The traditional image of the Australian winemaker is a simple one – country born and bred bought up in or close to our great wine regions with a career on the land almost a forgone conclusion. But unlike traditional farming, wine does occasionally pull people from the city for the dream of an idyllic life. Whether bitten by the wine bug either here or abroad, a love of wine has drawn many to the country life to try their hand at growing grapes and making wine.
Often it ends in disaster. Australian wine is littered with professionals having ditched their successful careers with the promise of sharing wines under their own name with the world. Yet occasionally the gamble pays off and we are all the richer for it.
For Alex Head his gamble began in 2006. Before those first small steps in the Barossa Valley Alex had already immersed himself in the world of wine working for ten years in various well regarded Sydney wine establishments. He’d arrived there after finding a love of wine in Sydney University’s St Pauls College wine cellar and furthered his knowledge while traveling through the vineyards of France. But it was not all smooth sailing – being held up at a Sydney wine store made Alex rethink his career choice. Most seriously of all a significant bout of cancer bought immense challenges and then clarity so that once his recovery was complete Alex was keener than ever to uproot himself for the Barossa and learn the craft of winemaking. He had nothing tying him down and the desire to create wine was strong.
The first steps were small – vintages at Torbreck and Tyrrell’s learning the basics of winemaking before his first Head Wines vintage in 2006. Having watched on as he saw winemakers rise and fall under the burden of debt, Alex took the slow road choosing to avoid borrowing any money and only making wine when he could afford it off his own bat. This was a little unusual in the Barossa at the time with many investing big and chasing the lucrative American and Asian market. Yet rather than reach for the stars with his first vintages, when Alex knew full-well that he still had plenty to learn, he took a cautious approach knowing that with likely only a single chance to get Head Wines right the price of failure would be high. And it was tough work, with four months a year spent tending wines in the Barossa and eight months on the road pushing his wares with three credit cards to keep afloat.
Country towns can also be hard nuts to crack for outsiders. Whether it was because Alex already has his contacts from working in the industry or not but he quickly felt at home in the Barossa – with many locals taking him in as one of their own. As the son of a priest and having lived in fifteen houses and attended five schools, all before the age of 17, Alex was already adept at fitting in. That said, it was clear to many in the valley that this was no Sydneysider dabbling in the wines of the Barossa for a bit of a laugh – he was dead serious, and so were his wines.
Head Wines are in many ways a unique expression of Barossa Valley Shiraz and Grenache. While still showing the region’s renowned generosity of fruit they also display a little European-inspired subtlety, in part from winemaking but also the use of fruit from a wide range of soils and clones. Alex chooses his vineyards in part based around their growers, prizing intelligent professionals that will allow him to have some input in the vineyard while also having a strong interest in the final product.
The early stars in the Head Wines range were the Blonde Shiraz Viognier and Brunette Shiraz, so-named because of their different coloured soils – the Blonde coming from gray sands of Stonewell while the Brunette from Moppa’s dark ironstone. To top it off more recently Alex has released his long awaited top drawer wines – the Redhead Shiraz and Ancestor Vine Grenache. Each is an engaging and fascinating snapshot that showcase not only the tremendous vintage but also the long and fascinating journey of its winemaker.
Check out all our reviews for Head Wines here.