After more than 20 years in the industry, Alex Head has earned the right to challenge traditional Barossan thinking.
Alex Head has a wide yet detailed knowledge of wine. He spent a decade selling wine before staining his hands with Barossa shiraz grapes in 2006. By then he’d tasted and understood the world’s best shiraz. His mantra is simple: source the best fruit from old vines and gently nurture it into bottle without excessive alcohol or splinters of oak.
A love of wine began at home – St Paul’s College in Sydney, where his father was the warden and presided over a serious cellar of wines destined for college dinners. Some didn’t always make it to the dining table.
He discarded a degree in biochemistry in favour of wine when he began working at Toohey Brothers, the Sydney retail chain in 1997. Head learnt the ropes with the Tooheys before coming under the wing of retailing legend Jon Osbeiston, at the Ultimo Wine Centre.
The Ultimo store oozed with the world’s best wines and Head revelled in the opportunity to taste and talk with customers, merchants, importers and winemakers. A stint at the prestigious wine auction house Langton’s cemented his knowledge and understanding of wine, the fine wine market and its enthusiastic collection of ‘wineheads’.
In 2006 Head made his first shiraz, having worked vintages at wineries he admired, including Tyrrell’s, Torbreck, Laughing Jack and Cirillo Estate. He had no vineyards, but his enthusiasm and drive saw him earn the trust and support of the dedicated growers who tended the Barossa’s ancient vines.
“For a Sydney-domiciled Barossa winemaker, Alex Head has done an amazing job in bringing a new kind of panache to the region’s traditional varieties. He’s introduced an extra touch of elegance without losing the region’s essential generosity and softness.”
Head doesn’t own a winery but works in collaboration with like-minded winemakers. In 2006 he saw that the Barossa was under-valued, stamped by the Robert Parker Jnr ‘bigger, bolder’ boom, and counterintuitively created finer, more classical styles.
It’s fair to say he takes a hands-off approach, picking earlier, ageing in older (and increasingly larger) oak, and bottling early to retain freshness and vitality. Inspired by the likes of Rhône Valley groundbreaker, Yves Cuilleron, Head has experimented with open vat ferments, the inclusion of whole bunches and shorter, post-ferment maceration. Gradually he’s moved to large neutral foudre. The result is a spectacular range of wines offering finesse, elegance and instant appeal, but with the cellar in mind. Overheads are kept low, with his H Series top value at $25 a bottle – a riesling, rosé, GSM and a shiraz plus a funky montepulciano. The Limited Series includes a Blonde and Brunette with a humorous nod to Côte-Rôtie.
His Contrarian Shiraz is best summed up in his own words: “I created the Contrarian Shiraz in a manner contrary to traditional Barossan techniques. Shiraz grapes from higher altitude vineyards. Vines that were ‘rod and spur’ pruned. Picked early. Fermented with stem inclusion. Matured in seasoned, large format oak. This is me in a bottle.” Enough said.
Head’s Icon Series includes The Redhead Shiraz, the Ancestor Vine Shiraz Mataro and his top drop the Ancestor Vine Grenache made from a 150 year-old plot at Springton.
Alex Head is a family man with a busy corporate wife and two young boys. He lives in Sydney and actively sells his wines at tastings, dinners and functions. He represents a new wave of vigneron with one eye on his vineyards and his barrels, the other on the marketplace.