BRASH HIGGINS | McLaren Vale, South Australia
Brad Hickey aka Brash Higgins is originally from Chicago, and his journey to making wine in McLaren Vale contained quite a bit of zigging and zagging. From working vineyards in France as a youngster to making bread to brewing beer, he always surrounded himself with food and wine. All of that led to a decade of Brad gracing the floor as a Somm at some NYC dining institutions. Bouley, Daniel, Union Square Cafe - some real deal chefs and hotspots. After working harvest in Aus during 2007, upon the encouragement of vigneron, Nicole Thorpe, Brad decided not to return to NYC and to make McLaren Vale his full time home. Nicole and Brad continue to be partners in life and business, owning the ACO Certifed Organic Omensetter Vineyard, which is on the Brash Higgins estate. The winery holds the same Certification. Nicole has deep roots in McLaren Vale, where several generations of her family worked to provide the local vineyards with much-needed water.
The first Omensetter vines were planted by Nicole in 1997, with 3.6 hectares given to shiraz (own rootstock) and 2 hectares of cabernet sauvignon (Reynella clone). After Brad's arrival to the estate, 1.2 hectares of nero d'avola (clone Matura 1 grafted to own rootstock shiraz) were planted in 2009, marking the first plantings in McLaren Vale and one of the first commercial plantings of NDV on the entire continent.
McLaren Vale is beautiful. It's an extremely picturesque region ensconced between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the white, sandy beaches of Gulf St. Vincent. Located just 40km south of Adelaide, the region is on of the most ancient and geologically diverse regions in the world. McLaren Vale has a Mediterranean climate characterized by warm summers, mild winters, winter-dominated rainfall, low relative humidity and relatively high evaporation. The Mount Lofty Ranges and Gulf St. Vincent do a good job in moderating the climate and are largely responsible for the creation of so many meso-and micro-climatic differences. Many soil types comprise the region from red-brown sandy loams to sandy soils to yellow clay subsoils interspersed with limestone. The region's geologies vary in age from 15,000 years to more than 550 million years.
Omensetter Vineyard and the Brash Higgins winery sit on 7 hectares of red-brown clay over limestone on the southwestern tip of McLaren Vale. With an eastern-sloping aspect, and situated between the Willunga Escarpment and the Gulf of St. Vincent, Omensetter is a place of stunning views and cool breezes off the water. Brad also sources grapes for his wines from other local growers who farm either organically, biodynamically, or both.
All of Brad's wines fit snuggly into the minimal intervention category. If he wanted it so, his wines could fit into the 'natural' realm, but he doesn't want to pigeon hole himself into one category. With that being said, all ferments are completed by native yeast from the vineyard and winery, use of new oak is extremely minimal if employed at all. Fining is nil and filtrations are course Regimesh if used at all. Every part of the process is done with care, and these wines are as handmade as it gets.
Brad is no one trick pony either, he makes a plethora of wines ranging from Chenin Blanc to amphora fermented and aged Zibibbo (muscat) to Cabernet Franc to Tawny Port. His portfolio is as diverse as any under our umbrella, and his wines are so fun to taste in the market as he has truly developed a cult like following across many sectors of the US.
The Amphora Project
Producing a NDV (Nero d'Avola) in 2011, Brash Higgins was the first winery in Australia to adopt amphoras as a core component of the winemaking process. The winery currently houses 32 of the vessels with a 200 litre capacity in total. The amphora are all made by Adelaide potter, John Bennett, using local clay and lined with locally produced McLaren Vale beeswax. In addition to the NDV, the team also uses the vessels for Zibibbo and Merlot.
"For years now I've been drinking Italian wines from Sicily and Friuli fermented and aged in clay amphora vessels, and I've found them diabolical, challenging, sometimes ethereal/scary, yet always thought-provoking wines. A method borrowed from COS in Sicily, Josko Gravner in Northern Italy, and he from the Georgians and they from the Romans centuries ago. My curiosity got the best of me: how can I get my hands on these amphora? If we handle this new grape variety on our vineyard, nero d'Avola, in a unique and gentle way, eschewing oak and steel, then perhaps we can get something totally pure and distinct, and a wine-style very uncommon in Australia. Amphora seemed like a good way to not only introduce Nero d’Avola, a high acid and transparent varietal, but to make a statement, as well. We were just as ready to step deep into the past to make a leap forward." - Brad Hickey