Behind Boomtown

Photo: Photo by Fyrefly

This is the first of a new series where we look at the passion projects of winemakers – side projects borne from passion which lead to the creation of great wines, inspired by the story of Penfolds Grange.

Penfolds Grange almost didn’t exist. When Penfolds’ chief winemaker, Max Schubert, first presented this wine to the Board in 1957, it was unanimously disliked. The Board’s chairman ordered that Schubert stop making it.   

But Schubert persisted. New wines were made in secret, and the Grange that had already been bottled was stashed away in the underground cellars of Magill Estate. 

Schubert’s tenacity led to the creation of one of Australia’s greatest wines. And he’s not the only Australian winemaker who has other wine-related passion projects on the side. 

We spoke to Tim Sproal of Minim Wine who recently teamed up with two other winemakers, Pat Underwood of Little Reddie and Jarad Curwood of Chapter Wines, to create wine under the label Boomtown Winemakers Cooperative in Castlemaine. 

What is your background? How did you get into winemaking?

I came to winemaking quite late. I studied geology at university and worked as an environmental consultant for years, during which time I developed a massive passion for cooking food and drinking wine. 

In 2010, I had my mind ripped open at Garagiste restaurant in Hobart. I was drinking wild French and Italian wines from tiny natural winemakers, and I instantly fell in love with these expressive and beautiful drinks. From here I got into these natural wines a bit more heavily, learning more about local winemakers like James Erskine and Tom Shobrook. Real people with passion who you could talk too and who worked hard. 

I bought some fruit with a mate in 2011 and made my first wine in a backyard shed. The first wines were faulty, but thoroughly enjoyable, and I loved the process. 

How did Boomtown start? 

Boomtown grew out of a desire to make our own wines independently in our own space. Pat, Jarad and I pooled all the gear we had, signed a lease in Castlemaine, and blended a wine from two barrels each from our own 2014 harvests, which became the first release under the Boomtown label. We now have two vintages under our belt. 

Which grapes do you use in your wines and where do they come from? 

Boomtown wines, so far, have all been blends. Accessible, delicious, honest wines that we hope reflect central Victoria. We don’t list grape varietals on the label as we make these wines with an expression in mind, rather than a recipe - each expression might vary from year to year, reflecting the site conditions and seasonal variations that each vintage offers. We work with the best fruit we can find from small central Victorian growers, in Heathcote, Bendigo, Harcourt, Macedon and Avoca. Our ultimate aim is to manage our own sites organically.

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when making wine? 

Quality of fruit. It’s all about the fruit. We ferment our wines naturally, relying on available natural yeasts on the fruit and in the winery. Quality organic fruit, managed well and picked at the right time makes for very happy ferments, making our job a lot easier. Having an experienced palate is also a really important tool. 

What’s been the most important or interesting thing you’ve learned? 

To have a bit of patience. It’s pretty emotional. Wines go through periods of serious instability and awkwardness. Profound changes happen during the maturation of a wine and sometimes it’s best not to look at them. Generally, though, to have a bit of faith and trust that quality fruit, simple and clean processing and hard work make good wine. 

What is different about Boomtown? 

Our wines are unconstrained. We’re built around the idea of collaboration and cooperation and this is reflected strongly in the wines we make. Site character and personality are important. Our wines taste nice and we are a bunch of nice guys. Our roller door is always open and you are always welcome at Boomtown. 

Boomtown wines are sold at Milton Wine Shop, Toorak Cellars, The Alps, Blackhearts & Sparrows, Gordon's the Cellar Door, Gertrude St Enoteca, Brunswick East Wine Store and City Wine Shop. They're also available in good restaurants, such as Cumulus Inc., Town Mouse, Embla and Supernormal.