Spinifex

Perpetual Virtuosity from one of the Pioneers of the ‘New Barossa’

We first offered Spinifex’s wines in 2006, writing, “If Spinifex is not one of the most exciting Australian producers to have cropped up in the last decade, then we don’t know much about wine.” Time has been kind to those words, and thanks to this outstanding producer’s continuous progression, our reputation is not only still intact but indeed enhanced! Thanks, Pete.

Spinifex was started by Magali Gely and Peter Schell in 2001. Magali and Peter’s background is the key to understanding the styles of wine they produce. Magali comes from a family that has been growing wine near Montpellier for over ten generations, whilst Peter is a trained oenologist and has made wine in Burgundy, Switzerland, Provence, the Minervois, the Languedoc, Bordeaux and New Zealand. Peter and Magali’s combined backgrounds led to the belief that the vineyard is paramount in the production of unique, authentic wines, and that the wines they produce should not only reflect their sites; showing richness and intensity; but also, be well-balanced and a pleasure to drink.

Pete Schell should be considered one of the pioneers of the ‘new Barossa’, in that he was perhaps the first to truly grasp that seeking ripe fruit at lower Baumé and large format, or at least neutral oak was the way to go in the Barossa. He knew that power came naturally in this part of the world and that his efforts need to be directed at finding perfume and finesse and digestibility. He also grasped the importance of the old parcels of heritage grape varieties (much of which had been grubbed up) and worked hard to lock down what he could. Finally, and most thought-provokingly, he came to realise that the Barossa might well be as good a rosé and white wine region as it is a red wine area and promptly set about producing some of the most exciting examples of these wine styles the Barossa has seen.

While Schell’s wines remain quite unlike the traditional Barossa norm, they remain saturated with what we often call a ‘sense of place’ and maintain an unmistakable Barossan soul.

Twenty years into the story and Pete Schell’s fastidious criteria for site selection combined with his intuitive, hands-off work in the winery continues to yield dramatic results. His wines offer the textural openness and generosity that is the mark of the region, its climate and ancient soils, yet not at the expense of definition, tannic freshness and line.

Alongside their ground-breaking roster of négoce wines, Pete and Magali have realised their lifelong goal of owning and working their own vineyards. And what vineyards they are. The Rostein Vineyard in the Eden Valley was purchased in 2014. To complement the old vine Riesling and Shiraz already in place, they’ve planted Grenache (the highest block in South Australia at 495 metres) Mataro, Counoise and Cinsault. Next came the historic Dominion Vineyard near Vine Vale in 2018. Located in the dead centre of the Barossa Valley, this four-hectare site is home to two parcels of 1910 Grenache and 1918 Shiraz. Both varieties are deep-rooted in thin soils made up of fine, silty sand over friable, red-coloured clay. Translation: this is great, old-school Barossa country. A little Grenache Gris has also been planted.

Each of these vineyards is entirely hand-pruned, hand-picked and has been managed to a very high standard, namely: biodynamic preparations; regular compost; no synthetics and no chemical fertiliser; no irrigation; and no under-vine management apart from some mulch application and lots of mowing. Despite this exciting evolution, Schell’s unwavering commitment to his growers means the négoce wines will always remain a cornerstone of the Spinifex range.

The Range

Spinifex Vermentino 2023
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Spinifex Vermentino 2023

This is a terrific example of this variety, sourced from a one-acre vineyard on hard, ironstone-rich soil in one of the highest parts of Koonunga Hill in the Barossa’s extreme north. Vermentino is a rugged, hardy variety that Schell says ripens relatively slowly here, retaining acidity while delivering generous texture. Fermented wild after six hours on skins, it's a pure and textured Barossa white with waxy lemon, white blossoms and a touch of chalkiness. From a cool and long season, the palate is pithy and fresh, full of zip and with a breezy, grippy saline close. It would challenge many a top Italian example.

