John’s Walk in Wine Cellar

February 21, 2019

With choice of convivial open bar, in-suite bar and walk-in cellar, guests at Southern Ocean Lodge can easily help themselves to their choice of wine, beer or fix themselves a cocktail. The staff are more than happy to help too!

With a commitment to local produce, the lodge showcases the best of South Australian wines (and beers!) from the various wine-producing regions around the state, including from local wineries on Kangaroo Island. Matched wines are served with lunch and dinner, and if guests prefer to choose their own, they can explore the walk-in cellar and choose a bottle to take to the table.

Southern Ocean Lodge Manager John Hird has the enviable task of choosing wines for the walk-in cellar, so the selection is really a creation of John’s favourite picks from around the state. The wines in the cellar are often available only at the wineries’ cellar doors, so guests are really offered a taste of Southern Australia’s most interesting wines, often from smaller vineyards.

Here John explains his approach to choosing (and drinking!) wine, how he came to appreciate some of the world’s best drops, and above all the importance of drinkability!

How did your love for wine originate?

My love of wine originated from my father who imported wine from Bordeaux to the UK. I don’t think he sold much of it, we drank most of it! Later while spending 17 years living in Switzerland, I was able to travel to almost any wine region in France, Italy, Germany and Austria.

As an aspiring hotelier, we would list and sell amazing cellared wines (old Burgundies, Bordeaux, Super-Tuscans, Barolos etc) which I could ill afford on my salary.

I had to find a way to taste these fine drops: all these wines were decanted for guests at the table, they were old wines, and many would have quite a bit of sediment. At the end of the evening I would collect these bottles and set to work tasting – but how to remove the sediment?

I purchased a small centrifuge (a device for separating solids from liquids), a pipette (a small tube to collect the liquid) and a fine Riedl Crystal wine glass. Then by filling one test tube in the centrifuge with wine and the other test tube with an equal amount of water, I would centrifuge the sediment in the wine to the bottom of the test tube, and then carefully extract the wine into my glass using the pipette.

This way I got to taste the finer vintages of Chateaus such as Petrus, Latour, Cheval Blanc, Brane-Cantenac and Talbot. I also developed a great love for fine Pinot, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, as well as the Rhone varietals such as Syrah and Grenache. I would take any and every opportunity to sample wines; not because I wanted to become a sommelier, I just love wine!

My first visit to Australia in 1988 really opened my eyes to how excellent wine didn’t need to be expensive. I remember visiting my uncle in Brisbane and drinking “Aussie Champagne” (before the Aussies were told they couldn’t call it Champagne) and it was darned good! A premium bottle of wine at that time only cost about $20 in a bottle shop – and at that price no wonder I developed a taste for the quintessential Australian red blend Cabernet-Shiraz.  Since those early days I have enjoyed wines from around the world and while some will disagree, I believe it’s not about price, brand or trend; it’s simply about drinkability!

What is your favourite wine at the lodge?

At SOL we have a “living cellar” where wines and vintages come and go; all our wines are South Australian, from our house vintage sparkling made in the traditional method through to the big reds from the Barossa and Coonawarra.  Most Australian wines are made to be drunk now, and many will cellar for up to 10 years or more.

The cellarmaster’s list is also available which features iconic wines such as Hill of Grace and Penfolds Grange, and the only deviation from the South Australian selection; Champagne. I am often asked which is my favourite wine in the SOL cellar, where does it come from and what I love about it. To be honest it depends on my mood, what time of day it is, if I’m having food with the wine and what the weather is like! I am a great fan of Chardonnay and my current favourite is the Batonnage Chardonnay from Bremerton at Langhorne Creek – this wine has a palate of stone fruit and lemon curd complemented by the restrained use of oak and a creamy mouth-feel from stirring the lees.

For a light Sunday lunch on the terrace I might choose a “Penny Rose” from the Lane Vineyard; for a Scotch fillet from the BBQ with a mixed salad I’d probably go for a Cabernet Shiraz from the Barossa; “Rod & Spur” from Rockford or “The Signature” from Yalumba.

Which wine is a crowd favourite among guests?

Kangaroo Island wines are a big hit with our guests, particularly “The Captain” Chardonnay from False Cape and the “Bark Hut Road” Cabernet Franc Shiraz from the Islander Estate. Off-island wines such as the Smith & Hooper Reserve Merlot and David Franz’s “Plane Turning Right” are also popular.

Naturally in summer there is more a preference toward white and Rose wines and in winter there is a shift towards the big reds, especially Shiraz. There is always a good selection of reds open on the bar and around 40 white wines in the bar fridge and whilst we match wines with lunch and dinner, guests are free to wander into the wine cellar and select a wine more suited to their own palate.

At the end of the evening all wines are gassed with Argon to protect them from oxidation, this allows us to have a wide selection of wines open and available to taste. I hate wasting wine!

How often do you go on wine buying trips around South Australia and what’s been your best small cellar door discovery of late?

As much as I would love to spend more time travelling around South Australia discovering new wineries and buying new wines for SOL, I am limited both by time and distance; living on Kangaroo Island makes it difficult to pop up to the Adelaide Hills or spend a day in the Barossa or Clare Valley. New discoveries usually happen while I’m on annual leave or when wineries send me wine to try.

On a recent trip to the Barossa I managed to visit David Franz (Lehmann) and spent a marvellous morning tasting his wines at his recently opened cellar door. We had some snacks for lunch and then it was off to see Prue Henschke and taste the whole Henschke range including the new Wheelwright Shiraz and the current vintage Hill of Grace. Two wineries a day is enough, especially if you’re buying!

Can you walk us through the process of pairing wines with each menu?

There is no precise science to pairing wine with food and it comes a lot down to personal taste. Essentially there needs to be balance in a wine: acid, sweetness, tannin and alcohol along with fruit flavour and texture. If I feel that it is a wine that I would like to enjoy with friends, then it’s highly likely it will find a home in the Southern Ocean Lodge cellar.

When it comes to food and wine matches at Southern Ocean Lodge we generally try to stick to the classic pairings: Pinot or a light Tempranillo with duck, partridge or pheasant; Cabernet with juicy red meat; Shiraz with seasoned meat; Moscato with fruit desserts; Pinot grigio with light fish dishes; Gewurztraminer with Asian food; Merlot with lamb; light Grenache with pork; and slow braised meat needs a big Shiraz or Cabernet Shiraz.

The list and combinations are endless and sometimes the rules are there to be broken; just taste the food and match the wine. When the chef starts using yuzu and other umami flavours you can really start experimenting.

How has the wine industry on Kangaroo Island changed in the decade since Southern Ocean Lodge opened?

We’re very proud to support produce and wines from South Australia and Kangaroo Island. The standard of winemaking and the quality of KI wines has taken quantum leaps over the past 10-11 years since Southern Ocean Lodge opened and we are pleased to stock a number of these fine drops in our cellar.