Toby Bekkers grandfather grew up in McLaren Vale, owning a property in Reynella, and worked in McLaren Vale’s renowned Reynella cellars. Stories of his grandfather’s time in the wine trade peppered the young Bekkers childhood and set him on a path to craft what are undoubtedly modern Australian benchmarks.
Before embarking on viticultural studies Bekkers began his career working for David Paxton, spending his, first school and then university, holidays pruning and working around vineyards. Paxton has been a leading viticulturist in Australia for almost 40 years and there were few better viticultural training grounds in Australia than under Paxton’s guidance.
After graduating from university and continuing his work for Paxton Bekkers became increasingly interested in the growing field of organic and biodynamic grape growing, although at first he was far from convinced. “At Paxton we saw many wines we liked that were BD farmed. Although somewhat sceptical we decided to trial it and were very impressed with the results.”
While viticulture was clearly his home ground Bekkers also entertained the idea of stepping into the winery and taking on the challenge to not only grow but also craft great Australian wines. An early stroke of luck catapulted him in that direction.
During a vintage at Tintara in McLaren Vale a French winemaker, whom was working for Hardy’s in France and had travelled South for the vintage, was digging out a fermenter and needed a helping hand to get out. Bekkers reached in and Emmanuelle his future wife and business partner emerged.
After continuing their careers Emanuelle and Toby came to their now or never moment. They quit their jobs, packed up their family and moved to France for almost a year. “Emmanuelle and I were able to spend time planning for what we’d do on return to Australia and visiting some great contacts Emma had built up over the years through many vintages.”It was a seminal moment in the creation of not only Bekkers wine but also the philosophies that would underlie it. They would return to Australia and try to mirror the great wine estates of the world, having a pride and confidence that radiates from every wine they create.
Bekkers volumes are small so that the husband and wife team can oversee every part of production, sales and marketing. You can find them at the Cellar Door hosting tastings before returning to the vineyard for winter pruning.
For the wines only select vineyards are chosen, most of which are managed under organic and biodynamic principles and are owned or part-owned by Bekkers. For his wines Bekkers sources fruit from both lower elevations in McLaren Vale, close to the coast with shallow, sandy soils for their structure and density, which he blends with later ripening, Clarendon and Blewitt Springs fruit, that adds trademark detailed aromatic complexity. Their recent purchase of the old Clarendon Vineyard Estate will give additional firepower as this old vineyard is resurrected and starts coming online over the next decade.
The wines are a different take from the traditionally big, plush and opulent local style that has made McLaren Vale famous and this is as much based on fruit sourcing and picking as well as a more restrained approach in the winery. So rather than encourage as much flavour, tannin and colour extraction as is possible they take a more reserved approach. “Take your time, extract from the grapes what you need and leave behind what you don’t. A light touch goes a long way when your fruit is naturally generous.” This approach, which benefits the wines greatly, only comes from a well-earned self-assured confidence in the winery and vineyard that the Bekkers team have built up through hard work and experience.
The Bekkers range is made up of just four wines – three from McLaren Vale made from Syrah and Grenache and an outlier – a mailing list exclusive Premier Cru Chablis that not only keeps Emanuelle and her family in touch with their roots but also provides a tremendous foil to the wines of McLaren Vale.
At the core of the Bekkers label is Grenache. “Grenache is the variety with which McLaren Vale may well stand proudest. Many regions fashion great Shiraz but with Grenache we have the opportunity to deliver something clearly unique.” Bekkers also believes that Grenache is similar to Pinot Noir as it is more effected by vintage and vineyard than Shiraz.
While Grenache and the Grenache blend are the stars at Bekkers the whole range is a picture of beautifully detailed wines that while showing tremendous concentration also carry comparative elegance and detail. Emanuelle and Toby’s plan, hatched in France, was to create a new star in McLaren Vale that would help to redefine Australia’s place in the global fine wine market. They have succeeded.