The winemaker with the acumen behind the Captain Barossa venture is a mystery man. As Tyson Stelzer reports in a very interesting article for the most recent edition of Gourmet Traveller Wine, Captain Barossa has deliberately decided to keep a low profile because he wants to focus attention away from the winemaker and onto the ‘real heroes’ – the Barossa growers and their vineyards. (Saluting the Captain by Tyson Stelzer, Gourmet Traveller Wine, August/September 2012)

Captain Barossa believes the growers have never received the recognition or financial compensation they deserve. Certainly in recent years, a confluence of circumstances, including the world-wide wine glut, the GFC and the high Aussie dollar, haven’t made life easy for growers.

Committed to giving the growers a fair go, Captain Barossa pays $3,000 per tonne for top quality fruit, which is more than twice the going rate. But more than altruism is at play in Captain Barossa’s desire to keep his growers happy. As he told Stelzer, “My core belief is that great wine demands great fruit and paying good prices allows [the growers] to keep the cropping levels low, invest in best practice and produce better fruit.”

To date, four independent growers are part of the Captain Barossa venture, and the names of their vineyards are all prominently featured on the labels: De Fazio, Greenock (Angelo De Fazio); AK, Konnunga (Andy Kalleske); Elytra, Eden Valley (Phil and Sarah Lehmann) and Mackenzie, Williamstown (James and Islay Mackenzie).

Most of the vignerons come from winemaking or grape growing families. Their stories on the Captain Barossa website are fun to read, reflecting both passion and respect not just for their vineyards but for the surrounding environment in general. Phil and Sarah Lehmann, for example, released 3000+ Bubas bison dung beetles into the vineyard to naturally fertilise the dung from sheep and cattle, which graze on the vineyard grasses over the winter. Elytra, the name of their label, refers to the beetle’s protective hard forewings.

Six wines are offered for online sale only: one white: the De Fazio Chardonnay 2011, and five reds: the Mackenzie Shiraz 2010, Elytra Shiraz Cabernet 2009AK Petit Verdot 2009, AK Durif 2009 and De Fazio Grenache 2007. The prices are remarkably low – only $12.99 for the chardonnay and $17.99 a bottle for the reds.

Stelzer said he thought long and hard about whether to divulge Captain Barossa’s true identity, noting that “there’s no question that these wines would be an easier sell if they could trade off his name.” But after speaking at length with the growers and with the Captain himself, Stelzer says he came to “the realisation that championing the growers is a bold and courageous effort to put egos aside and break through the Barossa stereotype that brands and winemakers rule.” Bravo Stelzer and bravo Captain Barossa. Let’s hope the venture is a great success!

Merrill Witt, Editor


Photo Credit: Andy Kalleske, Captain Barossa website