EATS & DRINKS
WINE: 28 SEPTEMBER 2014
By JOHN ROZENTALS
Zema Estate's hands-on approach pays rich dividends in Coonawarra
The first time I met Greg Clayfield was in the late 1980s at a Lindemans function in Melbourne. He was a young winemaker in suit and tie, showing off the just-released 1985 Coonawarra Pyrus, which had won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy for best one-year-old dry red at the 1986 Royal Melbourne Wine Show.
The last time I met him was a couple of months ago, behind the bar at Zema Estate, for the unofficial launch of the month-long Coonawarra Cellar Dwellars festival, during which the local winemakers dig out some gracefully aging reds to show off to hardy visitors making a mid-winter pilgrimage to one of Australia’s most isolated and coldest grape-growing regions. Now he was a middle-aged winemaker and seemed much more comfortable chatting in T-shirt and sleeveless fleece.
He joined Zema Estate in 2006 after a long corporate winemaking career, which included 14 years with Wynns Coonawarra Estate, perhaps the best-known name on the district’s fabled, cigar-shaped strip of terra rossa.
Demetrio and Francesca Zema brought many years of Calabrian winemaking heritage to Coonawarra in the 1950s and developed vineyards that continue to buck the trend in a district where most things these days are done be machine.
Pruning, for instance, is still done by hand, something that’s obvious when you see row upon row of neat, tidy vines rather than the mechanical-driven scragginess induced by economics in many of Coonawarra’s vineyards.
I’m sure that dedication goes a long way towards explaining the exceptional softness and richness of Zema Estate’s reds, though I’m equally sure that Greg Clayfield’s experience and touch have a lot to do with it too.