Nestled in Adelaide Hills is a wine business driven by a young couple with big dreams. Emilie Reynolds reports.
LAURA AND BRENDAN CARTER epitomise the modern winemaker with an eclectic mix of creative businesses. From crafting a diverse range of Italian varietals to applying winemaking techniques to small batch gin and perfume, the Carter’s are using inspiration from the surrounding elements in new and exciting ways.
According to Brendan and Laura, wine is a culmination of the people, the food and the culture. Between short spurts of sleep, the pair devote all of their time to running Unico Zelo, a small winery in the Adelaide Hills which focuses on minimal intervention.
The Carters were inspired by the wine industry from the get-go, praising the Adelaide Hill’s community for welcoming them with open arms.
“When I arrived to Adelaide in 2010, I knew nobody in the Australian wine industry and nobody in Adelaide,” Brendan explained. “I very quickly discovered that simply through communication and a good attitude that you get to quickly meet the most amazing group of people who offer endless support, advice and a great sense of humor. It is amazing how close-knit the wine industry is here, that someone completely foreign to it all is readily accepted.”
For Brendan, his love for the wine industry began in his home town of Brisbane. Straight out of high school, Brendan worked in wine retail which gave him the opportunity to travel to France and spend time in a world-famous winery.
“I ended up spending a bit of time at Veuve Clicquot, they suggested that I study a degree in Oenology – which saw me in Adelaide finishing the degree in 2014.”
It was at the University of Adelaide where Brendan and Laura first met. Having spent her childhood travelling around the world, Laura returned home to study a degree in Agricultural science and said she credits Brendan for introducing her to the wonderful world of wine.
“Anyone in the industry understands how infectious it is,” she said. “When we first met, Brendan used to take me to a wine bar and would teach me about varieties, regions, even how to swirl my glass and taste properly. I think he saw it as a challenge to have me understand why he loved it so much. I still pursued my degree in Agricultural Science and completed a work placement in the lab at Henschke. I stayed on there after I graduated.”
After learning the ropes from industry legends, Brendan and Laura branched out to build a wine business they could be proud of, a move which Brendan said has occasionally caused friction among older generations in the wine industry.
“As is always the case, it’s the few that ruin it for the many – and although our encounters have been few, I find that respect and reason generally go a long way. Most who are annoyed either don’t understand or are overcome with entitlement – something that doesn’t go over well with our demographic,” Brendan explained.
“Often the course of having your own winery is to work through the ranks at another place, making a name for yourself and earning respect in the industry,” said Laura. “Only then do you venture out on your own. We skipped a lot of this and just went straight to our own label, which has been controversial. That’s why we try to make our wines affordable. As newcomers, we would like to earn respect first and grow from there.”
The Carter’s have already seen huge amounts of success in their short time in the wine industry. Along with being praised as the “most exciting young winemakers in Australia” by James Scarcebrook (the Intrepid Wino, http://intrepidwino.com), the pair took out the Young Guns of Wine People’s Choice award recently after winning over the crowd at a public wine tasting held in Melbourne.
Marketing themselves as ‘Australian wine with attitude’, Brendan said the brand’s philosophy has been focused on creating wines that are reflective of Australian soil, food and culture.
“Thankfully this doesn’t make us unique, as there’s a great group of producers employing this mentality,” he said. “What does set us apart is that we’re crafting them for young people, those curious wine-lovers in our own demographic who are just getting into it.
“We’re offering them a path of vinous discovery made with a minimal intervention philosophy and an edge of sustainability.”
With plans to become catalysts for Australian producers to be successful in varieties like Fiano, Nero d’Avola and Nebbiolo, Brendan said he would be satisfied with his career if 50 years down the track the pair are viewed as contributors to the Australian vinous landscape.
“I hope that we could be a part of changing the international perception of Australian wine,” Laura added. “The developing diversity and identity of the wine scene here is worth showcasing.”
Outside of running Unico Zelo, Brendan and Laura have applied winemaking science to create businesses in two other passions; gin and perfume.
“We decided to focus on doing one thing right – which was the wine at Unico Zelo,” Brendan said. “Then we started the distillery and the perfume followed very closely after that. So it’s been a bit of a cascade effect.”
Like with Unico Zelo, the Carter’s gain inspiration from the Adelaide Hills for their Applewood Distillery gin and Nømad range of perfume.
“The thing about wine is you have no control,” Laura said. “You expect a certain wine will have certain characteristics but there’s not really much you can do to control that, whereas with perfume you can basically choose.
“There’s so much potential with the perfume because you can do whatever you want but with wine it’s exciting because it’s unexpected and it’s driven by the land.”
While managing three separate businesses between the two of them would likely be an overwhelming work load, Laura said she still finds time to go for a run most days while Brendan spends his spare time devoted to another passion… graphic design, a hobby which has seen the pair create their own artistic wine labels.
“We hope that our labels speak of a style, or a place – more so than a particular variety,” he said. “Although we primarily champion Fiano – we really want the next generation of wine consumers to place emphasis on the site, soil and style of wines they’re purchasing.”
While both Brendan and Laura agreed that learning the business side of wine has been a significant challenge to overcome, they described the wine industry as one of the most balanced and diverse careers.
“From art versus science, we could be covered in vineyard soil or wine lees in the morning, and donning a suit-and-tie in the afternoon,” Brendan said.
“It’s active, varied and rewarding,” Laura said. “It’s the sort of career that is challenging and teaches us something new every day.”
To other young people just starting out in the industry, Brendan said it’s important to use the wealth of knowledge by asking questions, while Laura highlighted the importance of keeping an open mind.
“You’re in one of the most generous and open industries – you’ll always find the answers and help when you need it, you just have to ask,” Brendan said.
“When we are young we tend to form opinions quickly and jump on board any trends,” Laura said. “There is a lot of value in experience, there are so many opportunities to learn from those who have been doing this longer.”
The Carter’s credit Unico Zelo as a huge achievement in their lives and said they hoped their success would continue long into the future.
“We are in our 20s and now working for ourselves, crafting what will hopefully be the future of Aussie wine… sustainable and balanced,” Laura said.
This article was first published in the November 2015 edition of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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