Winemaker Owen Latta’s age belies a wealth of experience, making him a deserving winner of the Young Winemaker Medal for his quality Eastern Peake and Latta Vino wines.
Second generation winemaker Owen Latta is the Ballarat kid setting the Australian wine scene on fire. Between the premium wines of Eastern Peake and the more expressive, avant garde releases under his own, eponymous Latta Vino range, Latta has shown his mettle as one of Australia’s most thoughtful and daring winemakers. His story doesn’t begin with classic learning, nor with a gradual return to the family winery, but a sudden thrust into winemaking at the tender age of 15 years old. “Dad had an accident at the winery mid harvest and I stepped in,” explains Latta, “I was doing the winemaking before and after school, whenever there were spare moments, and Dad was kind of instructing me and I was kind of going off what I had seen up to then.” Because of this Latta is pushing towards his 20th vintage, an extraordinary statistic at 34 years of age.
The Latta history dates back to the 1980s when legendary Australian winemaker, Trevor Mast was searching for pinot noir sites around Victoria to bolster his range at Mount Langi Ghiran. The Latta family answered an advertisement in the local newspaper. “Around 30 or so people applied,” explains Latta. “My parents had done everything that Mast had asked.”
Latta’s parents planted vines under the watchful eye of Mast. They grew outstanding pinot noir and chardonnay, with the pinot underpinning releases by Mount Langi for around a decade. Langi halted production of pinot in the early 1990s and the Latta family, again under Mast’s guidance, began their own label: Eastern Peake.
“ The purity and natural architecture possible from just grapes and skins is something Latta is actively seeking. ”
Around five years later, young Latta stepped into thefray. “It was 1995 and, yes, I was getting in trouble forgoing to school with red wine on my shirt,” Latta states. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Charles Sturt University with formative work at Geelong and Yarra Burn. “I never really felt that far from home,” Latta explains. “In 2007, I was drawn back home and to full-time work at Eastern Peake.”
Vineyard management has always been considered and low in intervention, with winemaking in a similar vein. “Dad never really fiddled too much with the wines and the vineyard was generally looked after with biological means, rather than chemical stuff,” Latta explains. “I took these ideas onboard and now apply it across both Eastern Peake and Latta wines.”
Indeed, there are few people in Australia so adept with lo-fi winemaking, eking out maximum flavour, vitality, freshness and poise, including when no sulphur is added at all. “I am increasingly seeing that long, slow maturation prior to bottling helps no-sulphur wines,” Latta explains. “The purity and natural architecture possible from just grapes and skins is something I am actively seeking in terms of feel, structure and balance.”
Eastern Peake chardonnay wines are defined by vineyard plots and barrel selection. The resulting wines are deeply flavoursome yet inherently fresh with savoury qualities from extended lees time. Pinot noir from Eastern Peake is succulent but leaner than expected, often hemmed with firm ribs of fine, chalky tannins and it will mature gracefully for a long period. Indeed, Latta is renowned for showing pinot wines to trade that have spent over a decade in the winery ‘library’. Shiraz and Pinot Taché Rosé are likewise serious expressions under the Eastern Peake label. The range is outstanding for its complexity, vitality and personality of the estate site.
Latta Vino is a more complex range: skin-fermented whites, pure and precise white blends; rosé produced from nebbiolo; joven-style sangiovese; earthy nebbiolo table wines, and various blends have joined the fray. The 2017 Latta Vino Tranquil Nebbiolo is one of Australia’s finest examples of the style. It’s a finely wrought, tannin-shaped, deeply flavoured and wildly aromatic light red.
While Latta’s career has not been long it shows an incredible depth of experience that places him at the apex of winemaking in Australia. While the award might be Young Winemaker Medal 2018, his work and deft touch with such a breadth of varieties and styles has him close to transcending that title.
Photography courtesy of Eastern Peake and Latta Vino.