: “Might you elaborate on the distinction of Wakefield’s terroir, mainly the Clare Valley, but can you also comment on Coonawarra and McLaren Vale?”

JT: “There are veins of Terra Rossa soil that go right through South Australia. Through centuries of erosion it depends on where these rich soils rise to the surface. We are on a vein, which is the same one that runs through Coonawarra. Very similar save for the undulating hills and where it is hidden. Just as McLaren Vale shiraz is to our Clare, so Coonawarra is to our cabernet. McLaren Vale is a place where we have very old relationships with very select growers. For me McLaren Vale delivers a lot of mid palate tannin and a regional complexity. Our original cuttings for our 1960s plantings came from Wynns of Coonawarra cabernet. In Coonawarra it delivers mid-palate grip into tannic structure. Which is lovely. Their’s is sometimes oldy-oldy. From Clare I love the vibrant acidity, intensity of fruit and the softening on the back palate. New world wines with old world finesse. Donut wines are ones that have holes. There are no donuts in Wakefield’s wines, I can assure you. My palate searches for fruit. What you need is a hammock and a good book for your Clare cabernets.”

WA: “What does the phrase “respect the fruit” mean to you?”

JT: “In the 90s we expanded our winemaking team and a lot of work was done on our oak program, in particular for our chardonnays. Our shiraz in American, the rest in French. Then with merlot we moved from French to American. Brought the texture out in that red fruit. We sent Adam over to France and now our chardonnays go into Latour oak. That’s evolution right there. We want to keep evolving. The focus became the fruit and so Adam and his team came up with the term “respect the fruit.” Starts in the vineyard and then we went into changing the size of the pipes and the chilling of the wine. We moved to huge Italian presses to gently press and avoid bruising the fruit. Texture, tannins and acidity are all protected. That’s the concept of respecting the fruit and by committing vast amounts of money to the vineyards.”

WA: “Where do you see Wakefield/Taylors as residing in the pantheon of Australian wine?”

JT: “At the end of the day, the cultural and family piece is we just want to contribute to a wonderful industry that’s been wonderful to us. The decency in winemaking shows that when there are floods and fires the winemaking community reaches out and says where can we help? There’s a beautiful culture in winemaking around the world. People help others in times of crisis and we want to be part of that. We want to take a leadership role, be mentors, etc. Our first piece of advice is don’t do it. Our second piece is don’t do it but if you’re going to then this is how you go about it.”

WA: “Please talk about the importance of sustainability and how it is embraced and manifested in Wakefield products.”

JT: We’re putting in a huge commitment to solar panels and we’ve got water recycling plants. We want to be agriculturally sustainable so we’ve got to look after water and soil conversation. We want to hand over an environmentally sustainable business to successive generations, to be around in 50, 100 or more years. I want us to be good contributors to a great industry, to be very, very ethical. For consumers around the world I want you to keep the trust you’ve given us, to continue with innovation and keep making better wines. If our wines keep getting better than we will stay relevant.”


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WA: “Further to that, with so many immediate challenges being faced due to extreme weather events, how do you remain positive and what plans of adjustment are you making to deal with climate crises, both in the short and also the long term?”

JT: “Nine of our hottest vintages have been the the last 10 years. You can have the climate change conversation all you want but we’re agricultural, we live with the facts. It’s happening. We’re securing more long-term vineyard contracts further south which allows us to keep later ripening varieties in cooler climes; riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay. In the Clare it’s getting hotter and while we have such a cultural connection with cabernet sauvignon we still feel it’s good for shiraz which loves heat, at least for the next couple of decades. We will increase our shiraz production and our winemaking team thinks it will only get better. It’s an immensely hardy grape variety. Overall we’ll have to diversify our multi-regional blending. Also on the climate front we’ve signed up to Paris protocols. One of the first Australian wineries to do so. Reducing emissions and being more environmentally sustainable. You have to do the job, make the changes and can no longer just purchase carbon offsets. That doesn’t cut it anymore. You are audited and measured. You have to put in the hard yards yourself and make the changes. We are dedicated to the 2014 accord.”

WA: “Yours is a unique history in the Clare Valley. What does that continue to mean today and what is the current generation’s feeling about legacy and what’s passed on to future generations?”

