Over a bowl of Ramen and tasting of his new vintages I got the opportunity to chat wine with Smallfry vigneron, winemaker and owner Wayne Ahrens about biodynamics and his love of grape growing and winemaking. Wayne is your typical down to earth winemaker, passionate about organic and biodynamic viticulture and low intervention winemaking. Along with partner Suzy, he runs Smallfry and is the face behind the brand.
When he is in market he is understandably very popular so getting the opportunity to taste and chat with him was a treat. Smallfry wines is in the Barossa Valley with vineyards certified organic and biodynamic. Smallfry wines are made to have purity, lightness, freshness and depth of flavours. Vegan-friendly food wines that are easy drinking. Available this month in the General’s Choice pack are Wayne’s favourites, a mixed six selection that will be perfect for the warmer months.
What’s the ‘why’ that motivates you as a organic and biodynamic grower and winemaker?
It came about not so much as a revelation more so as a slow realisation, one step in the vineyard lead to one step in the winery over more than a decade, there has been an intuitive belief that kept me going during the hard times but ultimately the answer to your question is that it just makes sense.
When did you decide to farm this way?
Began in 2007, having attended my first workshop, I spread some Horn Manure at EV, 2 months later we were planting some vines and the fundamental change in soil structure was undeniable, I knew I was onto something straight away.
In the Barossa Valley what are the challenges with this style of farming?
Not a lot to be quite honest, Botrytis presents as a potential problem but in reality we aren’t in a worse boat than the chemical guys, competition plants in dry years. Nutrition contrary to popular belief is the least of our worries.
Why are cow horns used in biodynamic farming and how do you prepare them?
Cow horns were prescribed by Steiner and this has been the go to for nearly 100 years so you have to respect tradition but there have been some advancements due to the restricted supply of cow horns so things like cow pat pit are also good ways of getting the job done. As far as the nuts and bolts of BD practice goes that is quite simple, clean blood guts and mucus off of horns, fill with cow poo or silca as required, bury in your soil in a place where you can find them again, as we require more terrestrial energy than astral energy our requirement is for horn manure rather than horn silica, we also use them for producing summer horn clay and winter horn clay, when not in use we store our horns in our worm farm to keep them moist. The concept is that the horn of an animal is like an antennae or a focal point of energy, this animal sheath gives an aspect of energy to the contents. As BD farmers we are dealing with energy and in particular balancing energy between astral and terrestrial. However we describe this energy it is a familiar concept across cultures and millenia, if you are familiar with Feng Shu and the concept of Chi and energy flow then we are speaking the same language, similarly when we practise yoga and talk about prana, this is also very much identical. I imagine the vikings might have felt empowered by their horn helmets as well.
Who influenced your winemaking style?
This is something entirely unique, we prefer lighter style wines and have followed this path in spite of influences rather than because of them. There was a strong influence on tannin structure from my lessons at Rockford and their gentle maceration but we really did spend a shed load of time just tweaking what came off of our vineyard to achieve something we thought was the best we could do.
What’s your winemaking style?
Light, bright, fresh, easy drinking, with a complexity and depth that will also engage someone who cares about wine. New world wines with an old world sensibility. Food wines more than anything, our show system has evolved to support and encourage “look at me” wines, not the best dinner companions.
From an industry perspective how has the organic and biodynamic farming industry changed in the last 5 years?
Most Important there are a lot more tools In the toolbox these days, it has become easier, which begs the question why not more growers? Knowledge in consumer land is higher but I don’t see a lot more engagement, people are happy to hear that we have suffered to produce their food but they won’t reward us accordingly.
Where do you see organics and biodynamics in the next 5 years?
I think It will become the standard practice and the chemical ali’s of this world will have to start to justify their lifestyle.
What sets Smallfry apart from other premium biodynamic wines?
Our vineyard is blessed with vines that are original planting here in the Barossa so dating back to 1850’s or 1860’s, we also carry some extremely rare varietals so we can make wines that no one else can make.
What’s your go to Smallfry wine that you enjoy above all else?
I really love our Stella Luna, it ticks all of the boxes for me, fresh, juicy, spicy and oh so euro. Otherwise Tangerine Dream but I also love Riesling, depends on the food.
If you’re not drinking wine what are you drinking?
Apart from water, we used to make a verjuice and we have some left for personal use, mixed with soda water it makes a great quencher, beer does have it’s merits, our friend in Sydney has made a wonderful mead which ticks my boxes (Sparrow and Vine), I have to say that distilled alcohol and I are not friends except on special occasions when Pet Nat just doesn’t fit the bill.