Recipient of the Hunter Valley Rising Star and Young Gun of Wine awards, and with names on his CV like Scarborough Wines, Thomas Wines, Hunter’s Dream Estate and currently Bimbadgen, it was only a matter of time before Richard Done started his own label.
The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region, where grapes grow in some of the country’s oldest soils too. It’s a region that’s home to some of the nation’s oldest and longest-running wineries – true institutions of the industry.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new, young wineries emerging from the ground here.
Just as the buds on the vines begin to show, so Richard Done (pronounced like ‘tone’, not ‘tun’) has released his first bottles from the brand new winery John Wallace Wines.
These first two bottles, the Maggie – a white blend and Juju – a nouveau Shiraz, reflect the bounce in Rich’s step at the exciting beginnings of what’s sure to be a pillar winery of the region.
We met Rich at a pre-concert lunch for Bimbadgen’s excellent Day on the Green, where he told me about the opening of his winery and the up-coming first release for John Wallace Wines.
Maggie – floral, fruity and youthful on the nose but with sharp, dry and quite grown up flavours of white peach, green apple and a light toastiness.
Juju – bright and medium bodied – lots of red currants and fruit forward. Well-balanced and very drinkable.
10 Questions with Richard Done of John Wallace Wines
1. When did you decide you wanted to run your own winery – or has it always been on the cards for you?
I actually studied Business, straight out of school in Sydney. During this course I had an extra curriculum subject called Wine Appreciation (uni student life – haha).
During this I had to match food and wine, apple tarte tatin and a dessert wine. I was blown away by how well they sung together. It was like a lightbulb moment.
Since then I always wanted to be in wine.
Long story short, I was in the UK for three years working in sales, tastings and logistics in wine, came home and wanted to learn the craft of making wine, started with Scarborough for a vintage job for about six weeks back in 2008 and never left.
I eventually studied a Masters in Wine Science and Viticulture. Pretty much after my first vintage I knew this was what I wanted to do.
2. I expect Covid has created its own set of problems for you starting a new winery. But what other challenges have you had to overcome so far?
The first challenge is to gain respect from your peers and then the consumer side. That is the long road of learning and implementing, networking and listening, whilst trying to get some runs on the board as far as accolades or just styles people like to drink.
I am very fortunate for the two mentors I have, being Ian Scarborough and Andrew Thomas.
Secondly, either going out fully on your own or, in my case, commanding enough respect from my employer to start a side project or a passion and creative project. I am very fortunate.
I am positioning my wines to be different than Bimbadgen’s or if not, very much from different vineyards. We really want to tell our own story.
3. You’ve worked for some absolute standout Hunter Valley wineries – like two of our favourites Bimbadgen and Scarborough. What are your fondest memories of working in the wine industry?
Every day it’s easy to get out of bed and go to work when your passion is also your job.
My fondest memories would have to be some of the generosity shown by Ian Scarborough and Andrew Thomas, with the incredible wines we drank, or the gorgeous restaurants we ate at and the people I meet along the way.
Winning wine awards is always a nice pat on the back, but all in all my fondest memories are those involving my peers, who are also my mates. We all used to play rugby for the Pokolbin Reds, 95% from the wine industry. We had some great times and also played some pretty good rugby.
4. When you start a wine line, do you ever do it with a particular food pairing or situation in mind?
My philosophy on wine making is if I can’t drink a bottle to myself, I don’t want to make that style of wine.
I am always thinking about where and when my wines will be drunk, and yes what these wines will pair with. In saying this, my wines are more situation based than particular food pairing. But I always have in the back of my head: damn that would go well with this.
I love being able to play chemist and manipulate people’s tastebuds and sensors to enjoy my wines, and take them on a journey whilst drinking them.
5. What’s your favourite part of the winemaking process?
I love harvest. Yes, it is demanding on myself and my family, but it is when you see all your hard work throughout the year – or a few years in some cases – come together and end up in a picking bin, ready to start being made into wine (from grapes).
It is such an awesome time in the winery, so much energy (and craziness) going on.
I believe anyone that wants to truly understand wine has to do a vintage once in their life.
6. Love the idea of calling the winery after your grandfathers and the first wines of your range after your grandmothers. They must have had a huge impact on your life – did they have an influence with your path to being a winemaker?
Thank you, my full name is also Richard John Wallace Done, so it is an ode to my grandparents, whilst also being immediately associated with myself.
I can’t say they had a huge impact on me being a winemaker, but they sure did encourage family and belongingness, and this is what we are trying to portray with our story of John Wallace Wines.
We want people to come along and be a part of our journey and story.
My grandparents were very much an impact on who I am; they always taught us to dream, and we could be anything.
7. What was the inspiration behind the wine labels? Who’s the surfer and footballer?
Surfer is myself and soccer player is my partner, Beth. This is our first snippet into us trying to tell a story on what we do and like to do.
Beth is an incredible soccer player and I love surfing. This will be a range that evolves with more sketches to come on more wine labels for different styles of wine.
It will be known as our Sketch Range. The artist is our graphic designer Megan from MJK Creative, she is great. Who knows who might pop up as an artist on these in the future?
8. The Maggie and Juju are beautiful wines, but as you’ve said, they’re easy-sipping drink-now wine. Will you be or are you working on wine that will cellar or a bolder wine where you’ve amped up structure?
Yes, Maggie and Juju are supposed to be playful and fun, easy drinking styles.
However, we have a Reserve Chardonnay in the finest French oak at present new and older, and is due for release mid-December.
This will be my version of old school big, buttery, with ample oak, and new-school, driven, mineral and funky. This Chardonnay is from a gorgeous property near Denman, this is a clone of Chardonnay I have always loved (Bernard 95). I can’t wait to get this out to you all.
The second we have for release in December is our Reserve Shiraz. This is also maturing beautifully in French oak new and old, and will have all the hallmarks of a high-end Hunter Valley Shiraz.
The fruit for this Shiraz is from the prized blocks at Pokolbin Estate, where many other brands make wines from $60-$100/bottle.
We are starting at $45/bottle, so a bargain for this vintage, and it won’t last long.
9. What are your plans for other releases? What’s next for John Wallace Wines?
We have a few ideas in the pipeline, and a few trials we have already conducted. One that will be in the near future is a Rosé of sorts.
I am trying to push the boundaries with our wines, so this may be something that again can engage consumers and make them question what they have always been drinking, whilst having some fun with it.
10. Where’s the best place to buy your wine?
At this stage, COVID lockdown, we actually are operating online. We have plans to push into restaurants and bottle shops, watch this space for a cellar door or a tasting facility, including some of your other favourite wine brands.
I am always up for a chat and to connect with as many people as I can.