We step into Porteno on Cleveland Street in Surry Hills at 10am in the morning and the pigs are already on the spit and the fire about to get crackling. We start off in the wine cellar and admire the wall covered on one side by Argentinian wines and the other side in hanging prosciutto and salami. Nice and cool in there on a hot day whilst Tom talks us through how 3 guys, who studied viticulture together in WA, ended up producing wine in Argentina and bringing it home. The guys are heavily involved and partly related to the Porteno establishment, a venture that started of with Bodega in Surry Hills, then Porteno and Gardel’s Bar, LP’s Quality Meats in Chippendale and most recent a new deli Continental Delicatessen in Newtown - all of them well worth a visit!
It’s an exciting and inspiring story, the exploration of wines, the enjoyment of travelling, the friendship between mates…
What took 3 wine makers away from Australia all the way to Argentina to create wine?
Curiosity, opportunism and a sense of adventure…. but mainly the wine. We all studied winemaking together in Margaret River before travelling and working harvests around the world. We got switched on to Argentine wine while working in the USA, saw the opportunity and jumped in!
You started the business with Rob Bates-Smith and Blair Poynton, how does it work between the three of you?
Rob and Blair are cousins’ which, early on, gave the business a nice family feel. We are all based in different corners of the globe these days, Blair lives in Sonoma, California and pushes the Jed Wines along in the USA with his wife Chelsea. Rob has a wine store and an Argentine restaurant (Asado) in Perth. I am based in Sydney and doing the running around for the business. The aim is that we all meet up in Mendoza each harvest but it’s rare these days that all three of us can make it. Of course, we get a lot of help from our partners in Argentina.
How do the vineyards differ from the ones here at home?
They do! For starters, no matter where you are in Mendoza, the epic Andes loom overhead. These mountains create a rain-shadow effect that leaves Mendoza extremely dry and completely dependent on irrigation water. A lot of the old vineyards have the ancient irrigation channels running alongside, however we source from vineyards with drip irrigation (like home). The “terrior” of Mendoza is all about altitude with most vineyards at about 1000m above sea level where hot days allow flavour ripeness and cool nights preserve grapes natural acidity and freshness.
The Malbec grape has become synonymous with Argentinian wine. We recently discovered that there is a whole day dedicated to Malbec! What happens on Malbec World Day?
Yes, Malbec is a real cornerstone of Argentina culture. Malbec World Day is a celebration of Argentine culture all around the world, lots of meat, empanadas and of course BBQ. For us it is usually means the end of the harvest!
Where did the name Jed originate?
Jed is actually the name of Rob’s old sheep dog (a red kelpie for the record). We wanted to have an Australian identity behind the wines and well, we liked the name Jed.
We love the classic shield graphic you use for your bottles and how the details vary subtly according to the blend. Tell us a bit about how you discovered artist Tory Barbitta and the decision on this visual look for your brand.
Ha, glad you noticed! The wine label is such a big thing, we had so many different ideas about labels and in the end 3 different people helped us mash together our final label. The shield on our label is a new take on an old idea, that kind of links in with us being young guys coming in to an old region. The labels look the same from a distance, but if you get up close you’ll see each one is different, we incorporate different cues into each wine label based on the wine style and vibe but nobody ever notices!
We’ve chosen to feature two of your products in our range - the Jed Blanc de Blancs sparkling and the Jed Malbec. Can you share some of the tasting notes of these two varieties?
Yes! The Jed Blanc de Blancs is all about freshness and shows off that high altitude acidity. We make it at a Premier Wines which is a speciality sparkling facility owned by the lovely Fernando Tedin. It’s made from Chardonnay, Chenin and Semillon, minimum times on lees for freshness and vibrancy. Loads of green apples from the Chenin, perfect summer drinking before a meal.
The Malbec is all about Southern Mendoza which is higher and cooler than the rest of Mendoza. Here the Malbec has bright flavours and intense violet aromatics. We are using less and less oak these days in order the keep the wine lighter on it’s feet, it’s really only a medium bodied wine which is the type of wine we are enjoying drinking recently.
What’s your favourite wine variety you’ve ever created?
Cabernet Franc, it’s usually my favourite Jed Wine. The grape loves a cool inland climate and that is exactly what it gets in Southern Mendoza. Slightly lighter than Cab Sav but with intense and complex herbal aromatics.
You also import a lot of Argentinian wines. How are Australians responding to foreign wines? - is it a growing market?
The Argentine category is booming in Australia at the moment. Particularly in Sydney. I think restaurants like Porteno focusing on Argentine wine have been particularly helpful in growing the category.
Travelling to Argentina to make the wine is obviously a big part of your business. What are some of the pros and cons for managing a vineyard on the other side of the world?
This biggest pro is getting to know the magnificent Argentinians and their complex culture. Then of course it is amazing getting to learn all about the subtleties of this amazing region. The biggest con is a lack of control in the process, we hope that one day we’ll be able to by our own patch of dirt in Argentina.
What’s next for you and the Jed brand?
Next year, if the conditions are right we’ll produce a Bordeaux blend. We actually tried this year but it didn’t come off…
As you still call Australia home, we’d like to pick you brains about your favourite parts of Sydney:
At home with my girl Sienna and her apple fritters.
Golden Age Cinema Bar in Surry Hills is just beautiful.
Favourite place for dinner with friends?
Café Nino in Woollahra, old school Italian.
Beppi’s Italian Restaurant in East Sydney
What’s something that only a local would know?
Friday afternoon beers at The Old Fitzroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo are the best.
What’s your favourite food to drink with Malbec?
Skirt steak cooked over coals at Porteno Restaurant.