KT, as she is known, puts much of her success down to good luck, but it’s clear that her boundary-pushing winemaking, spontaneity and love of life are what make her a worthy nominee.
Kerri Thompson is like a good jazz musician who has mastered their instrument through rigour and dedication, and then let fly with improvisation, funk and flair. KT, both her nickname and the name of her brand, went to Roseworthy Agricultural College and her first exposure to the Clare Valley was at Quelltaler. She then spent time at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, before returning to the Clare as winemaker at Leasingham in 1998.
Overseas stints added to Thompson’s skill and confidence with Paulo de Marchi, the rock star producer from Isole e Olena, still a close friend. A brilliant yet naïve chardonnay at Isole e Olena boosted Thompson’s confidence; a disastrous riesling (her first) at Leasingham popped her ballooning ego.
Not that anyone could call Thompson egotistical, rather dedicated with a sense of risk and fun. Her hard work paid off with her 2000 Leasingham Riesling winning the Mick Knappstein trophy at the Clare Wine Show.
The duet of riesling and the Clare are at the heart of Thompson’s endeavours with her first wines under the Wines by KT label from the 2006 vintage. It all started with a panicked grape grower, Bunny Peglidis looking for a buyer for some riesling. Nowadays the Peglidis and Churinga vineyards are Thompson’s main focus. Both are in the Watervale district, yet have decidedly different flavour profiles.
The postcode for Watervale is 5452, hence its use on KT’s entry-level wines. The names on her rieslings indicate their individuality. Pazza (the feminine Italian word for crazy) is a wild-fermented, unfiltered, sulphur-free riesling while Melva (after Thompson’s grandmother) is an off-dry, edgy riesling that’s fermented in old oak and rests on its yeast lees for three months with regular stirring. The single-vineyard rieslings tell of their site – the Churinga Vineyard is floral and zesty, while the Peglidis Vineyard is more about grace and power.
Thompson loves her reds and takes an equally refreshing attitude with them. Pazzo is a dangerously drinkable non-vintage blend of shiraz tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon. Tinta Tempranillo is in a juicy, joven style with her 5452 Shiraz and 5452 Grenache Mataro equally energetic. More serious are the Churinga Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Peglidis Vineyard Shiraz, both made using a ‘hands off’ approach. Add an edgy, dry rosé – Rosa – and an experimental vermentino, and it’s plain to see that Thompson has come a long way from her (safe and conservative) Leasingham days.
Thompson attributes her success to good luck – that first phone call from Bunny Peglidis; the opportunity to make her rieslings at Skillogalee; making wine in Beaujolais and Tuscany early in her career. A big influence came into her life with a chance knock on the Leasingham door from Wendouree’s Tony Brady and a casual offer to “come out and see us whenever it suits, just let us know if you ever need anything”.
It’s much more than good luck, Thompson thinks outside the box. She pushes her winemaking to the edge to bring more character and personality to her wines without compromising quality. Thompson’s love of life is reflected in her wines and, though she claims to be “bad at sealing the deal”, her charm and enthusiasm help her wines sell themselves.
Life for Thompson has taken a (slightly) more conventional turn with a daughter Willa, a wine scribe partner, Tim and a new cellar door in Auburn. The success of the cellar door has been a surprise. Thompson is enjoying the one-on-one experience with visitors and the sulphur-free Pazza is a bestseller.
There’s more to come from Kerri Thompson but it’s about “getting better at what we’re already doing”, and she’s already doing well. Not bad for an Adelaide girl without any wine connect-ions, who loved visiting her Grandma Melva’s farm, was good at chemistry, and followed a tip-off that Roseworthy Agricultural College (now part of Adelaide University) offered science and ‘this thing on wine’. And the ‘…by KT’ is a consistent by-line, even her resume comes tagged ‘CV by KT’