When Shaw + Smith first approached Adam Wadewitz, he doubted he could add much to what these ‘big wine brains’ produced. Turns out he was wrong.
It’s been 10 vintages now since winemaker Adam Wadewitz joined Shaw + Smith in South Australia’s idyllic Adelaide Hills. In that time the company has undertaken a broadscale reimagining of what it is capable of, with some significant vineyard acquisitions both in and out of the region, and a top-to-bottom revision of their entire wine growing and production process.
Anyone acquainted with Shaw + Smith’s fine wine credentials prior to Wadewitz’ arrival may wonder why proprietors Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith MW were open to reinventing themselves so significantly. Indeed, when Wadewitz was first approached by the company in late 2012 with an invitation to join, he wondered the same thing.
“I was initially worried” he recalls. “You guys have got all these big wine brains, what do you need me for?”
Wadewitz’s first job was at nearby Wirra Wirra where he realised winery work could prove a great way to earn money while travelling. Before long he landed in the Napa Valley, from there spent time in Chile, and then on to the Jura in France.
Back home, he headed to Brokenwood in the Hunter – a fertile training ground with teachers P.J. Charteris, Iain Riggs and the late Len Evans – and then to formalise his experience with a winemaking degree at Adelaide University, supporting himself in wine retail and work at Petaluma.
With his newly minted degree, he took a position at Best’s Great Western from vintages 2006 to 2011 with proprietor and mentor Viv Thomson, revelling in the opportunity to explore old vine shiraz and pinot meunier, dating back to 1868.
“Working with something that was shaped by all those years was a real honour,” he says. A year spent with Seppelt ensconced in the St Peters and Imperial vineyards further deepened his love and fascination for historic sites.
Meanwhile Shaw + Smith had acquired two outstanding vineyards: Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills and Tolpuddle in Coal River Valley, Tasmania. For the latter, they created a new, eponymous label, their first since establishing Shaw + Smith in 1989. Needing to build the requisite team for this next stage of evolution, they put the word out. Hill Smith recounts it: “Someone rang up and said ‘you should really meet this guy, it could work.’”
After his initial reticence, Wadewitz was set at ease by David LeMire MW, who had also just joined Shaw + Smith as sales and marketing specialist. Already good friends, they met in Burgundy when Wadewitz was there as Dux of the 2009 Len Evans Tutorial. “He reassured me that both Michael and Martin had a real hunger for the next phase, of improving quality and taking what had already been built to the next level,” Wadewitz says.
‘Adam is one of those once-in-a-generation winemakers who really stands out and he is at the height of his powers.’
On being given the reins for vintage 2013, Wadewitz initiated the decade-long transformative process with a gradual realignment of vineyard sources. “When it came to chardonnay we started going higher and cooler and seeking sites that have amazing natural acidity, but not at the expense of flavour,” he says.
From there they introduced the single vineyard wines in the pursuit of understanding which sites showed well year-on-year. “The consensus was Balhannah for shiraz and Lenswood for pinot and chardonnay, with the same processes applied to Tolpuddle but on a real micro level.”
The next step was improving farming practices. Since then, all of Shaw + Smith’s vineyards have graduated to certified organic, in line with the Sustainability Policy that is embedded in the company ethos. They also overhauled their winery practices, creating flexibility and allowing them to respond to the specific vagaries of each season.
Ten years on, Wadewitz is now joint CEO. With Shaw and Hill Smith, it really is a dream team. “When I first sat down with them, I remember frank conversations and have every day since then, about what we could do better. The four us together, we really challenge each other.”
Hill Smith sums it up: “He’s contributed to and overseen a period of accelerated, quality-driven evolution. I do honestly think he is one of those once-in-a-generation winemakers who really stands out and he is at the height of his powers.”
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Adelaide Hills & Coal River Valley
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 24
ANNUAL CRUSH | 1,500 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | Shaw + Smith Lenswood Chardonnay; Tolpuddle Pinot Noir
Photography courtesy of Shaw + Smith.