JT: “They say when a family business is working it’s one of the best business models in the world and when it goes pear-shaped it’s goes really ugly. It’s about being inclusive and connectivity. We have a family counsel with 10 shareholders and that’s important as the pyramid gets bigger. Ross Brown of Brown Brothers says it’s about just sitting around the table and telling the stories, so that the trust is there and everyone knows what’s going on in the family business. It’s what I do and what my brothers do as well.” 

WA: “How have you continued to fulfill and also grow your role and Wakefield’s positioning for international markets during these last 18 adversarial months?”

JT: “It probably hasn’t been my happiest 18 months. I love the connection with human beings, I love getting in those meetings to tell a six decade, three generation family business story. Of a wine company that is worth partnering with. To come along on our journey. Harder to do this through Zoom with training, interactions, multi-country zoom tastings but it’s about quick adaptation. The business reality of it has been where your brand has already connected to consumers and the trust has already been built. Visiting China 30 times in the last few years and three or four decades of effort in Canada has made this easier. We’re still reaching out and connecting. During lockdown in Australia one of my kids’ schools reached out and we volunteered to get our wines out to 120 teachers for a tasting. We work with Profile Wines, family business, Anthony and Frank, super guys (and John Turco) and we’re really close. It’s a great story, they researched and found us. The relationship is decades old and there’s so much trust.”

Project Seahorse

Photo by C. Manning – Project Seahorse

WA: “Project Seahorse is a charitable endeavour so very important to the Taylor family. Why did you choose this particular project as your focus and on doing your part to help deal with the climate crisis? Also please tell us about the project’s Canadian connection.”

JT:In 1969 we found fossilized seahorses in our vineyard which would have been an inland sea. In Canada we’re working with Project Seahorse to help them raise funds for their seahorse and marine research, and closer to home in Australia with a charity based in Sydney Harbour called SIMS. One of the founders of Project Seahorse is a Canadian, so there’s a really nice local touch for Canadians there. Seahorses are like the canary in the mineshaft. If seahorse colonies are thriving than that’s a good signal for the environment. We’re donating to these causes and aiming to fundraise to help expand these initiatives around the world. People often remember our wines for the seahorse on the label.

See Michael’s interview with Justin Taylor in its entirety:

Buyers’ Guide to Wakefield Wines

Wakefield Clare Valley Riesling 2019

Wakefield Clare Valley Riesling 2019, ($19.95, VINTAGES May 15, 2021 #301523, Profile Wine Group
David Lawrason – Here’s a nicely complex, well-balanced riesling with great acid-sugar balance – just a hint of rounding sweetness that leaves the finish dry. The nose is lifted and complex with riper warm climate peach-apricot fruit, a touch of petrol, linden and honey. It is medium bodied sitting nicely at 12% alcohol, with crisp, almost tart acidity and minerality. Quite lemony on the finish. The length is very good to excellent.

Wakefield Clare Valley Estate Chardonnay 2019

Wakefield Clare Valley – Padthaway Chardonnay 2019, ($16.95, VINTAGES Sept. 4, 2021 #711556, Profile Wine Group
Michael Godel – Now showing increased tropical fruit complexity and a balance between charm swaddled up in barrel biscuit nuttiness. The butter has rendered and all smooths together with chardonnay ease. Thanks to Padthaway fruit the Clare component is tempered and integrated.

Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, ($14.60, LCBO #358838, Profile Wine Group
Steve Thurlow – The 2019 vintage of this midweight to full cabernet is lighter in weight and leans more to red fruits than earlier vintages. It is juicy with some fruit sweetness, mild tannin and lively lemony acidity. The nose shows black and red cherry fruit with some jammy notes plus smoke and soft oak spice. It is well balanced with very good length and a fruity finish. Chill lightly and enjoy on its own or with BBQ meats or mild cheese.

