First Drop Wines - full of flavour & fun
Wines With Attitude has been a First Drop wines stockist since tasting their wines at a UK Australia Day tasting in 2015 and the wines never disappoint as they are consistently of great quality and full of flavour, good value and ready to drink on release without the need for long cellaring – in fact a perfect match for Wines With Attitude. And I am not alone in noticing their attributes - First Drop wines keep adding to their long list of accolades acquired in recent years.
Award-winning First Drop Wines
A Top 20 Winery of 2020 by The Real Review placing First Drop Wines in the top 5% of all Australian wineries
5 red star Winery by James Halliday’s The Wine Companion meaning an “outstanding winery regularly producing wines of exemplary quality and typicity. Will have at least two wines rated at 95 points or above and had a five-star rating for the previous two years – in 2020 First Drop had 8 wines receiving 91 points or more
And wines featuring in James Suckling’s Top 100 Wines of Australia 2019 and in Wine Spectator’s 100 Top Value Wines of 2020
These are just some of their many awards. First Drop are establishing themselves nationally and internationally as one of Australia’s premium wine producers and yet seem to be a bit of a secret in the UK which is all the more surprising since one of the two owners of First Drop wines is originally from England. I caught up with Matt Gant to find out more.
First Drop Wines’ Ethos
In one particular respect First Drop differ from typical Wines With Attitude producers, more often than not small, family-run vineyard-owning wineries, as they buy in grapes to make their wines. Matt says “We buy grapes from 18 growers across the Barossa, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale. This is very common practice in South Australia, indeed Australia as a whole. In order to make the diversity of wines that we do, I’d have to be Bill Gates to afford to buy each vineyard. It’s obviously important to grow a particular variety in the right place with a grower that has a sensibility for the variety and what you’re trying to achieve as a winemaker. Hence for instance we’re growing Arneis (originally from Roero, Piedmont) in the cooler climate of the Adelaide Hills, not the Barossa.”
The First Drop team works in close partnership with the growers. According to Matt “We’re buying grapes from the same blocks each year. We visit the vineyards and catch up with our growers throughout the season (pruning, flowering, set, veraison, lead up to harvest). It’s an ongoing dialogue, but we don’t micro manage them. We trust in their knowledge of their blocks, and make suggestions when we see fit, but ultimately leave them to manage their sites, although it is my decision when we pick. Our growers are our lifeblood, and we work with some of the best in South Australia.”
The First Drop philosophy is to have a sensitivity for tradition and a passion for innovation in producing their range of varietals and blends. For example they used their creativity to add 2% of what they then thought was the Arneis grape (but was actually Savagnin) and added it to Shiraz in order to soften the tannins and so avoid fining the 2% Shiraz wine (Moscatel is now used instead of Savagnin). So even the more traditional Australian wines like Shiraz and Chardonnay often have a European twist. In addition First Drop has long been using Italian & Portuguese grape varieties as varietals and in blends.
They also see the wines and the way they are presented as a reflection of themselves and they believe that “the world doesn’t need another winery that takes itself too seriously”. You can see evidence of this attitude in the characterisation of each of their wines. For example and with a doff of the hat to Burgundy, Mere et Fils Chardonnay’s description reads “This petit Chardonnay was picked à main and then pressed avec les whole bunches. Ne pas de SO2 and toutes les solides dans this barrel fermentation sauvage – ne pas de yeast added! The oak is tête de hog Français, naturellement mon colonel, then dix months stirring avec les lees. We have here un vin restrained, sophisticated, fabrique belgique.”
The tongue-in-cheek narratives, the quirky labels (because “wine should look as good as it tastes”) and the comic-style newsletter are all part of First Drop’s rather unique and creative approach to the presentation of their wines – and they were way ahead of their time in coming up with modern, fun labels, a practice now being copied by other winemakers. Matt explains: “When we released our first wines in 2005 the label landscape was pretty boring, and we wanted to inject some fun and personality into them. We were arguably the first winery in Australia to produce a unique label for each wine. An anti-brand. We wanted to make wines with personality that was reflected in the packaging. The wines are an extension of our personality and so are our labels. Whimsical, fun and idiosyncratic.”
First Drop Wines
And talking of taste, with all the fun and frivolity in the presentation of the wines, there’s perhaps a danger that people might think that First Drop winemakers are not focussed on making great, flavoursome wines … But how wrong they would be.
Matt’s first winemaking award was the Australian Wine Society’s Young Winemaker of the Year Award in 2004 whilst working for another winery; that’s where he met business partner John Restsas who joined as cellar door manager, and as Matt says “… we soon became friends. First Drop was actually conceived on a boozy trip we took to Margaret River in 2004.” After setting up First Drop in 2005, the awards keep coming including the inaugural Young Gun of Wine Award in 2007.
First Drop produces wines with flavour and texture and in their words "a splash of funk". Whilst many modern Australian wine makers are now moving away from the straightforward, often jammy, high alcohol, usually oak-influenced wines (more about Australian wine), First Drop never even thought about taking that more traditional route preferring instead to focus on juicy-sweet, fruit-filled, smooth wines with just the right amount of acidity and soft tannins. Matt and John are big believers in making wines with balance, one of the crucial components of quality wine, and probably why I like them so much. And I am not alone.
Master of Wine Julia Harding of JancisRobinson.com wrote in August 2016 that First Drop’s wines never fail to impress her " Firstly in terms of consistent wine quality and style – firmly Australian but with sensitive use of the accelerator and brake pedals to produce wines that are always full of flavour but never heavy or overdone...". On reviewing several of their wines in 2020 she describes them as “serious wines”.
For all the awards and accolades what matters most to Matt & John is that they produce “authentic wines”, wines that people will enjoy with food and friends – and that they certainly achieve. If you are ever in the Barossa Valley be sure to visit their Cellar Door & Tapas Bar to put the wines – and the amazing foods created by John – to the test. And if a trip to the Barossa Valley is not on the cards, take a look at my selection of First Drop wines instead. You will not be disappointed.
With thanks to First Drop for use of their logo and photo of John (right) and Matt (left) in the vineyard.
© Wines With Attitude Limited, www.wineswithattitude.co.uk
Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET is passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers.