Star winemakers: Brendon Keys, BK Wines, Adelaide Hills, Australia

Imbibe

29 April 2019

From Didier Dagueneau to Eben Sadie, every generation has its standout winemakers. We asked a team of experts to pick the stars of tomorrow – making wines you can afford today. Brendon Keys was suggested by wine writer and author Jamie Goode


Brendon Keys and I first met when I was visiting the Adelaide Hills for a tasting run by a group of like-minded, cool winegrowers who work in an area called the Basket Ranges. The next morning I popped round to his house for coffee and was surprised to find a home-made skate park in his garden. Keys is definitely a cool kid.

A Kiwi, he started out as a chef before he came to wine, and then went on to study winemaking in Gisborne, New Zealand, before embarking on a journey round the wine world that ended up with him and his wife Kirstyn settling in South Australia. They started BK Wines in 2007, and the model has been to make single-vineyard wines with grapes sourced from a network of growers. As well as some excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills, he’s also sourcing from the McLaren Vale and makes some stylish pét-nats, too.

His winemaking style is best described as minimal intervention. Although it is pretty natural, he isn’t one of the natural wine crowd. In a sense, this is one of his strengths. His wines sell based on their merits rather than what’s on their labels.

For his red wines he uses a lot of whole-bunch fermentation, and for the whites he tries to bottle early, in December, so he can use less sulphur dioxide (SO2). ‘Wines that go through a summer in the winery always need more SO2. They displace carbon dioxide and when they cool down they take up oxygen and display aldehyde. This way we get to bottle with better free-to-total SO2 ratio. I’m not anti-SO2, but there’s a lot of lazy SO2 use in wineries.’

He’s also been using concrete eggs as fermentation vessels. ‘I like what oak does to the fermentation, but you always get some oak flavour out,’ he says. ‘We purchased an egg and it has done what we want it to do. You still get the purity of the wine but you get fullness, richness and roundness.’

These are wines of purity and balance, with the grapes picked appropriately early, and the winemaking very much in the background. They aren’t showy, but they are delicious, and with their lower alcohol levels they are ‘smashable’. There is an authenticity to them, and the packaging is also very stylish. The skateboarder image isn’t just for show, as his back-garden skate park suggests.

BK Wines, One Ball Chardonnay 2017

This is sourced from a vineyard in the Kenton Valley, so named because the grower is missing a testicle.

It shows taut citrus fruit with subtle toast and peach richness, and a sense of precision and finesse.

£16.95, Swig

BK Wines, Skin ‘n’ Bones White 2016

This 100% Savagnin is a well-behaved skin-contact wine: lovely linear, textured citrus fruit with hints of pear and mint.

There’s some spicy, white-pepper bite under the fruit, and a long, clean finish. Beautifully made.

£16.95, Swig

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