Peter Schell’s portfolio of wines may seem random, but his experimentation and careful crafting of alternative varieties has produced drops that will keep you coming back for more.
Peter (or Pete, as he’s universally known) Schell is a man of instinct; exploring possibilities and opportunities with an innate curiosity and intuition. Schell experiments with parcels of fruit, often blending them for some years into his seemingly random portfolio of dangerously drinkable wines before allowing a variety to fly solo.
The Spinifex range is a reflection of the (often minuscule) parcels of fruit that Schell seeks out from both ancient vines and new-wave varieties. Schell finds that these old vines – which have tolerated the rigours of drought and heat – produce fruit of exceptional depth, with the indefinable savoury flavours that set Spinifex apart from the stereotypical Barossa style.
Schell’s wines rely on old vine mataro (aka mourvèdre) and shiraz. Spliced with these traditional heroes are varieties that are just beginning to make their presence felt, with vermentino, clairette, tempranillo and aglianico finding their way into his fermenters. Add Schell’s re-appraisal of old timers like cinsaut, ugni blanc, semillon and white muscat and the possibilities are endless.
The key is Schell’s unhurried approach to fermentation; to blending and finally bottling with parcels carefully melded to combine fruit focus and textural complexity. These are not extractive brash and bold wines but rather wines of substance, character and intrigue – wines that demand a second taste, a second glass and, maybe, a second bottle.
Schell’s past is as complex as his wines with his partner and wife, Magali Gely taking a key role. Gely comes from a multi-generational French family of winemakers with roots near Montpellier. They met in New Zealand, Schell’s birthplace and in 1992, moved to study oenology and marketing at Roseworthy College (now part of the University of Adelaide).
Their annual winemaking stints in France include Burgundy, Bordeaux, Provence and, especially, the Languedoc. Their wide vision of wine comes from tasting the world’s best and the everyday, highly quaffable wines of rural France. Wines made from indigenous varieties that speak of place. It’s this sense of place Gely and Schell have infused into their wines from their modest beginnings in 2001.
“Peter Schell is a progressive and imaginative winemaker with a strong feeling of place. This translates to spectacular wines with outstanding identity and authenticity.” Andrew Caillard MW
Take Schell’s rosé. Provence is the inspiration with the 2018 a blend of grenache, mataro and cinsaut, part fermented in large old casks. Perfume, texture and complexity set the Spinifex apart from other rosés. Schell’s Luxe is also a premium rosé with more depth, character and intrigue.
Clairette is another project of Schell’s with experimental parcels a component of his uber-complex Lola white before emerging on its own. The Spinifex Clairette is an astonishing take on the variety, as is Schell’s skin-contact vermentino – one of the top wines in Gourmet Traveller WINE’s recent exposé of Italian white varieties in the February/March 2019 issue. Flick to page 46 of this issue and you’ll find Schell has repeated this success with his 2017 Aglianico.
These are wines that reflect both Schell’s restless enthusiasm and his acknowledgment of the changing environment for grape growing. Schell readily admits that it’s Gely who is “left to deal with the consequence” of his small-batch winemaking.
As Spinifex is a small family affair, the prices are modest to say the least. Even the top drops like La Maline and Indigene retail for much less than $100, very fair pricing for wines that are in a (world) class of their own. Watch this space, Peter Schell has more (fascinating) wines in the pipeline.
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Barossa and Adelaide Hills
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 26
ANNUAL CRUSH | 120 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | Spinifex Indigene