The Buyer
Australia Redefined: Brad Hickey on changes in McLaren Vale

Australia Redefined: Brad Hickey on changes in McLaren Vale

Go on a wine tour of Australia and meet dozens of winemakers and you can be guaranteed that you will remember Brad Hickey over the majority of them. He has a personality, and warmth to match the quality of his wines. A fascinating character who clearly loves making the wines he does and pushing the envelope a little in terms of using amphora pots and and edgier varieties like Zibbibo to made skin contact wines that are fruity, refreshing and as bright as their labels all under his wine alter ego, Brash Higgins. You can come and meet him for yourself at Wine Australia’s Redefined tasting on September 17.

Richard Siddle
10th September 2019by Richard Siddle
posted in People,People: Producer,

Brad Hickey currently does not have a UK distributor for his wonderfully crafted, edgy McLaren Vale wines, under the Brash Higgins label, but it’s hard to think that will be the case after September 17 and Wine Australia’s Refined tasting.

How has the 2019 harvest gone in terms of quality and volume compared to recent years?

We had a hailstorm in November which sliced the yields by one third in 30 minutes. Astounding really, then add a couple 47 degree days in January and that sealed the vintage as one of not much fruit. That being said, our Nero dAvola, Mataro, Cinsault and Carignan all performed superbly. Looks like these are the robust varietals of the future here in McLaren Vale.

Brad Hickey and his wife, Nicole, are hosts with the most at his farm in McLaren Vale

Where does the 2019 vintage leave you in terms of planning your export strategy and allocating what wines goes where?

It doesn’t change much as we made more wine than usual in the excellent 2016 and 2018 vintages. It’s a good idea to make less wine in a less than stellar year, so it doesn’t phase us at all, as far as I can tell.

What are your big growth areas for exports and why?
Well, in China it is the classics: Shiraz and Cabernet. Europe and the US are keen on our more esoteric offerings, like Zibibbo aged on skins in amphora or fresh juicy reds like Cinsault and Cab Franc. Those markets want to showcase the more progressive, daring side of Australia. That’s where the excitements lays.

What styles and price points are most in demand in export?

Again, the wines that tell a story are our most popular. And I try to make sure all my wines have rich back stories, as well as being delicious and food friendly. Value price points are the go. Not supermarket pricing, but many retailers and importers want wines that overdeliver, especially for wines without an established track record. You hear a lot of “this wine of yours will be competing with Burgundy in that price range”, which usually means it’s not happening.

Hickey uses amphora pots to help with the ferments and skin contact wines

Can you describe the kinds of wines you make?
I want to add something new to the winemaking dialogue. I’m lucky in that I can do what I want. For the most part I’m looking for great tasting fruit from sustainable sites and making wine without any artifice or chicanery in the lab. Ideally I want to pick healthy grapes at the perfect time and let them do all the work. Those kinds of pure wines, low intervention styles made with a light touch, they make me really happy. Honest wines, there’s no such thing as perfection, but wines that taste like they came from somewhere unique.

What influence do you have for the kinds of wine you make?
I would say my former boss, Chef David Bouley, whose wine programs I built in the 2000’s in NYC was a huge influence. The way he sourced amazing produce and delivered it to the plate with huge flavours, interesting combinations and freshness was inspiring. Travelling around the wine regions of the world and drinking far and wide also provided me w a good palate and a lot of ideas. Ideas that I can execute in our winery in Mclaren Vale. I see the possibilities around me as endless.

You are working with pots and qvevris to help make the wine. Why and what difference do they make?
We introduced Nero D’Avola to our district in 2009. I thought if we could find an innovative way to ferment and age that wine, then it would have an even greater impact. Many Italian grapes coming into Oz at that time were being made like Shiraz with all the new oak trimmings that go along with that. I wanted to strip down the wine to being all about the vineyard, building structure through extended skin contact, in this case over six months.

Italian wines I like have an amaro inflection, and are about mouthwatering tannin and acidity. That’s what the amphora deliver, as well as a warmth, vibrancy and prettiness not found in oak, steel or concrete. Plus, these 200 litre vessels are hand thrown on the wheel by a local potter using clay sourced from near our vineyard; as a wine geek, that’s irresistible.

Brad Hickey’s wine label Brash Higgins uses bottle designs that really capture the spirit of the wines he wants to make

How is the UK now in terms of export?

I’m looking for a good distributor as we speak. Our wines do well in restaurants and indie retailers. They are edgy, but clean and precise, so I think that’s the best home for them. Small volumes mean we have to be careful about pricing, too. The UK went off on our Chenin Blanc and Zibibbo recently which tells me that it will be our alternative gear that gets most of the attention.

Hopefully our benchmark estate wines, like our SHZ and Cabernet Sauvignon grown on our Omensetter Vineyard, will show that we can play with the big boys, as well as the cool kids.

Has the UK market changed for you in terms of what you are looking for from there?
The UK has always been tricky, and that’s one reason we haven’t found the right partner yet for a long term relationship. Exporting is not easy, which is why we have focused on Australia for most of our sales. In the UK first it was the strength of the Aussie dollar, then it was the global financial crisis and now Brexit.

It’s hard to get wines in play at the prices we want without losing our shorts. Hopefully this will be our year, there’s lots of good will surrounding our brand, and also a wave of talented Aussies in the fine wine world of London now. That could help if they get behind our wines. Most of them know me and Nicole, my partner, pretty well and what we do.

Why are you taking part in this Redefined tasting in London?

Bin Two in Padstow is one of a few wine merchants and bars that are buying Brash’s wines directly

To find a long term distributor and to support those businesses that have currently bought our wines direct in 2019 like Villeneuve, Vagabond and Bin Two.

What types of wine will you be showing and why?
I’m going to pull out all the stops! I will show the wild, medium bodied gear we do and a couple of pure, darker fruited beauties; mostly to demonstrate that we can work well in a few different genres. I love wine and think one of the greatest things about it is its diversity.

That’s what we will try to show and that McLaren Vale can deliver that diversity with aplomb.

If you were a UK buyer or sommelier looking to upgrade their wine list and make it up to date with what is going on in Australia then what you recommend they should by looking to stock up on?
Stock up on the elegant, progressive Grenaches and Grenache blends grown in the sandy Blewitt Springs subregion of McLaren Vale, as well as some of the groovy transplants like Nero D’Avola or Mencia and exotic white blends like Zibibbo or crisp coastal whites from Chenin, Fiano and Vermentino.

Get behind the risk takers and the wines with great stories, there’s a lot of them out there. Those are the wines that transport people to new places and get the juices flowing.

Why your wines?
We have a strong foot in certified organic viticulture which is important for obvious sustainability reasons, and we make wines that are authentic and transparent, pulling away from manipulated, industrial winemaking. There’s a lot of sommeliers that appreciate that ethos and their customers will, too. Plus, I’ve got a lot of interesting wines that do different things, so there’s something for everyone.

We have a great vineyard, our own winery, take lots of tasting appointments in the cellar, and treat all those facets of the business with respect.

Anything else you looking forward to doing when you are in London?
I’m running a full Marathon the day before the Redefined event in Richmond, so I need to behave, but there’s nothing better than eating and drinking at new spots, like Two Lights in Shoreditch, and seeing old friends and smashing a few pints.

  • The Australia Redefined tasting takes place on September 17 at the OXO2 in London, between 11am and 5.30pm, with a focus on the country’s premium winemakers including eight of Australia’s First Families of Wine, including Chester Osborn. It will look to show wines over £20 RRP a bottle, and as it says “challenge your perceptions of Australian wine with a line-up of more than 200 wines, from the rogue to the refined”. For more information and to register click here.