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Rebel Wine Chat: Freehand’s Matt Eastwell and Danni Paviour-Smith

The Eastwell family purchased the Freehand vineyard in Denmark, WA in 2007 and immediately commenced conversion to organic and biodynamic farming. Led by winemaker Matt Eastwell and joined by Danni Saviour-Smith in 2013, the direction of the brand changed when Matt was introduced to preservative free wine by mentor winemaker Todd Faulkner-Pearce. Today the Freehand brand has a clear of point-of-difference: made with zero sulphur additions.

There is a distinctive energy and balance about these wines. Vibrant colours, intensity of aromas and powerful fruit flavours.

‘Humble’, ‘passionate’ and ‘game changers’ are just a few words to describe Matt and Dani. We tasted their new vintages (complete with new seriously cool artwork) when they were in town as 2019 Young Gun of Wine top 50 finalists.

Read more about the Freehand philosophy…

What motivated you to be a biodynamic grower and winemaker?

Biodynamic grape growing was a practice we wanted to institute as soon as the vineyard was purchased in 2007. I guess it’s ethically & philosophically in line with our personal values of reducing chemical reliance and working with nature. We saw biodynamics as a way to increase vineyard health & vitality resulting in high quality of fruit which would become key to making quality preservative free wine.

Can you describe what key farming activities are implemented to be a biodynamic farmer?

Our cultural, organic & biodynamic practices have brought the vines into a natural balance where canopy growth matches fruit load therefore minimising the amount of canopy manipulation. Early season shoot thinning removes any unnecessary shoot. Using BD prep 500 which is biodynamic cow manure matured in a cow horn for 12 months inoculates the soil with billions of beneficial bacteria. After a number of years we then bring in the BD prep 501, a silica based compound, which combined with the 500 prep begins to key our site into the energies of the cosmos!

In Denmark what are the challenges with this style of farming?

Forest Hill (sub-region) is an excellent place to grow organic. The vineyard is roughly 50km from the ocean, so we don’t receive most of the weather that comes off the coast. As with any region you have your problematic seasons. In our’s the Jan/Feb rain which makes it difficult but with flexibility and knowing the vineyard capabilities we can always make the best of a tricky vintage.

Who influenced your winemaking style?

Back in 2010 the Great southern winemaker Todd Faulkner-Pearce had plenty to do with introducing us to preservative free full bodied red wine production, and certainly gave freehand a start, allowing us to experiment in his little shed.  Drinking skin contact whites from Europe also encouraged us to think beyond the types of wines available in WA, creating wines that denied the conventional rules. Not fining or filtering whites leaving them cloudy in appearance, sometimes with tartrates forming at the bottom. It took us a while to become comfortable with this, though now its the only wines we make and drink. Wines by Momento Mori and Patrick Sullivan, as well as fellow WA maker Sam Vitultuco are a few favourite producers.

What are Freehand’s signature characteristics?

Freehand signature characteristics: fruit forward, zero sulphur wines with texture, & ageability.

How difficult is it make wines free from So2?

No SO2 wines are a different wine to make. Many people think you just don’t add PMS to the wine.. this is missing the point. I think the maker has to look at every step of the process from vineyard to the consumer with a slightly different approach. From my experience it works best when you keep things small batch.

From an industry perspective how has the organic and biodynamic farming industry changed in the last 5 years?

I think there is more awareness now of the benefits of biodynamic or organic farming, than say 5 years ago. This is across the board for food and wine. With wine, more education needs to be offered to consumer to explain the differences between the growing of the grapes and the process of making. Just because a grape is grown organically doesn’t mean this cant be adulterated in the winery!

Where do you see the next 5 years heading?

I think the number and quality of natural wines on the market has increased significantly over the past 5 years, I’d like to see that trend continue over the next 5 years.

What sets Freehand wines apart from other premium biodynamic wines?

Our points of difference from other Biodynamic wines include: Full bodied barrel matured reds (18 months French oak), skin contact white wines and fortified wines. All with no added SO2!

What’s your go to Freehand wine that you enjoy above all else?

Our go to Freehand wine we are enjoying most at the moment is the 2017 Audet Somnare (translation: dare to dream) Merlot.

If you’re not drinking wine what are you drinking?

If were not drinking wine we are usually drinking interesting beer, vermouth or home made kombucha.

Our favourites – Cloudy Sav Blanc, Merlot and Shiraz. Find Freehand Wines in our General’s Choice pack or shop bottles individually. These wines are consistent best sellers when we show them at our Tasting Assembly events.