We are very proud to appear in the 2019 winemaker of the year finalist list: Gourmet Traveller Wine August 2019.
& Toby Bekkers
Winemaker of the year finalist 2019
Emmanuelle and Toby share the best of both worlds with an Australian-French influence in their wines, while a project sourcing premier cru Chablis vines proves Bekkers can indeed be choosers.
Toby Bekkers’ forebears came to McLaren Vale and the hamlet of Clarendon in 1858. His grandfather worked for the historic Reynell winery for a time. Toby completed an honours degree in Agriculture at the University of Adelaide in 1994 before commencing work the following year with Steve Pannell at BRL Hardy sampling grape maturity leading up to harvest.
Emmanuelle (Emma) Bekkers is a native of Toulon, the French naval base on the Mediterranean. She studied for three years at the University of Aix-Marseille (based in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille) before completing the two year Diplome National d’Oenologie at Montpellier in 1994. She worked as a cellar hand in the Languedoc in 1993 and the following year as assistant winemaker at BRL Hardy’s Domaine de La Baume in the Languedoc Roussillon. Emma decided to take advantage of the connection to spend some time in Australia and became the only woman in Hardy’s cellar at Tintara in 1995. There she met Toby.
The inevitably complicated juggling of time and work in France and Australia gave them both invaluable experience of the wine industry in two hemispheres. Toby spent 15 years (1995–2010) as viticulturist (and eventually as General Manager) at McLaren Vale’s Paxton in the process supervising its transition to organic and biodynamic viticulture. Emma gained large company experience in senior positions (mainly as winery manager) at contract winemaker, Boar’s Rock and the Langhorne Creek Winery, concurrently working as winemaker at Chalk Hill.
Emma’s experience in France included four vintages in Burgundy – at Meursault’s Domaine Jacques Prieur and Mercurey’s Antonin Rodet – and five with Bordeaux contract winemaker Bouey et Fils. Since 2012, she has spent each vintage with a friend in Chablis.
“Emmanuelle and Toby Bekkers produce wines with incredible depth and intensity. Their reds have a mesmerising quality which makes them completely irresistible.” Toni Paterson MW
As with like-minded wine obsessives, they began planning a family project. While their focus was on McLaren Vale reds, they realised they would need a white for the portfolio, especially if it involved a cellar door operation: and didn’t see the Vale as producing a white suitable for their purposes. Emma loved the purity of Chablis and its bracing minerality and saw that as an admirable fit for their range. Prising precious grapes from French vignerons is never easy yet Emma persisted. She had to wait until their fourth vintage together before her friend in Chablis said, ‘Yes, we can do the project’ and agreed to supply 100 cases annually of premier cru Vaillons to the Bekkers.
The central focus for the Bekkers is their small production of McLaren Vale Syrah ($110), Grenache and Syrah Grenache (both $80). The stylish cellar door is on the four-hectare block in coastal Seaview. It includes the shiraz/grenache vineyard, planted in the mid 1990s.
At the heart of the Bekkers project is the determination to showcase the region’s finest reds; syrah and grenache. Toby talks about adding fine wine polish to local fruit. They are looking for restraint, precision and finesse in their reds, knitting small parcels of fruit into a harmonious whole. While the winemaker and the viticulturist may look at things differently – Toby might wonder how the vineyard can handle the weather and Emma might muse on how far she can push the fruit – they have no trouble finding consensus.
In managing a small-scale operation there are many advantages, including the luxury of time; picking at just the right moment; leaving grapes to cold soak for as long as they need; leaving wine in barrels for as long as needed. For the Bekkers, the small scale of the operation enables them to focus on their goal of getting the best from the region.