The only photo we have from the 2011 Adelaide Review Hot 100 awards

Saved! How we saved Palomino from the 'dozer and put Apera on the map.

At 919 Wines we do plenty of things differently. Our craziest adventure was starting a vineyard in the depths of the millennial drought. One of our strategies has always been to secure supply of our grapes, so after buying Palomino for a couple of years we asked our neighbour for permission to take some cuttings to plant for ourselves.

"Sure", said the vineyard manager, "but you'd better be quick, we're pushing it out".

"We'll be there tomorrow first thing," said Eric.

"No, I mean the bulldozer is here now and it will all be pushed out by tonight!"

So we dropped everything and rushed off to take cuttings, literally a few meters in front of the bulldozer. 

We planted the vines in our 919 vineyard, and the Australian vineyard statistics showed a decline in overall acreage planted, with our neighbour's patch disappearing and ours being one of the few remaining patches in Australia. We continued to make our wine that we called fino in those days, a delicate and aromatic fortified wine that has nutty, salty seaside characteristics. We loved the wine we were making, but we were a fledgling winery and we couldn't get traction with the style. Even a name change to Apera by the Australian wine industry generated little interest.  In 2011 we sold off some of the bulk wine to another winery, and decided to discontinue the line.

Palomino grapes in the 919 vineyard

Each year we enter a few wineshows to benchmark our wine against other wineries and modern styles. We had entered a show, but had just enough room left in the box for one more wine. For no particular reason, we filled the remaining space with Pale Dry Apera and sent it away. Thinking nothing more of it, we continued with life and forgot about it. 

Then one day we got a phone call from the organiser asking us whether we were attending the presentation dinner as we had in the past, and could we send a few bottles down for the night? Since we had plans we apologised and said unfortunately we couldn't make it. Half an hour later we received another call, and we were persuaded to change our plans and make the trip to Adelaide. 

Still suspecting nothing, we were surprised to find that our wines were laid out on a table along with nine other wineries. We looked at each other and said "we must have done well!" When the awards were announced the MC started a backwards countdown, announcing the 10th award. Nope, not us, how exciting to be in the top 9. When they got to the top 5 looked at each other and said "surely not, no way!" When the third award winner was announced we were feeling faint, and then they called up the final two winemakers. Eric took the stage, and they announced it straight away. The hottest wine of 2011 is 919 Pale Dry Apera!

The rest of the night passed in a blur. We had glasses pushed in front of us to fill, people asking for our business cards - we were so surprised and unprepared we didn't even have these - and lots of talking. When the night came to a close about midnight, we realised we hadn't even had a chance to eat.

Since then, our Apera has been poured in Spain by the consulate (coals to Newcastle?), won a number of trophies and was the very last Fortified Wine of the Year for Winestate Magazine. It has been exported to Sweden and poured at glamorous events in Australia and New Zealand.

I wonder what would have happened if we hadn't beaten the bulldozer?

2022 Winestate Fortified WIne of the Year