Wakefield Shiraz 2019

Wakefield Estate Label Shiraz 2019, Limestone Coast-Clare Valley ($19.95, #943787, Profile Wine Group
Michael Godel – With the ever increasing warmth and climate effect sweeping through South Australia there is little wonder that the Taylor family and winemaking team are searching further south for cooler sites to compliment their warmer Clare Valley varietal wines. That said the hardiest and most adaptable shiraz seems the most immune and so with this multi-regional blend the better and best of two worlds collide. The fruit glides across a many splendour spectrum, in reds and blues, with moments of orange and also black. The Limestone Coast provides a cool maritime streak into the backbone from which the Clare knows best and equips this shiraz with a strength of bonding, character and grip. Finesse and power meet at a vortex where imagination and acumen are together borne. Lovely wine, one for now, later and then.
David Lawrason – With fruit sourced from two coolish zones this has quite lifted menthol character making it play more like cabernet sauvignon blanc than shiraz. But there is also complex pepper, vanillin and some baked cherry character, even some florality, that is more shiraz. It is quite full bodied, smooth and warm with supple, glossy texture and borderline sweetness. Tannins are very fine; the length is excellent.
John Szabo – Simple, fruity, polished and easy-drinking, juicy shiraz here from Wakefield and vineyards in both the Limestone Coast south of Adelaide, and the Clare Valley to the north. I like the immediacy of the black fruit, verging on jammy, while tannins are light and powdery and acids balanced fresh. Decent length and depth. I’d serve with a light chill for maximum fruit enjoyment.
Sara d’Amato – This carefully crafted shiraz was sourced from sites in the Limestone Coast and Clare Valley which are both cooler climate environs that contribute the aromatic lift of this hearty wine. Quite dense and full-bodied with enticing fresh blackberry and currant fruit flavours that are laced with cedar and sandalwood. Featuring more complexity than the norm at this price with a lightly smoky finale.

Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Wakefield Clare Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, ($19.95, VINTAGES May 29, 2021 #744235, Profile Wine Group
Michael Godel – There really is something singular about the way cabernet sauvignon expresses itself from Clare Valley vineyards, as if the varietal takes on its own biotype, clone and comeuppance. Blue fruit in many respects, in charge of domain and style. Wakefield knows this and takes full advantage of the primary, juicy and open knit availability. This is a terrific vintage, spot on, acids burgeoning and all falling into line. Lovely restraint and vibrancy make for a really fine summer red wine.
David Lawrason – The label is festooned with awards medallions from various Australian wine shows. That’s because it is very showy! Wakefield makes very fragrant, smooth, clean and approachable wines with all the right varietal character – here blackcurrant, menthol/eucalyptus, florals and vanilla. Textures are also very polished, with tannins well buffed. The only element that I find detracting and distracting is some sweetness. The length is excellent.

Wakefield Pinot Noir 2018

Wakefield Pinot Noir 2018, Adelaide Hills ($19.95, VINTAGES May 29, 2021 #197392, Profile Wine Group
Michael Godel – Not that Wakefield is unknown for their Adelaide Hills pinot noir acumen but their work with Bordeaux and Burgundian varieties surely comes first to mind. Yet here we are with a vibrant, wide open, effusive and pure one, fruit, fruit, a natural feel of acidity and more fruit. Crunchy pinot noir, easy, lightly spiced, inviting and so well seasoned. Like salt and pepper on wings, ribs and steaks, nothing more needed, save for a pat of butter or drizzle of EVOO to finish.
Sara d’Amato – A naturally spicy pinot noir from the cooler Adelaide Hills. Quite peppery with red plum and cherry fruit along with a hint of cola. Modern with good commercial appeal yet with more complexity and pep than expected. Stylishly reductive.

Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz 2019

Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz 2019, Clare Valley/McLaren Vale ($24.95, VINTAGES Aug. 7, 2021 #377036, Profile Wine Group
Michael Godel – Jaraman is a range of wines and in shiraz combines (72 per cent) Clare Valley with McLaren Vale for a joint South Australian stunner. The word Jaraman is a dialectical Aboriginal term for horse or for the Taylor family a seahorse, owing to an ancient seabed’s fossilized creatures found in Wakefield’s Clare Valley property. The coming together of variegated fruits, at once blue and then also reddish black is combed by layers of acidities more Clare than McLaren Vale. Vibrant shiraz defined and all parts thick as thieves for one of Wakefield’s great mono-varietal designs. Will surely improve in bottle.
David Lawrason – Jaraman combines fruit from two marginally cooler regions – McLaren Vale and Clare Valley (where Wakefield resides). So it has this slimmer feel – not green or light, but actually lithe, with good acidity and fine tannin. Aromas and flavours show ripe slightly candied berry/cherry fruit with a hint of green peppercorn and oak mocha chocolate. There is some sweetness on the palate; tannins are quite fine. The length is very good.

Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Coonawarra – Clare Valley ($24.95, VINTAGES March 26, 2021 #142398, Profile Wine Group
Michael Godel – This Jaraman is clearly part Clare Valley and part Coonawarra by origin what with its cool blue meets red earthy fruit but there is so much more going on. The pyrazine factor runs high in savoury florals, like an edible sautée of nasturtium, marigold, chrysanthemum and pansy. Reductively peppery and also resinous and so the molecules are simply on fire. Loads of character and presence in this dual-regional blend.
David Lawrason – Wakefield’s reds have a very distinctive, lifted nose of eucalyptus/menthol that is very much emphasized here, along with cabernet blackcurrant jam, cranberry, pepper, toast and oak spice. I really like the nose but it is distinctive and others might find it too green. On the palate it is juicy, intense, a somewhat sweet and intensely flavoured but the sense of confection is fairly elevated. Tannins are fairly soft. The length is very good to excellent.

Here is the Project Seahorse Press Release

WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO OCEAN CONSERVATION? IT ALL STARTS WITH SEAHORSES

TORONTO – With summer in full swing in Canada, family-owned Australian winery Wakefield Wines is on a worldwide mission to save seahorses. The winery has partnered with Project Seahorse, the global leaders in seahorse conservation to support their vital work in protecting these quirky fish species and ultimately the health of our oceans.

Project Seahorse, based at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, makes discoveries & collaborates globally to take effective action for the seahorses and their seas. According to Project Seahorse, robust seahorse populations are dependent on healthy oceans. Around the world, seahorses come under pressure from many factors including nonselective fisheries, degradation of coastal habitats, and climate change. 

This summer Wakefield Wines are calling on people to help raise much needed funds for Project Seahorse and advocate for their oceans. Wakefield’s social channels will showcase a series of ocean photography captured by wildlife and conservation photographers from Canada, the United Kingdom and USA.

By building an army of ocean ambassadors, the two organizations aim to show how local actions can have global impact. Wakefield is kickstarting the campaign by committing AUD$10,000 to Project Seahorse.

Though winemakers and marine scientists may appear as an unlikely duo, Wakefield third-generation Winemaker and Managing Director Mitchell Taylor acknowledges both organizations face a common challenge.

“Seahorses, much like grapevines, are an indicator species that raise the alarm to serious climate-related issues. To reverse the decline in seahorse populations we need to take a step back to look more closely at how we care for our oceans more broadly.”

Project Seahorse Director and Co-Founder Amanda Vincent, a Professor at UBC, was the first ever marine conservationist to receive the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s top award for animal conservation. This award is given every two years for scientists and researchers who have achieved major victories in advancing the sustainability of an animal species. Pioneering work by Project Seahorse has identified that saving seahorses is about more than just looking at the species in isolation.

As a Canadian who has spent her fair share of time in the ocean locally and abroad, Amanda has seen firsthand our impact on marine environments.

“All of us in Canada need to develop a sense of stewardship for our ocean… and our seahorses. Forty percent of Canada’s surface area is marine and we have the longest coastline of any country, yet we pay scant attention to the ocean. Looking after our seahorses in Nova Scotia is part of protecting our ocean heritage and caring for our ocean’s future.” 

Steve Woods is a Vancouver based wildlife and conservation photographer who will be capturing the beauty of Canada’s local oceans. His underwater photography showcases how awe-inspiring the ocean is. Canadians are invited to share their own stories and contribute images of the ocean through the hashtag #ouroceanhome making sure to tag Wakefield Wines and Project Seahorse.

Seahorses have been a symbol on all Wakefield wine bottles for over fifty years. The winery’s passion for seahorse conservation started in Australia where Wakefield is also partnering with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) on a project to help save Australia’s Endangered White’s Seahorse from extinction.

Mitchell Taylor is proud to be supporting conservation efforts not just in Australia’s own backyard but now, by working with Project Seahorse, in Canada and around the world. 

“We’re excited to extend our network of seahorse partnerships and work with a global leader like Project Seahorse in seahorse conservation. Their research recognizes the pressures on our ocean as urgent, and their research is geared towards real-world conservation impact.” says Mitchell.

Amanda Vincent added: “We have the knowledge and skills to advance ocean conservation. Now, it’s about spreading the awareness on how to take action and make a change.”

Donations to Project Seahorse as well as additional information is available at wakefieldwines.com/projectseahorse

Good to go!

godello

This feature was commissioned by Wakefield Wines. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery, agent or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the article. Wineries, wine agents, or regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.