Brad Hickey (aka Brash Higgins) is not your average winemaker. After leaving his hometown of Chicago for adventures in Paris, Portland and New York City, Brad ended up in McLaren Vale.
South Australia is where he has been winning awards, including the “Rule Breaker” prize at the recent SA Hot 100 wine show. We took a moment of his time to find out some more about this interesting tipple and the people who make it.
You started out as a highly respected Sommelier in New York. How did you make the leap to winemaker in McLaren Vale?
I met an Aussie girl named Nicole. She planted grape vines well before we even met in the late 90’s. When I arrived in 2007 to work a vintage, she invited me to stick around afterwards. I eventually found my way into the vineyard.
Tell us, what’s so different about your wine making?
It’s not that we are so different from everybody else; nothing is new, after all. It’s just that I took some chances that paid off with the particular wine, our NDV Nero d’Avola, that won that “Rule Breaker” award. For example, taking out a block of established shiraz on our vineyard and replacing it with nero d’Avola and then using clay amphora to ferment and age the wine in on its skins for 6 months. That was not being done in the Vale in 2011, as far as I know. It is now.
What’s so special about Amphora?
They are dead sexy. Made from a local potter using clay similar to our vineyard is also pretty special. There’s a warmth to wines made in them, something very pretty, yet vibrant. I haven’t felt that texture or mouthfeel in wines aged in wood, steel, or concrete yet. But we only use the amphora or clay pots for three of our wines. They are terribly impractical; after all, clay is fragile.
Which experimental varietals can we expect to see more of from Brash Higgins in the coming years?
We like to work with grapes we think will have a future in South Australia. We have a young block of Carignan and Cinsault that we will be picking for the first time this year. They are already well established varieties in France, for instance, but have a brilliant future here in the Vale. They are resilient grapes that can handle the heat of this region and still deliver natural acidity and great flavour.
After a day in the vineyard, which tipple to you knock off with?
Sun tea with a fresh mint sprig. I try to have more AFD’s (Alcohol Free Days), but when it’s time to have a tipple, it’s usually a pitcher of Margaritas or some El Dorado 12 year old Rum with a few ice cold Sparkke Pilsner chasers. I tend to steer away from wine after working with it all day.
What should every person visiting McClaren Vale see, eat and drink before they leave?
You need to visit the pristine beaches along the Gulf of St Vincent, first of all, like Maslin Beach or Port Willunga. Then eat King George Whiting at the Victory Hotel. Get a table and some fresh squid on the awesome new verandah overlooking the Gulf at the Star of Greece. You could also demolish Red Braised Kangaroo Tail with Green Tomato, Chilli Caramel and Szechuan Salt at The Salopian Inn. Wash it down with a bottle of local Nero d’Avola. That should do you.
When it comes to your wines, what would you eat with…
Nymph – This white blend works wonders with dishes with a light salt component like fresh oysters, grilled sardines and peaches or dill potato salad.
SHZ – Happiest with BBQ steak, lamb, kangaroo or sausages. That char and bite of the meat is a wonderful compliment to the tannin and richness of the SHZ, as is the spicy fat of any and all sausages; particularly the infamous Carniolan sausage, the “Kransky”.
Nero d’Avola – Any spicy dish from Indian to Korean and Szechuan even. Also handles classics like spaghetti puttanesca and rosemary braised lamb shanks with ease. Great food wine.