Recognising the McLaren Vale region for its worth, this winemaker sticks to the varieties that do well there focusing on healthy vines, good fruit and a light touch in the winery.
"I was at this random, Andrew Garrett wine dinner one night,” explains Yangarra winemaker Peter Fraser. “I’d had a few drinks and got into a conversation with winemaker Warren Randall. He was this colourful human who’d come in late, covered in grapes and wine stains, and I thought he was kind of interesting, so I ended up talking to him for some time. Next thing I knew I’d been invited to do Sunday morning pump overs. That was where it all started.”
Born and raised in McLaren Vale, Fraser has kicked his boots through the iron rich Maslin Sands since an early age. “McLaren Vale geology feels like one of the most important things in my career,” he states, “I want to make wines that express a sense of place from the ground up. There’s more to this region than the dirt, but that’s where we start.”
Fraser rose through the South Australian winemaking ranks thanks to hard work. He dragged hoses in the 1996 and 1997 vintages at St Hallett in the Barossa Valley. He landed a cellar hand gig at Norman’s in Clarendon, that led to time in Europe where winemaking was done through mime rather than words due to the language barrier.
The US-based Jackson family, the proprietors of Yangarra, came looking for Australian talent and vineyard land in 2000. The young Fraser had rapidly climbed the rungs at Norman’s as the corporate structure crumbled around him. He threw his hat in the ring and the Jacksons took him on. He set about developing a new brand and wine-making culture based around substantial vineyard holdings with an eye on premium wine production.
One of Fraser’s most impressive assets is his open mind. “I take influence from everywhere, but at the forefront has been a recognition that better quality fruit comes from healthier vines and that the best wines come from a judicious, yet light touch in the winery,” he explains.
Yangarra under Fraser’s nurturing has become a phenomenon. A modest start saw wines of good regional character, but perhaps without the verve and spark now associated with the brand.
Conventional agriculture has been replaced with certified biodynamic farming. Fraser has adopted a more natural approach to winemaking, complementing the fastidious fruit selection and berry sorting that are now calling cards of one of Australia’s finest wine producers.
And Fraser’s wines are shining. His focus at Yangarra is on Rhône varieties with single-site wines at the apex of multiple ranges that include estate wines and some experimental offerings.
Yangarra Estate Mourvèdre is a reliable, medium-weight, spice-drenched red of ferrous tannins and bright, jubey fruit character. Viognier under Fraser’s care has found a pitch-perfect balance between opulence and mineral-charged vivacity. Shiraz is an unfailing performer, and the Small Pot Whole Bunch and Sand Block releases are terrific for their breadth of personality. Fraser also produces a zesty pétillant-naturel sparkling wine. Seeking texture and interest, he’s used extended skin contact fermentation adroitly for his formidable roussannes. “We can’t move forward without some lateral thinking,” he states.
Grenache, however, is where Fraser finds few peers in Australia. “Grenache is the golden child of the region, but I always have my mind on how to improve it. Significantly, my end goal is to take it to another level without upsetting the prettiness and perfume of the variety. I am constantly finetuning our winemaking, and pursuing the little things to add another element to grenache wines.”
Fraser’s grenaches are wines of beauty. Finely wrought, satiny textured, wildly perfumed, and imbued with the ferrous depth of the rugged soils from which they’re born. There’s distinction in them too, from the High Sands Grenache, a chewier, suede-textured, inwardly concentrated wine to the Small Pot Ceramic Egg Grenache the more filigreed, lacy expression.
Fraser is a winemaker who firmly believes in the voice of his wines rather than the sound of his own.
“We’re still just getting started,” he finishes