“This throws a bloom of scent and flavour. It’s unreasonably delicious. Bunches of flowers, custard powder, citrus, brine and stonefruit. Texture that seems to lift right out from the fruit. As they say in the classics: yes plus.”
93 points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Spinifex Vermentino 2023
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Spinifex Chenin Blanc 2023
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Spinifex Chenin Blanc 2023

This may be the first release of Spinifex’s Chenin Blanc, but these vines have been around for almost a century. Pete and Magali have been working with the old bush-vine Grenache and Shiraz from this ancient site in the Angaston foothills for well over 10 years, all the while eyeing an opportunity with the small Chenin block on the property. In 2022, they harvested their first crop, which they used in their Lola blend. This year, the crop from this one-acre block of dry-grown, gnarly old vines warranted its own bottling.The Chenin fruit from this old site holds natural breadth and intensity of flavour, so Pete picks early to capture natural freshness and preserve balance. The fruit is crushed without destemming and pressed to French oak for fermentation, followed by partial malolactic conversion and maturation in demi-muids.Old vine magic here! It’s superbly intense on the nose, radiating fresh stone fruit, sunny warmth, grilled nuts and creamy lees. The texture is soft and giving, with pin-point acidity and more of those lovely Chenin fruit tones. Long and mouthwatering on the finish, this is a belter of a first release—and a sign of great things to come. 

“There’s a scaffolding to this wine that is impressive. No worries about the flavour, it has that, apples and citrus, stonefruit and rust, a seaweed note. It makes character look easy. But from there it pulls in the girders and turns its room into something grander, and that’s its point of distinction.”
93+ points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Spinifex Chenin Blanc 2023
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Spinifex Lola 2021
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Spinifex Lola 2021

Pete Schell is crafting a flock of exciting whites from the Barossa and Eden Valleys these days, yet Lola is the original, and some would say most multi-layered, release. Semillon again takes centre stage, joined by Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Vermentino. The Semillon—a grape grown in the Barossa Valley since the 1850s—is sourced from three old-vine sites (65, 75 and 95 years old) in Ebenezer. The Clairette is from an elevated site in Rowland Flat on the valley's eastern side. This late-ripening grape, with excellent acid retention, provides additional freshness. Ugni Blanc and Vermentino contribute texture and a lick of salinity.Schell’s extensive attention in the vineyards and a light touch in the shed have given us another exceptional release of this unconventional white. Matured on lees in mostly older wood, it’s a deliciously fresh, textured white blend, flush with stone fruits, citrus, salinity, spice and some lovely hay and talc notes. It’s fleshy with nice phenolic tension, bracing acidity and a long, savoury finish—one of Barossa’s most original whites and one of its best.

Schell’s extensive attention in the vineyards and a light touch in the shed have given us another exceptional release of this unconventional white. It’s a deliciously fresh and textured white blend, flush with stone fruits, citrus, salinity, spice, and some lovely hay and talc notes lending complexity. It’s fleshy with a nice phenolic tension, bracing acidity and a long, savoury finish—one of the Barossa’s most original white wines, and one of its best.

Spinifex Lola 2021
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Spinifex Late Release Riesling 2017
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Spinifex Late Release Riesling 2017

This is the first vintage of Spinifex’s flagship Rostein Riesling, released after six years in bottle. Spinifex’s two-acre Rostein vineyard is home to two parcels of seriously old Riesling, one planted in 1945 and the other in 1957. These parcels produce minuscule yields—a paltry 0.8 tonnes per acre is the norm—resulting in wines of atypical power.The fruit comes predominantly from the 1945 parcel—some of Australia’s oldest Riesling vines—facing east at almost 500 metres. The dry-grown vines sit on sandy loam over quartz and gravel soils. After fermentation, the wine aged on lees for 11 months in 1,000-litre neutral oak and went through partial malolactic conversion. It was bottled after a further 14 months. 2017 was a cool, lean, citrus-driven year in the Eden Valley, so Pete decided to hold the wine back for a few years, allowing the fruit to flesh out and the acidity to mellow and integrate.This unique, textured, layered bottle-aged wine has mouthwatering intensity and length. Some lovely developing characters add complexity to more classic refreshing notes of citrus, florals, lime, cream and honey. Then there’s a smoky wisp and saline tang on the long, grippy close. Class. 

Et voila. This is a unique, wonderfully textured, layered bottle-aged Rizza of delicious, mouthwatering intensity, texture, and length. There are some lovely developing characters, adding layers of complexity to more classic refreshing notes of citrus, florals, lime, cream and honey. Then there’s a smoky wisp and a saline tang on the long, slightly grippy close. Fans of aged Riesling will not be disappointed. Or rather, fans of great Australian Riesling full stop will not be disappointed.

Spinifex Late Release Riesling 2017
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Spinifex Riesling 2022
Spinifex Riesling 2022
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Spinifex Riesling 2022

In 2018, Pete and Magali purchased the mature (established 1945), four-hectare, dry-grown Rostein Vineyard in Eden’s Flaxman Valley, planted to roughly one-third Riesling and two-thirds Shiraz. The soils are lean, degraded granitic sands, and the vineyard sits at 475 to 495 metres above sea level. Two parcels of organically managed Riesling give rise to two wines. The Rostein Riesling is made from the 1945 vines, and this cuvée is made from the 1956 section.The fruit was hand-harvested at crazy-low yields for Riesling: a paltry 0.8 tonnes per acre. This year, the fruit spent two hours macerating before the press wine was fermented in used, 500-litre French oak; the free-run went to tank. In both cases, the wine spent four months on lees and went through partial malolactic conversion before blending.In our opinion, this is one of Australia’s finest Rieslings, even if it is made in such small quantities that many will never have the chance to taste it. The 2022 has remarkable intensity, complexity and texture. Seductive aromas of white flowers, ripe citrus and a touch of sweet apple are matched by piercing acidity and a nip of phenolics that cut through the mouth-filling texture. It’s bright, super long and simply outstanding value. 

In our opinion, this is one of Australia’s finest Rieslings, even if it is made in such tiny quantities that many will never have the chance to taste it. The 2022 has remarkable intensity, complexity and texture. Seductive aromatics of white florals, ripe citrus and a touch of sweet apple draw you in. Piercing acidity and a nip of phenolics cut through the mouth-filling texture and compact flavours. It’s a bright, super long and simply outstanding value. It’s a million miles away from the simple, limey, austere stereotype many associate with Australian Riesling.

Spinifex Riesling 2022
Spinifex Riesling 2022
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Spinifex Grenache Gris 2023
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Spinifex Grenache Gris 2023

Pete and Magali purchased their Dominion Vineyard near Vine Vale in the heart of the Barossa Valley in 2018. The low-fertility, four-hectare site sits at 285 metres, giving small crops marked by intense flavour and remarkable aromatic depth. Centurion Grenache and Shiraz vines (planted in 1908 and 1918) live in these sandy, gravelly and red clay soils, and in 2020, a small plot of just over an acre was planted to Grenache Gris. Old-vine Grenache has an exemplary track record around Vine Vale―neighbouring vines include Cirillo’s from the 1850s and Yalumba’s 1898 plantings―so, for Pete and Magali, planting Grenache Gris was a logical choice. 2023 was the first season to give a viable yield for a straight bottling of Grenache Gris. Pete left the fruit on skins for a few hours before pressing and fermentation in old puncheons, followed by eight months’ maturation on lees in foudre. There’s a lovely big whack flavour here: salty white peaches, fleshy orange citrus, some blossom and a hint of buttery richness. Then, the texture is plush and grippy with fresh, driving length. It’s a killer first release that will shine with salt and fat. 

“Time in old oak was important here because it’s added texture to what is, at heart, a structural white wine. It’s a wine of skin and bones, stones and spices, its dryness a key part of its appeal. We’re almost into brine territory here, or stones sitting in a saline solution, perhaps. It knows what it wants, and it wants for food. This is a good, interesting wine, worth buying and drinking, and future releases will be worth following.”
92 points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Spinifex Grenache Gris 2023
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“Wonderful to touch base again with Spinifex wines. In the cornucopia of avant garde producers, sometimes it’s great to look back at those who were there at the genesis, and revel in their consistency and continuation at a high level.” Mike Bennie, The Wine Front

“Last year he was a finalist for Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year. Small wonder Spinifex has five red stars in the 2021 Halliday Wine Companion. If all this isn’t enough, the prices are a breath of fresh air.” James Halliday, The Weekend Australian Magazine

“Pete and his partner Magali Gely operate what I think is the best new-wave of small-scale Barossa wine companies to emerge at the beginning of the 21st century… These weren’t big, blockbuster, showy wines designed to impress. They were wines that managed to take the best of the Barossa’s sometimes forgotten varietal traditions and fuse them onto a very European flavour sensibility.” Max Allen, The Future Makers

Country

Australia

Primary Region

Barossa, South Australia

People

Winemaker: Peter Schell

Availability

VIC, NSW, ACT, QLD, TAS, WA

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